Piano Methods

Last Updated on 2022-11-13 | Originally Posted on 2020-07-31


My choice of piano methods has shifted over time, just like the methods have modernized as well. I learned piano like many of you may have, using a middle-C approach called d’Auberge. Similar methods by John Schaum or John Thompson were all the standard decades ago. It’s where you put your thumbs together on middle C, and become an expert in the nine notes surrounding that central note. I recently taught a very bright student who transferred to me having been taught using this approach. No matter the piece, his thumbs always were on middle C!

Interval- and Position-Based Approaches

During my undergraduate piano pedagogy training, I learned to teach using an interval- and position-based method book called the Music Tree. The pioneers of that method are legendary, Frances Clark and Louise Goss, are lengendary in the history of piano pedagogy. However, their flagship method hasn’t been updated in decades. Other methods follow a similar approach, and have been updated. Faber Piano Adventures is the most popular with good reason. Alfred and Bastien also follow this approach.

Piano Safari

I will often continue to teach students who come into the studio having started with one of the previous methods. It’s enough that they have had to switch teachers; switching methods can add more stress. With new students, I prefer the more holistic approach called Piano Safari. It was developed by Julie Hague and Katherine Fisher during their graduate pedagogy study at the University of Oklahoma.

Since it was first published in 2008, many teachers have embraced its approach. To learn more about Piano Safari, continue to the dedicated section on this method below. You will see how different it is from the piano lessons you probably experienced as a kid!

How It’s Different

Of all the piano methods out there, Piano Safari is one of the newcomers to the scene. The children’s series includes rote learning and improvisation. More importantly, it eases the pace at which children learn note reading. It’s a sensible approach for younger children, who enjoy learning to play music from the first lesson before they are able to read notes on the full staff.

There is also an older student series that uses the same pedagogical concepts. It’s a more sophisticated approach that speeds up note learning. Although there are some pieces in common between the books, some of children’s pieces are replaced by pieces with adult titles. For instance, Hungry Herbie Hippo is replaced by Wind Chimes. I continue to like this method for older kids, though I often recommend adults to consider the Faber series mentioned below.

Faber Adult Piano Adventures All-in-One Course

I like the Faber option as an alternative to the Older Student series of the Piano Safari books, especially if you come into the studio without a child who will be in the children’s version of Piano Safari. The Faber method is especially appealing if an adult wants a lighter music theory approach and wants to learn popular songs versus classical music. You can see these books on my Piano Lessons – Books page.

Flexibility with Transfer Students

As mentioned above, I am sensitive to switching students out of method books that they like and are comfortable using. Also, sometimes books are passed down through the family from older siblings, and they can be effectively reused. Since switching books on top of switching teachers can be traumatic, I try to ease that part of the transition.

The only time that I insist on an immediate, hard transition is if a student arrives using an old-school middle-C method book. In that case, I feel that I don’t have a choice but to switch to a modern approach immediately. Piano playing should never be about putting both thumbs on middle C, even as an introductory step.

Addressing Reading Issues

I haven’t stopped researching materials, and am ready to embrace any tools that do the job. The end goal of beginner piano teaching is to get a student to read four octaves, which covers the entire grand staff plus a couple of ledger lines. Along the way, they will also have plenty of opportunities to learn rote pieces, basic technique, and a chance to improvise. At that point, they are ready to start tackling repertoire that’s found in repertoire books.

Supplemental Materials for All

I begin to supplement whatever method a student uses once their reading skills become solid. That might be based on learning pieces required of a music festival, or may just be for enrichment. Also, I like to sprinkle in some fun contemporary pieces.

I have a large site-licensed library from Teach Piano Today by Andrea Dow, and have a list of other pieces and books that are inexpensive to supplement. I find it helpful to move students into longer pieces while they finish their method books.

Piano Safari – Extra Resources from Nicola Cantan

This children’s series requires regular parent involvement, so I like for the parents to decide if this series is for them. You will probably know by the end of the first video if it’s for you. Don’t worry, if it is not, I can discuss choosing a more traditional method book that doesn’t include this heavy dose of rote learning.

These next two videos show how to help your child practice the rote pieces and the sight reading cards.

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