As I learned the piano, I needed a lot of books. Especially books that showed me all of the basics I needed to make further progress.

And now I recommend the same books to my students.

We're going to have a look at the landscape of books available in the marketplace.

And we'll distinguish between works concerning learning to play the piano with a teacher, and those to help you learn to play on your own. Because from one book to the next, the content and learning methods for the piano will vary.

Books are the number one form of support to piano lessons.

The more practical, the more well-rounded. You can start on the piano with online tutorials, which have proven effective. But starting with the help of books remains the more classical method, and also the most viable.

There are dozens and dozens of books for beginner pianists. There are the well-known and recognised, the great classics, as well as the books that are lesser know, with less of an established reputation, but still just as effective.

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Where Can You Find the Best Books for Beginner Pianists?

There are numerous places where you can get your hands on books about learning to play the piano. In principle there are two types of pianists who use these books. There are those who want to learn to play piano on their own, and those who've chosen to progress with the help of a teacher. And within each direction, the books themselves will be different.

I use the word book to discuss these manuals because they're obviously found in bookstores. They're also found online, in with e-retailers (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble).

  • Personally, I recommend buying your piano training manual from a specialised retailer. Because there are certain advantages with this kind of direct sale.
  • A passionate relationship with other passionate musicians. One that offers anecdotes from musicians, and which, in a kind moment, can push a student to persevere through difficult challenges.
  • The ability to take advantage of the salespeople's advice, as well as from fellow musicians. This advice is invaluable as you start out.

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learn piano with books
Playing an instrument offers a number of personal benefits.

There are, nowadays, many different ways to acquire books on the piano for beginners.

Which means that everyone will decide on the best way for themselves. A simple purchase, or a purchase that comes with advice and recommendations from music professionals.

There is no right or wrong way to do it. It's a matter of preference and of available time.

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How to Properly Choose Your Piano Training Book?

Choosing the material that will help you reliably progress through each step is most important.

By practicing in a regular fashion, let's say that one book will get through a minimum of 3-4 months of training.

So your choice is paramount. It's recommended that you consult many sources before deciding, and try to find the book with the best combination of quality and value.

And then take advantage of different musicians' advice. Those who've already had experience with these books are the most trustworthy and most able to recommend books to beginners.

Buying your first piano book is like a small rite of passage that welcomes the student into the immense and wonderful family of pianists.

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Why Should You Begin Your Education on the Piano with Books?

Having been around for more than 2000 years, paper has proved its worth in terms of education. It is still, now, an effective and lasting form of information transmission, whether it's for music classes or language classes or even singing classes.

According to a recent study, 66% of students who use textbooks daily are "self-sufficient" and 70% do better than students who aren't learning with written materials.

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learn piano books
Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin: learn to play like the greatest composers!

More than being user-friendly (they can even be shared among several students), educational manuals held you develop your memory, your cognitive processes, your vocabulary, and your oral communication.

For teachers at a music school or conservatory, books and manuals remain THE best method for teaching students to continue their studies on their own!

Generally, a piano instruction manual contains many sections and even an educational CD to help you learn how to play the piano through a proven process.

The aspiring pianist should be able to learn songs such as these:

  • Symphony No. 5 — Ludwig Van Beethoven
  • Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight) — Ludwig Van Beethoven
  • Bagatelle No. 25 (Für Elise) — Ludwig Van Beethoven
  • The Four Seasons — Antonio Vivaldi
  • The Funeral March — Frédéric Chopin
  • Air (On a G String) — Johann Sebastian Bach
  • The Enchanted Flute — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Boléro — Maurice Ravel
  • Swan LakePyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Flight of the Valkries — Richard Wagner

What's more, educational manuals for the piano enable the transmission of this musical knowledge across multiple generations. Some pianists inherit music books from their predecessors and have their turn to learn sonatas, improvisation, or music theory without a piano teacher.

You can then practice what you've learnt with online piano lessons.

What to Look for Before Choosing

Every music book has its own characteristics. The ultimate goal of these books is often the same, the ways of getting there will rarely be the same.

Which is why it's important to take your time with your decision. The content of the exercises is a major factor to consider. The sequence and the format of the lessons is also important. The progression must be linear and logical. If the sequence is disorderly or without any particular reason, it will be difficult to stay focused.

It's also important that there be the same logic in the exercises, which need to reference the lessons, and which need to challenge the student directly in terms of the different techniques, so that they'll advance in their lessons.

The Best Books for Teaching Yourself to Play Piano

If you want to learn to play the piano on your own, books are clearly an important factor that will determine your progress. Here are some books with proven effectiveness:

  • How to Play Piano: Everything You Need to Know to Play the Piano, by Roger Evans. This book, short and concise, focuses on technical details, which are explained very clearly. The language is simple, and the straightforward exercises are also very targeted. A very good manual for getting started on your own.
  • Piano Adventures Lesson Book, Primer Level,  by Nancy and Randall Faber. This husband-and-wife team with their own piano institute have produced a four-level series (Primer, Technique, Lesson, Theory) that is laid out simply and incredibly logically. Each section builds on the last, and so you really feel like you're progressing. There are little challenges and practice games, as well as songs to learn in which to incorporate what you've just learned. I've had students tell me they go back to some of these songs to go over special aspects again and again—always a good sign.
  • Learn to Play Piano in Six Weeks or Less, by Dan Delaney. This book is recommended more for those with a basic understanding of music theory and how to read sheet music, because it definitely dives into the lessons without explaining those fundamentals in much details. But those lessons are very good and very useful.

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Beginner Theory Books

If you want to become a film composer, play in a band, or simply understand the piano, it's crucial that you learn music theory.

But can you learn to play the piano without taking a class on music theory?

You can learn to read a score with the help of piano training manual!

manuals for learning to read sheet music
Is sheet music all Greek to you? Don't panic: manuals can help!

To become a musical virtuoso and know all the musical notes, a student needs to work on their musical ear. Over the course of your training, you will recognize a note or even reproduce a piece of music without needing to read a score.

Did you know?

According to a study at conservatory in Rochester, New York conducted in 2009, 60% of Chinese students who started their musical education before the age of four developed a perfect ear, compared to 14% of American students.

Developing a perfect ear, the ability to recognize notes without auditory reference, is definitely a question of age, but also one of ancestry.

But don't be discouraged: it's not necessary to have a perfect ear to learn rhythms on the piano or learn how to play a melody.

To know how to read classical sheet music for the piano without taking lessons, here are some useful books:

  • The Musicians Guide to Theory and Analysis, by Jane Piper Clendinning and Elizabeth West Marvin
  • Hal Leonard Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians, Carl Schroeder and Keith Wyatt
  • Learn to Read Music, by Howard Shanet
  • How to Read Music: Fundamentals of Music Notation Made Easy, by Roger Evans
  • How to Read Music: Beginner Fundamentals of Music and How to Read Musical Notation, by Erich Andreas
  • Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory: A Complete Self-Study Course for All Musicians, By Andrew Surmani, Karen Farnum Surmani, and Morton Manus

In a fun way, a beginner pianist can address the basics of learning to play the piano and discover many musical styles (classical music, jazz, blues, etc...). Step by step, the student will decipher sheet music and be able to read notes naturally.

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Beginner Manuals for Playing Classical Pieces

Getting a classical musical education without enrolling in a traditional piano course is possible!

In the realm of beginner piano lessons without a teacher, students have the choice between playing with the right hand, playing with the left hand, or playing with both hands according to personal progress. At the beginning, it's not strictly necessary to know how to play with both hands: students can work on sheet music one hand at a time, and then advance to the next level once that's been done.

learning pianist
Why not take your chances at a piano bar?

There are several manuals that include all kinds of sheet music, often including CDs. The disc allows you to be accompanied (or not) by other musical instruments, with the goal of playing in rhythm and with more musicality.

If you want to play Bach's Preludes, or the best pieces by Schumann or Schubert, this is a very useful tool.

Here are some suggested manuals with sheet music of classical pieces:

  • 42 Famous Classics for Easy Piano, by Allan Small
  • A First Book of Classical Music: 29 Themes by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Other Great Composers in Easy Piano Arrangements, by Bergerac
  • Big Book of Beginner's Piano Classics: 83 Favorite Pieces in Easy Piano Arrangements, by Bergerac and David Dutkanicz
  • The Library of Piano Classics
  • Piano Solos for All Occasions: The Complete Resource for Every Pianist!, by Hal Leonard Publishing
  • 10 for 10 Sheet Music Classical Piano Favorites: Piano Solos, by Alfred Music Publishing
  • Music by the Masters: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg, Handel, Haydn, Schubert, and More, by Russell E. Lanning

It's equally possible to learn to play the piano online, since certain sites allow access to free sheet music for beginners. Computer programs for learning to play the piano offer access to digital pianos, useful for those who want to learn to play a synthesizer.

Whether it's piano lessons online or written piano lessons, you can now play piano pieces without the help of a teacher!

Join the discussion: is it more challenging to learn the piano as an adult?

Beginner Manuals for Playing Modern Pieces

Is classical music not your thing?

Why not try a new approach to the piano and start out with contemporary songs?

It's not necessary to stay fixed in one musical style: certain pop, rock, rap, or even metals songs adapt to the piano very well, giving you an opportunity to reinterpret a popular song your own way!

lennon imagine modern classic piece
"Imagine," by John Lennon: a contemporary classic to learn on the piano!

Here are some contemporary songs that are perfect for beginner pianists:

  • "Candle in the Wind," by Elton John
  • "Imagine," by John Lennon
  • "Make You Feel My Love," by Adele
  • "Sound of Silence," by Simon and Garfunkel
  • "Hallelujah," by Jeff Buckley
  • "Let It Be," by the Beatles
  • "Fallin'," by Alicia Keys

To get comfortable with their rhythm, it's recommended that you take singing lessons to understand how to play both instruments at the same time. By mastering piano and singing, students can aspire to musical careers, most notably by enrolling in a prestigious music school or by going to auditions.

Here are some manuals to help you learn how to play modern piano pieces:

  • The Giant Pop & Rock Piano Sheet Music Collection, by Alfred Music Publishing
  • Rolling Stone Easy Piano Sheet Music Classics, Vol. 1: 39 Selections from the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, by Dan Coates (Rolling Stone)
  • The Beatles Best: Easy Piano, by the Beattles and Dan Fox
  • The Big Book of Oldies: 73 Classic Hits from the '50s and '60s, by Hal Leonard Publishing
  • Today's Greatest Pop & Rock Hits: The Biggest Hits! The Greatest Artists!, by Dan Coates
  • Top 50 Classic Rock Hits: Easy Piano, by Dan Coates
  • Billboard Sheet Music Hits 2000-2010, by Alfred Music Publishing (Billboard)

For pop culture fanatics, there are also lots of training workbooks (like Complete Harry Potter, by John Williams, the Legend of Zelda Series for Piano bu Koji Kondo, or Hamilton for Easy Piano by Lin-Manuel Miranda) to help you learn to play pieces from movies, musicals, or even video games!

More fun and popular, these classic pieces can easily be played among friends or even in public. Some musicians even make the decision to post their musical arrangements on Youtube in hopes of getting discovered by record companies.

Why not dare to compose your own personal version of a contemporary hit?

Find out how you can improvise while playing the piano!

Getting Started on the Piano with Educational Manuals for Children

Whether you begin at seven or seventy-seven years old, the key to success is motivation!

There is no one age we advise you to start playing the piano at. Nevertheless, the greatest composers in the world generally began their education in childhood, before five or six.

learn piano at any age
With a positive attitude, your child won't look at learning the piano like a chore!

If want your child to learn to play the piano, educational workbooks are ideal. This way, the child won't really have the impression that it's a lesson, because there won't be a proper class or a teacher. Self-administered piano lessons will always be an eye-opening musical experience provided that the parents don't establish overly ambitious goals.

Moving at their own pace, the student can progress and perfect their playing until they become a virtuous on the piano by time they're an adult.

Our recommended piano workbooks for children:

  • Teaching Little Fingers to Play: A Book for the Earliest Beginner, John Thompson
  • John Thompson's Easiest Piano Course, Part 1, by John Thompson
  • My First Piano, Learn to Play, by Ben Parker
  • Alfred's Basic Piano Library Lesson Book, Willard Palmer, Morton Manus, and Vick Lethco
  • Piano for the Young Beginner, James Bastien and Jane Smisor Bastien

Developing musical sensibilities early on opens up an array of educational opportunities: the child can learn other stringed instruments later on and become a complete artist.

When each song is perfected, you should reward your child: adopting a productive educational environment will help your child feel a sense of accomplishment. With patience and determination, can make playing the piano a true passion!

What are the best books to use as a teacher?

When you have the opportunity to have a teacher come into the home to regularly give beginner piano lessons, books take on a support role, one that's there every day, when the teacher isn't there himself but you want help accomplishing your goals.

And for this, there are several good books for beginner pianists, of which I'll give you a few examples:

  • Adult All-In-One Course: Lesson-Theory-Technique, by Willard Palmer, Morton Manus, and Amanda Vick Lethco. These books, because it's a hugely successful and effective series, are actually designed to be used in conjunction with private lessons, and so there's a chance you'll encounter them through a teacher. They tackle many aspects of playing the piano at the same time, building a solid base as you go.
  • Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises, by C. L. Hanon. This classic book, written over a hundred years ago, persists in popularity because of its reliably proven technique, no matter who your teacher is or what approach they take. The individual lessons walk you through pieces, and guide you through the new challenges along the way.
pianist sheet music
A special relationship forms between the musician and his sheet music...

The only advice you must follow is that you should get your own advice from teachers about various books to help you as you learn to play the piano.

Can You Learn to Play Piano with Books Alone?

Learning to play the piano by using books is like a necessary rite of passage you must pass before having access to the scores of sheet music that are more in line with your tastes and preferences.

It's obligatory at this stage of your education. Even more, obviously, if you're learning on your own, without taking piano lessons.

You can see that there are other ways than books to learn to play (such as online tutorials, for example). But very few of these kinds of support are as thorough and effective as the books that we've recommended already.

But to say that books are enough on their own? I don't think so. Consistency, regular practice, and, eventually, additional exercises that aren't generally in books will give you added value, a value added to the fundamental techniques found within the structure of books.

child learning piano
Little ones have their own music!

If it hasn't been made clear by now, we advise you to buy a few books before buying your first piano. Learning to play the piano needs to be done step by step.

What Do the Best Books Offer Aspiring Pianists?

An understanding of theory and proven techniques. The best books give students a structured and clear approach to the basics. They allow you to proceed step by step, level by level. Structure is what students need, especially as they're beginning their education on the piano.

Used in conjunction with training given by a teacher, or on your own, books are a beginner pianist's best friend.

And they're often reusable. When a former student decides to take the leap towards teaching (like me), the books can be passed along. They're timeless.

You might be wondering which authors have made the greatest impact on the history of teaching the piano. Well, the authors referenced above are among them because they're still influential today. They allow you to learn to play the piano effectively and quickly because they focus on the essentials.

You might also be wondering if new technologies have become necessary in the way piano is taught these days.

piano classes student and teacher
Educational books are the perfect form of support for teachers and students alike!

So how exactly do you use all the support and all of the products that are now available? This question requires further reflection.

Don't lose sight of the fact that playing the piano is a hobby, and that learning it shouldn't feel like a chore.

The pleasure gained from playing and learning to play should always be the primary goal of your piano lessons, no matter how they're done.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.