Best piano materials for beginners? Case study on Alfred’s Premier Piano Course & Edna Mae Burnam’s Piano Course
Which piano pedagogy textbook is the most effective among all the publishers? Nowadays, diverse beginner books are used to meet different people for playing piano at the beginning. Thus, every book has its characteristics when compared with others. It is difficult to directly distinguish which one is the best. Hence, using two beginner books to show the comparisons, Alfred’s Premier Piano Course and Edna Mae Burnam’s Piano Course (Book 1).
Firstly, Alfred’s Premier Piano Course used the intervallic and directional approach. We can observe that the letter name of the first key is written on the left/right side or displayed on the keyboard by a position map. Since early reading is not based on pattern recognition, students must look at the textbook to get information about the position and follow the fingering. However, cultivating the reading ability of students is a slow process. Students may not easily handle the concept of placing a pitch on the big stuff without a gradual process. Moreover, it used numerical counting as calculating the number of beats for each note value. Students can strengthen the relationship between the notes while linking them to the basic pulse. But beginners need to learn the metric counting system later after becoming familiar with numeral counting.
Secondly, Edna Mae Burnam’s Piano Course has used the middle C approach. We can readily find that the middle C is the first pitch and using the thumb of both hands to share the same key. It is easy to repair and confirm a limited number of pitch names and piano key positions for beginners. But the pitch and tonal restrictions of the people around the middle C force students to play with their hands close to the body at the beginning of the study. Also, this book used metric Counting since it teaches the student to try to speak out the beat by using numbers. It is an easy way to let students learn the relationship between the time signature and the rhythm by using numbers. However, metric counting may also make beginners become more confused because it is simple to mix up rhythm counting with finger numbers.
For the Scope and the format, both used the suitable length of the books for their approach. Also, they provided adequate illustrations as most of them are related to finger practices and the songs. The illustrations are not overly prominent. Alfred’s textbook is designed for role teaching, but Edna’s textbook can be used by students themselves. Since they adopted two different approaches, the difficulties and the progressions are more easily controlled in Edna’s textbook. Importantly, the editorial markings are much confused in Alfred’s textbook due to the information not being enough or jumping too fast in the topic switching. For example, the last page was talking about the Half-note, but the next page introduced the dynamic signs. It is hard for beginners and teachers to have a clear mindset of learning. For the keyboard exploration, Alfred’s textbook made a superb example as they started to teach the whole white keys at the beginning. The students can explore the entire piano under this teaching rather than the limited exploration in Edna’s textbook. Moreover, technical difficulties introduced rapid change in Alfred’s textbook such as the black keys, dynamics signs, and time signatures. It used one page to introduce a new concept to students. Besides, Edna’s book tried to introduce the keys starting from the middle C which is much cleaner for beginners. Although both textbooks also allow for the development of both hands, Alfred’s book tries to express the treble and bass clef in the late moment. Both are not included in the harder technique, such as the chords, chromatic figures, articulations… For the musical content, both are using similar piano works, for example, familiar-sounding pieces and simplified versions of masterworks.
Also, the names of the pieces in both are suitable for students. Importantly, the pieces adopted in them are also easy to remember and short as students can have a sense of satisfaction. Nevertheless, both contained lyrics for the students to sing and better understand the phrasing. Also, the pitches and the key are acceptable for beginners. However, both lack a systematic ear-training program, just focused on the singing and role-playing by the teachers. For creativity, Alfred’s book contained more flexibility than Edna’s one. For instance, Alfred’s book would have dynamic signs and some more descriptions such as lively, smooth, confident…
To conclude, both books contain their own strengths and weaknesses. It is hard to say which one is better than another since it depends on the teaching among different teachers. It’s important to consider the potential consequences of a decision and to consult with trusted individuals or resources before making a choice.