For the beginner looking for a thorough, systematic and steady approach with a classical emphasis, the Classical Piano Method by Hans-Günter Heumann (published by Schott Music) hits the nail squarely on the head, and has been establishing itself as another go-to method in my studio for both teenagers and adult beginners.
The Classical Piano Method comprises three levels, each furnished with four books. These cover Method, Repertoire, Duets and “Finger Fitness”.
I personally think that the Method books are sufficiently comprehensive to render the additional publications unnecessary for most, although some of my adult beginners have bought them anyway, and have thoroughly enjoyed their useful additional content.
The Method begins…
Digging into Method Book 1, there are 15 “Lessons”, although these should not be equated to actual lessons in my view. The first three, for example, introduce basic concepts which could easily be covered in a single 45-minute introductory lesson before launching straight into Lesson 4.
From Lesson 4, “Finger Fitness” exercises are integrated in each Lesson, tackling the specific difficulty that adult beginners often have in this area.
Alongside pedagogic pieces written by Heumann himself (a true master in this field!), the music mostly comprises very simplified arrangements of classical favourites. Pupils always tell me how much they enjoy these, even though they are often very bare-bones approximations of the originals.
By the end of the first Method Book, the learner will have moved beyond five note positions (of which a variety will have been used, preventing the student getting locked into one position for too long), understand a wide range of notation, and be using the sustain pedal. They will have extensively played duets, improvised, and explored the instrument.
Importantly, they will have developed finger independence and hand coordination, which can be such a challenge for adult beginners, but which are covered here more carefully and thoroughly than in any of the other methods under review.
After two very carefully progressive levels, the Level 3 material must be described as somewhat aspirational; by this (post-Grade 1) stage, most adults will probably have gravitated towards other material anyway, such that this book will be an affectionate supplement to their wider learning. The book concludes with, unsimplified, Chopin’s E minor Prelude Op.28/4, a Grade 6 piece!
More about the Publications
The publications themselves are hands-down the most attractive of all those reviewed for this round up. They are genuinely beautiful, and all the students of mine who have bought them comment on their clarity and lovely presentation.
As in Heumann’s more recent Piano Junior method for younger beginners, each new concept or element of notation is highlighted using spot colour, both to direct the student’s learning and so that the teacher doesn’t forget to cover anything along the way.
Fascinating sketches of dozens of composers are included, with useful suggestions for listening. Occasional quizzes check knowledge, and there are additional sections exploring Classical Music more broadly too. Each book ends with a Theory section and Glossary which are pitch perfect for the independent learning needs and ambitions of the older beginner.
The books unashamedly have a classical bias, which is just fine for older learners who already know that this is the music they most want to play. That said, I must underline that the educational approach throughout is bang-up-to-date modern, with an emphasis on creativity, interpretation and wider musical exploration.
The three Method books each includes audio downloads featuring performances of all the included music, as well as play-along tracks for the duet pieces (i.e. the teacher duet part, rather than a fuller backing track). The tempi here are always realistic, and the overall production is high quality.
+ Great for those needing a carefully progressive approach
+ Outstanding pedagogy, helped by engaging text
+ The music is appealing, and the audio downloads genuinely useful
+ Did I mention that the books are simply beautiful?
– The Method deliberately limits itself to classical music
– Some might prefer interactive content over the CD
The beginner who has an interest in playing classical piano will find everything they need here, carefully, thoroughly and methodically introduced.
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