📚 8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons 👩‍🏫

8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons

Beginner piano lessons are foundational for music reading skills, healthy technique, and audiating music. While there are many great resources for teaching beginner piano, the following have been effective and engaging for my students. Listed below are my beginner piano curriculum must-haves. 

1. Piano Adventures Method

8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons: Piano Adventures Method
The Piano Adventures Basic Method is comprised of 8 levels (Primer, Level 1, Level 2A, Level 2B, Level 3A, Level 3B, Level 4, and Level 5). There are 4 core books per level; I typically assign two. Recently, I have chosen the Technique & Artistry books. The exercises provided are fun and give detailed instructions and fun illustrations for executing many different articulations in a healthy way. 

I appreciate the progressive difficultly of reading skills, the colorful pictures, and the amusing lyrics in this series. It also has backing tracks for each piece for free on the Piano Adventures Digital Cloud.  Many duets are written in the books for the teacher and student to play together. I love the duets because I believe providing ensemble experience is a cornerstone of music education.  

In addition to the Basic Method for elementary-aged children, Piano Adventures has additional methods specially designed for preschoolers, teenagers, and adults. They are adapted to the learning styles of each age group and enter into the Basic Method at various points. For example, the adult method prepares beginner pianists for Lesson Book 3B in the basic method. 

Click here for a PDF showing all of the Piano Adventures publications and how they relate. Stay tuned for reviews of the various method series from Faber Piano Adventures

2. Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards
Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards

This set has 89 cards. This deck has all the concepts a beginner student will learn in the method books. They reinforce note reading on the treble and bass clefs, common musical terms, rhythms symbols, and articulations. 

To use the Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards, I mark the answer side with a color-coded number. The colors match the Piano Adventures book in which the concept is first introduced and the number matches the unit.  This way during a lesson, I can quickly pull the current flashcards.

3. Note Rush app 

Note Rush App Icon
Note Rush is a cool app for quizzing notes on any instrument. Using various themes, such as bugs, outer space, and holidays, Note Rush shows you notes on the grand staff one by one and hears you play the note. You do not need a MIDI cable to use this app, but it does have that feature if you would like it.  You are able to turn the timed test feature on and off and build your own quizzes that can be shared with your student to practice at home via a link or QR code. 

4. Board Games

Ice Cream Intervals by Joy Morin Example
My favorite resource for music games is Joy Morin's Color In My Piano blog. My favorite games are Grand Staff Pass, Ice Cream Intervals, and The Amazing Keyboard Race. Another resource I have is The Big Book of Music Games that has games to copy, color, and assemble on file folders. While it is more geared toward general music class, it has many games suitable for 2 players as well. 

5. Elective Book

Faber Supplementary Library
I firmly believe in providing students with additional piano literature outside of the method books. The more the better and I do count working on extra music as practice time. The reason is that self-guided learning in conjunction with enthusiasm for the music quickly builds neural passageways and takes away the drudgery that can often accompany the thought of an upcoming practice session.

As I think back to learning how to play piano, I loved having a library of piano books at my level and beyond. I pushed myself to learn "My Heart Will Go On" from a book of popular piano songs.  I worked on the Faber ShowTime to BigTime Library series books spanning pop, jazz, classical arrangements, ragtime, hymns and Christmas music.  The experience I gained from regularly playing for enjoyment allowed me to progress through intermediate piano literature very quickly. I love to lend my books to my students and I also encourage them to build a music library at home comprised of exciting music books.

6. Theory Worksheets

The Staff, Clefs, and Ledger Lines Worksheet
There are many theory books available for students, but personally, I enjoy making my own curriculum or finding free worksheets from other piano teachers. The most helpful resource for creating my own curriculum has been Joy Morin's Music Symbols Pack. You can drag and drop the symbols from the file into a word processor and create very professional and polished worksheets for your students. I have assigned theory lessons from MusicTheory.net and created an accompanying worksheet to have the student apply the information learned practically. I love MusicTheory.net because it also allows you to build your own theory quizzes and share the link with your students to use on their computers at home. 

7. Music Learning Theory 

Have you ever experienced a piano student adding an extra beat to the last note of each measure in 3/4 time?  What about a student who is unable to distinguish D major from D minor, missing the F# each time and not even noticing? If so, I believe understanding and implementing the concepts of Music Learning Theory by Dr. Edwin E. Gordon will be very helpful to your students. 

I was introduced to Music Learning Theory by my elementary school general music teacher.  We would sing major and minor patterns and chant rhythms.  When I was older, I read a post on the Color in my Piano blog (if you haven't noticed, I adore this blog), about Music Learning Theory and immediately recalled my elementary music classes. I firmly believe in the importance of teaching piano students to sing because it prevents simply decoding the notes to press the correct "buttons".  I have had transfer students unable to tell if they missed a note and unable to feel the difference between duple and triple meters.

The resources on The Improving Musician website are very helpful tools for learning to audiate various tonalities. Check out this resource explaining the process. 

8. Exploring Improvisation and Composition

I have not yet created a printed curriculum for improvisation and composition, but I am brainstorming.  Typically, for the first lesson, I play chords on the black keys and ask the student to play any black keys. For later lessons, I play a white key-based chord progression (I, V, vi, IV or I7, vi7, ii7, V7) and ask my student to play white keys in any order.  The main issue for my students has been confidence and not being willing to make mistakes, even though with the black key improvising, you really can't make a mistake. 

This is one of the main reasons why Music Learning Theory has become so important to me. It helps students to have musical ideas (audiation) and the ability to recreate them on their instrument and with their voice. As another plug for Music Learning Theory: my brothers and I are all improvisers and composers on our respective instruments, and while some people would say we're genetically all musical, I say it's because we all had the same general music teacher growing up. 

For me, improvisation and composition are staples to my musical life. I post my compositions and arrangements to SoundCloud and Sheet Music Plus for fun.  None of those compositions would exist without my initial improvisation to create those ideas.  The composition aspect develops those ideas and creates a coherent piece that becomes a score.  I work hard to impart this skill to all of my students. I hope to teach them music notation software such as MuseScore and the free Apple DAW, GarageBand, so that they also can become composers. 

In Conclusion

I use many resources to build my beginner piano curriculum.  It is not simply piano, it is also games, singing, moving, creating, and collaborating. 

Stay tuned for my intermediate and advanced piano curriculum must-haves!

What are materials are essential to your piano curriculum? Let me know in the comments!

-Jenny

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