Obviously I meet many new pianists every month. A great book can be a vital part of a student’s early experience in music & to live with a really good one for the first few months of playing is really beneficial – for enjoyment & engagement as much as improvement & understanding.
Below is a growing list of Piano books that I have recommended students purchase in the early stages of learning. Please note that not all of these are suitable for the absolute beginner.
There are a number of types of book that one can choose to buy; pieces, sight reading, theory, scales & arpeggios etc etc. I’ve laid out what I feel are the most important types of books to get – in order, so that you can reduce your book-buying costs!
My suggestions are as much about my familiarity with the pieces, as they are about the enjoyment factor. Most of the music written in these books has a high amount of engagement with students.
- 1 Full Study Pieces Books
- 2 Piano books for Sight-Reading
- 3 Piano books for Improvisation
- 4 Scales, arpeggios & fingering books.
- 5 Graded Exams
Full Study Pieces Books
Having a book with pieces that require you to study them over a longer period of time is really important. I tend to recommend beginning students work from an edited series – due to the continuity and care that’s usually taken by the editors in putting the collection together. The fingering & balance of pianistic style in the ABRSM series is always spot on. Later on in one’s learning it’s good to jump around more – but whilst you’re laying the foundations, it’s good to read from the experts.
A Piece A Week
A Piece a Week is a great series written by Paul Harris. Each one is imaginatively titled & although it’s primarily aimed for kids – adults will also benefit from the music which is really quite varied.
Romantic Sketchbook Series for Piano
The Romantic Sketchbook for Piano by ABRSM is a beautiful series. It goes right from grade 1 to grade 5. The books are beautifully laid out and a joy to read. The collection and evolution of the pieces throughout the books is also really balanced & very good.
The pieces are particularly pianistic, and really have very good material to start understanding the nuances of piano music – right from page one. It’s all very tuneful and engaging music. Primarily music from the romantic era – it’s almost universally accessible.
Baroque Keyboard Series for Piano
The second series – unsurprisingly – is also from ABRSM; The Baroque Keyboard Pieces Collection. I’ve chosen it for exactly the same reasons as the above collection – but of course it’s in a very different & yet fundamental style for piano.
If you are looking for a really accessible introduction to Piano – this is not bad, but you might be better off trying one of the other series.
Jazz Piano Series
The Jazz Piano Pieces collections are really no different to the above two – in it’s slow and careful introduction of more complex material.
In my experience, the pieces are more accessible and likely to be played & learned by ear – particularly by young players.
Piano Solos: Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5
These collections are similarly well put together as the above collections. However, they include more mainstream material: Elton John, The Beatles, Frozen (Musical), Leonard Cohen, Pharrell. All of these are arranged though in a good manner – easily digestible and varied enough to engage the player as part of their learning process.
The ‘Me and My Piano’ series is a fantastic and lively book for young musicians. Starting from the very basics it introduced musical concepts in very distilled and pragmatic ways – and all with a style that will engage most kids. It has great drawings and imaginative games & titles of pieces.
Piano Books for Adults
The Hal Leonard ‘Journey Through the Classics’ is a fantastic and progressive collection that’s much more suitable for adults. It’s got a whole range or classical and romantic repertoire that many adults will enjoy.
Whilst it doesn’t start out at the entry level of piano, within a few months of tutoring adults will be able to play the first few pieces with ease.
Piano books for Sight-Reading
Improve Your Sight Reading
He’s a PROLIFIC composer – with over 400 publications for ABRSM and other publishers. The series that’s most suited for sight reading is – unsurprisingly – ‘Improve Your Sight Reading’.
With tiny, bit sized exercises that build up very slowly & sequentially, it’s a perfect book to make what is sometimes a very arduous part of practice – a lot more digestible.
Piano books for Improvisation
Jamey Aebersold is quite probably the most prolific Jazz educator in the world. Like Paul Harris (above) he has hundreds of publications but in the Jazz Idiom. There is simply too much to list even the best here & so I recommend you check out his website.
The Play-along Books
The play-along books form the staple of Jamey’s work – allowing young musicians to play along with a professional quartet on CD. This in my opinion is priceless for the beginning Jazz musician, as although it can seem like ‘karaoke’, it’s an experience hard to come by until you’re at least 2-3 years experienced.
Jazz Quick Studies
ABRSM’s Quick Studies are wonderful little nuggets that focus on the art of improvisational response. Each exercise has a short passage which then requires you to re-interpret and develop the existing material. It’s a fabulous way of developing the art of improvisation from the ground up. Most people find it very hard to start improvising from scratch & in fact that’s really not the best way to do it. Starting by ‘messing around’ with existing material is by far the most natural and bite-size way to start improvising.
Scales, arpeggios & fingering books.
Again – ABRSM are definitely the the best place to go for this. Below are links to the graded Scales & Broken chord books:
Classical Piano Graded Exam Books
A full list of this years graded exams from ABRSM can be found here.
Jazz Piano Graded Exam Books
The Jazz grades can be found here: