What method books should we use for children or adults when studying a musical instrument?
What are the typical method books and what is the difference between them?
The well known “old school” methods started appearing in the late 18th century. Many generations of piano students learned through Clementi and Czerny books and violin students through Galamian and Flesch, for example. These were textbooks designed to support an instrumental teacher with a series of exercises, fingering charts, scales, and simple pieces ascending in difficulty from one book to another. All of these resources are easily available today and are treated with much respect by professional musicians and serious students alike.
With time, more method books began to be published. Today, we have an abundance of various series of books for music lessons available at the click of a computer mouse. So, are they different from what we had 200 years ago, and more importantly, are they significantly different from one another?
The language of the modern books have certainly become more accessible and overall friendly: many of them start from very young kids, have simple explanations and pictures accompanying the musical examples, lots of catchy tunes to have fun with, and plus: the rewards and stickers! In essence however, the modern books teach us the exact same foundational information as for centuries before. We learn to read the notes, the rhythms, the finger numbers, and all the basics first.
It used to be that the student wouldn’t even be allowed to start playing their instrument before knowing how to read the physical sheet music. But instead, now the students begin to play simple songs simultaneously with learning the basics. This is a good change – more fun this way, and more feelings of accomplishment! The songs in the modern method book are usually a combination of the original pieces and the well known traditional and classical pieces. After we learn the basics, the more and more advanced books become collections of the classical and popular songs. The author simply chooses what pieces to include in the book.
Remember, these method books were always meant to be supplemental to the in-person music lessons. You can’t learn how to play a musical instrument by doing the method books without the guidance of a teacher.
So, with the exception of how the basics are presented to the beginner kids or adults, all method books are very similar. They do not go into the depths of the performance techniques but rather present different collections of music songs to choose from. It’s wonderful to have a choice! A teacher can try a few different method books with both young and adult students to see which one each specific student connects with better. Some will prefer a cleaner traditional layout, another will like the one with colorful pictures, but eventually “all roads lead to Rome” and the students learn the same basic information.
So how would you, as a student, choose the right method book for yourself? Well, you wouldn’t. It is not your job to make this choice – leave it to the professionals!
At Riverside Music Studios we simply ask our teachers what books they like to use and we have them all in our library. When it comes to “method books” they are just different authors and publishing houses competing for your business. And the competition is making the book creators come up with better designs, better fonts, clearer instructions, and more up to date music selections.
So once again, trust your teacher to help you find the right book and, even more importantly, the right level. Now, go practice!