Alfred Music’s Basic Piano Course is one of the behemoths of the piano pedagogy library, offering an extensive array of resources beloved by beginner players and their teachers around the world. As a publisher, Alfred very much led the way when they adapted the method for adults; their Alfred Basic Adult All-In-One Course remains a global best-seller.
However, I much prefer Alfred’s more recent Alfred Premier Piano Course which seems to me superior both in terms of pedagogy and musical content. And the recently added Alfred’s Premier Piano Express is a great option for teenage and adult learners.
Written by the impressive team of educators and composers Dennis Alexander, Gayle Kowalchyk, E.L. Lancaster, Victoria McArthur and Martha Mier, the Premier Course was devised to offer a more contemporary approach and feel to its predecessor.
A comprehensive learning resource
The joy of the Express version is that it combines the Lesson, Theory, Technique and Performance elements of the Premier Course into a single book for each of the four levels, offering a fast-track and comprehensive resource for those who don’t require the padding that a younger learner might benefit from.
According to the authors,
The first book includes 11 Units, which introduce:
- Keyboard Basics
- The Musical Alphabet
- The Staff (Stave)
- Steps in Bass Clef (reading pitches from Middle C down to F)
- Steps in Treble Clef (Middle C to G)
- Skips on the Staff (including moving from initial five note positions)
- Legato and Staccato
- Intervals of Second and Thirds
- The G 5-finger position
- Intervals of Fourths and Fifths
- Sharps and Flats
In case you aren’t familiar with Alfred’s Premier Course, these Unit headings give a good indication of the method. Notation is progressively introduced, first without the stave, and then using Landmark Notes and intervals, quickly moving away from one position on the piano. Rhythm is introduced in multiple-note patterns rather than by explaining the values of single notes in isolation, which is hugely helpful.
The second book introduces more notes, larger intervals of 6ths, 7ths and octaves, dynamics, tempo, Eighth Notes (which reminds me: US terminology is exclusively used throughout this series), concepts of Tonic and Dominant, C and G major scales and chords.
In the third book, the player meets the Subdominant chord, the keys of F and D major, A and E minor, syncopation, swing style, compound time, ledger lines, the chromatic scale, inversions of triads, and sixteenth notes.
The fourth and final book, meanwhile, adds major and minor keys up to three sharps and flats, augmented and diminished triads, more complex dotted rhythms, and a hugely welcome introduction to the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary styles.
A particular strength of the method lies in its emphasis on learning to play chords and understand rudimentary harmony; many teens and adults in particular will especially welcome the doorway into chord playing that the Alfred Premier Piano Express opens.
Another strength worth noting: the books enjoy a fairly large music font, especially in the first two books. The clarity this provides is useful for beginners of all ages, and a selling-point for older learners whose eye-sight is on the wane.
The music and more…
I think one would need to look far and wide for a more comprehensive and logical method, and while not all adult learners are after something so rigorously systematic, Premier Piano Express offers a tremendous approach for older beginners who do. But what of the music included?
The four books include a veritable wealth of pedagogic pieces, some inevitably having more imaginative and musical appeal than others. The flavour is generally American, but without the parochial bias or religious fervour sometimes found elsewhere.
The four method books also include a CD-ROM or audio download containing MP3 files of performances on acoustic piano and orchestrated accompaniment for many of the pieces. These appear in four versions:
- A digitally orchestrated accompaniment with piano
- A digitally orchestrated accompaniment without piano
- A practice tempo performed on acoustic piano
- A performance tempo performed on acoustic piano.
The included TNT2 Custom Mix software allows the user to further change tempos in these audio files, and I would say the audio content adds significantly to the musical interest of the method; it can be used both in lessons and at home.
Expanding the series, Alfred Music have more recently published a supplementary repertoire and a Christmas collection to tie in with each of the four levels. I’ve not seen these, but understand they again include digital content.
+ A systematic approach encouraging musical understanding
+ Technique and reading are introduced with methodical care
+ The emphasis on chord playing is a significant boon
– The musical content of the first book is a little dry
– The presentation may seem too “schoolbook”-like for some
The Alfred Premier Piano Express series offers one of the most logical and well-thought approaches to learning the piano on the market, and will appeal to adult learners who are happy to take their time developing a thorough understanding.
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