Whether you’re teaching yourself piano or taking lessons from a professional, you’ll probably end up learning from a piano method book.
There are dozens of them out there, but there are a few clear winners.
Your piano teacher will probably have a method book that they use as curriculum. If so, I would recommend using what they are used to working with, as that will likely get the best results.
If you’re teaching yourself or have the opportunity to choose your own method book, we’d like to give you the rundown on the best possible method books you can buy.
First, we have the best books for adult beginners, then the best books for young beginners. Plus, I’ve included three of my favorite books for teaching yourself alternative styles (jazz, blues and pop).
Remember that most lesson books are designed to be used in the context of lessons. Teachers give you instant feedback and are usually trained to teach out of whatever book they prefer.
That said, if you are diligent you can teach yourself too.
If you are an experienced musician, and are looking to teach your child how to play or begin teaching as a career, this guide should give you a primer on the most popular and well-reputed lesson books available.
Best Books For Adult Beginners
Contrary to popular belief, learning as an adult isn’t that different from learning as a child.
But if you want to be as efficient as a child, you’ll want to develop focus. Get into flow state. That can help you learn and absorb new material just as quickly as a child would.
You have the added benefit of vocabulary. Since how we learn as human beings is highly dependent on language, you have the advantage of grasping theory and concepts faster than a child would.
This isn’t to suggest that learning as an adult is easy. Far from it. You’ll need to work hard and remain consistent. But you can achieve much if you dedicate yourself to the craft.
Here are several method books geared towards adult beginners.
Adult All-In-One Course: Lesson-Theory-Technic: Level 1
The Adult All-In-One Course is designed for use with an instructor who will lead you through all of the songs and lessons.
The book includes drills to strengthen your fingers, play with both hands together, increase hand independence and written assignments to help you fully understand the course material.
Each lesson moves smoothly and logically into the next one. You’ll learn chord theory and get a thorough explanation of different playing styles as you learn songs.
The book doesn’t just teach one style either – from classical to contemporary to folk to popular music, you’ll learn some of the most famous music ever written.
This book includes songs like “Amazing Grace”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “Blues for Wynton Marsalis”, “The Entertainer”, “Lone Star Waltz”, “Ode to Joy” and others.
While the book is meant to be learned with the help of an instructor, there are written lessons you can study on your own to master all of the playing techniques.
The book can easily be used in self-guided learning as well as teacher-lead learning.
Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course, Lesson Book 1
Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course is designed for adult learners who want to play chord-based piano. This harmony style of playing shows you how to play chords for two hands and melodies with more than one note.
Again, this book is designed for use with the guidance of a teacher.
But if you are a fairly experienced reader you can work your way through the songs and learn a lot.
The book includes dozens of famous songs including “The Can-Can”, “Go Down Moses”, “Greensleeves”, “Jingle Bells”, “O Sole Mio”, “Scarborough Fair”, “Singin’ in the Rain” and “When The Saints Go Marching In”.
Adult Piano Adventures All-In-One Piano Course Book 1
The last two books were created and released by Alfred – one of the two most popular piano lesson book creators.
Adult Piano Adventures, published by Hal Leonard, offers the opportunity for you to play for fun while developing a foundation in music theory that will help with learning more complex music.
This book is designed to be all-in-one – it includes lessons, technique and theory.
The first book teaches fundamentals of music notation and reading music, chord playing and musical form. The focus is on learning key concepts and building on them step-by-step.
The best part about this book is that it comes with online support.
There are over two hours or instructional videos to help you learn the concepts described in the book.
Audio accompaniment is also available for download – you can download backing tracks and play along. Cool!
This is a great book that makes learning fun and straightforward.
John Thompson’s Modern Course For The Piano – First Grade
John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano is a classic. The retro illustrations are fun and the music is beautifully written.
John Thompson’s series isn’t meant to be the only method you are learning from. It’s a great companion book that will get your fingers working and teach you how to move around the piano efficiently.
In the level one book, notes on the staff are always accompanied by finger numbers – some people criticize this, saying it doesn’t effectively teach students to read. This may be so, but it allows you to learn the songs faster and build technique while working on other lessons.
Every new song in the series comes with a little bit of information about the theory that pertains to the song.
You can tear through one of these lesson books fairly quickly because of how well laid out it is. Give it a try!
Alfred’s Self-Teaching Adult Piano Course
This is the latest from Alfred, building on the popularity of the courses that I mentioned before.
Alfred’s Self-Teaching Adult Piano Course is a big book – with 192 pages – that allows adults to teach themselves piano.
Besides each new piece of music, there are study guide pages that introduce the music and cover new techniques or bits of theory you need to know.
It is almost like having a teacher beside you as you learn the skills needed to perform the music.
If you are teaching yourself piano, this is the book for you. Most books are designed to be learned with a teacher. This book is designed for the self-starter who is motivated to practice and learn songs regularly.
It comes with a CD containing recordings of the songs you are learning and backing tracks for you to play along to.
The recordings are incredibly useful, because without a teacher to play the song for you, you have no idea how it should be played.
With the CD, you can learn the song, play it through and then listen to a professional play the song. Compare your playing with their playing and improve!
KP1B – Bastien Piano For Adults, 1 Book Only: A Beginning Course: Lessons, Theory, Technic, Sight Reading
Bastien Piano for Adults is a challenging piano method book. It’s intended for beginners, but it moves at a fast pace – teaching you technique, theory, sight-reading and songs.
Every section of the book starts with theory and then moves into a music piece that will help you master whatever you just learned. The pieces range across genres so that you learn how theory applies to various styles of playing.
The lessons aren’t designed to be easy. They are designed to challenge you. They will focus on the hardest parts of whatever piece of music you are working on.
Completing this book will teach you piano chords, how to locate notes on the piano and the fundamental musical terms you need to know as a player. You’ll leave with solid foundational knowledge.
You can use this book in a self-directed style, or with the help of a teacher. As always, learning with a teacher has advantages, but if you are diligent, you can do a good job of self-directing.
Piano And Keyboard All-In-One For Dummies
Even if you’re not a dummy, you can take advantage of Piano and Keyboard All-in-One For Dummies.
But seriously, it’s a great lesson book.
If you don’t know how to read music, this book will explain the concepts in friendly, straightforward language. Same goes for all the basics of playing piano and understanding music – theory, playing techniques and more.
This is also a great book for those who played piano as a kid, and then didn’t touch the instrument for several years. It can serve as a refresher course that gets you up to speed, while giving you some valuable tips along the way.
This book is also unique in that it goes into creating original music and tapping into your creative side.
You’ll also learn the basics of using a digital keyboard – which is super handy, given that there are so many different kinds of keyboards! Whether you use a keyboard with internal speakers or an amp, home stereo, computer, or tablet, the book will explain how it works.
Best Piano Lesson Books For Children
Piano method books for children are special.
When teaching children, you must help them develop and maintain good musical habits (posture, technique, theory) while teaching them songs that will keep them entertained enough to stay practicing and learning.
A good children’s method book will provide a mix of familiar songs and challenges that will keep a child engaged.
Most beginning books have nursery rhymes and children’s songs that will be familiar to everyone’s ears.
There are many method books out there but here are our top picks.
Primer Level – Lesson Book: Piano Adventures
Primer Level – Lesson Book: Piano Adventures is amazing. Honestly, the entire Piano Adventure series is one of the most popular and well-respected series of method books available.
“Primer level” is the perfect thing to get children started. Students learn to play in C, using just the first five notes.
From there, they develop a familiarity with steps and skips, learn letter names independent of finger numbers and start to use the damper pedal.
The books are organized into units, which represent major concepts and skills. Each new unit compounds on old ones, so that old skills are never abandoned and are constantly reviewed.
This series is great because it is truly all-encompassing. It focuses not just on the hands, but on the whole body. Learning how to properly sit at the piano is important when children graduate to playing full pianos.
The Piano Adventures Series can be followed through many grades and continues to hold up through all age groups.
A Dozen A Day Book 1
A Dozen a Day is not a method book. It’s a book containing technical exercises for beginning students.
Each Dozen A Day book contains quick warm-up exercises that students should play at the beginning of their practice session.
These exercises provide students with a firm technical basis for their piano playing – by playing them just a little bit every day, students won’t get bored, but will improve rapidly.
The first book teaches the student all of the basics and gives them exercises that almost any student would be able to understand and perform.
In particular, you’ll learn to hold your hands properly and play short pieces and simple scales.
As the books advance, they will teach you to play faster-paced songs and exercises that work on new and different bits of theory and technique.
With regular use of these books, children will see huge progress.
Alfred’s Basic Piano Library – Lesson Book 1A
Alfred’s step-by-step method emphasizes correct playing habits (posture, hand positioning, etc.) and note reading through interval recognition.
Learning to recognize and play intervals helps kids learn to sight read. They will learn to think in terms of note relationships – not just independent notes.
This book is the first in Alfred’s Piano Library Lesson Book series – it starts with recognition of white key names and then black key names in relation to the white keys.
Then, it will teach simple rhythms and prepare students to recognize intervals through simple but entertaining songs.
By the end of the first book, students will be reading on the grand staff and will know most if not all of their notes on both the treble and bass clef.
This book is meant to be used with a teacher or with an experienced musician. If you are a musician and want to teach your child how to play piano, this series or the Piano Adventures series would be great options.
Scales Bootcamp: The Fastest, Clearest Way To Get To Know Your Scales, And Then Master Them.
Scales! Hooray! Everyone’s favorite!
Well, maybe not – nevertheless, they are important.
Scales Bootcamp is full of scales and ways to master them.
It is in full color with clear fingering diagrams. The method book focuses on creative, bite-sized practice challenges to complete that lead to full comprehension of scales.
Scales are not easy to force on kids, but they are important. This book aims to make scales feel more like play – you will play the scales with different rhythms or other twists. And, once you’ve mastered a challenge, you get to move on.
By the end of the book, you’ll have completed all of the scale challenges, and will be able to play every scale fluently.
This combined with the Dozen a Day series make practicing technique more approachable.
WP200 – Bastien Piano Basics – Primer Level
The Bastien Piano Basics series is one of the most methodical and carefully arranged piano method series available.
The learning sequence assures that you will make steady, continual progress, and the mixture of folk, pop, classical and other popular styles will keep students interested.
There are full-color illustrations throughout the book that make it an easy read and simultaneously reinforce musical concepts.
This primer level book starts off with no staff – just teaching notes and the relationships between notes – and then moves into the grand staff.
Other Great Piano Books
All of the books we’ve looked at so far are for beginners.
Many students are not starting off at a level where they need to learn note names. Some students have a good base level of knowledge, but are still green to different styles.
I want to give you three more books that will introduce different styles to a beginning pianist.
A book that teaches the basics of improvising the blues, a book that teaches the basics of improvising jazz and another that will teach you many important pop piano techniques.
Improvising Blues Piano
Improvising Blues Piano is not for total beginners – it suggests a Grade 3 level knowledge. Knowing your way around all of your scales and understanding notated rhythm are huge assets.
If you’re not well-versed in chord theory (especially how the I, IV and V chords works in each key), this book may be a shock to your system.
That said, the book is very logical and thorough – it doesn’t leave any holes in its explanations of general blues concepts.
Each new piece will give you a new idea to work on, and each chapter builds on the one before.
It’s designed to be clear enough that you could teach yourself, alongside whatever else you are learning.
The book also gives you a valuable historical background on many of these concepts, and gives you blues music to listen to while you’re not practicing. This is crucial – you can’t play the blues if you don’t listen to it!
The Jazz Piano Book
Mark Levine’s The Jazz Piano Book is where it’s at as far as an easy-to-understand, self-teaching jazz piano method book is concerned.
The book is designed for a total newbie to Jazz. But you should already be able to read well, know rhythmic notation and have a solid theoretical base.
Mark Levine is an incredible pianist himself, and writes the book more from a player’s perspective than a teacher’s. To me, this results in a book that is fun to learn from – it is always showing you how new techniques can be used in a real situation.
Each chapter looks at new techniques, gives you several ways to practice them, different ways to apply them, and then at the end of the chapter, gives you tunes to work on.
You can play along with recordings, listen to suggested recordings and more.
The book also has a strong historical basis, which is incredibly important when learning Jazz.
This book is awesome for teaching yourself jazz piano fundamentals!
The Pop Piano Book
The Pop Piano Book is a cool book designed to teach spontaneous, appropriate pop piano playing.
Pop piano is all about comping with style. It requires a lot of practice, a lot of listening and some basic theory.
You’ll learn rhythmic concepts and harmonic concepts at the same time, often using real world examples in pop songs. The book forces you to play in all 12 keys and get comfortable with the entire keyboard.
It covers various genres that all apply to pop piano playing – rock, pop, ballad, funk, new age, country and gospel.
The book comes with MIDI examples and play-along tracks on Mark Harrison’s website.
It’s less of a of a manual and more of a reference book that teaches you techniques for playing different styles convincingly.
Best Piano Books For Beginners, Final Words
So that’s the best piano books in all categories, but which one are you going to read?
Let me know, simply use the comments section below my pianist buddy.