Books for Beginners

by Mage, Musician & Teaching Artist

When it comes to learning music one size does NOT fit all. Various factors including the age of the student, goals of the student/parent, preferred musical genres/styles of focus, learning pace, amount of practice, and whether or not exams, adjudication, or competitions are part of the learning plan can all affect the choice of curriculum and approach to the music lessons. In this article I will briefly go over the different curriculum and method books that I generally use for different types of beginners for each instrument that I teach. The focus here will mainly be beginners who are about to take their first music lesson.

There are other book books available that I use with my students; the ones listed in this article are only some of the most common ones. There are other styles and genres available for all of the instruments; if you are interested in something specific please contact me

Note: Throughout this article I will be referring to the Royal Conservatory of Music and occasionally abbreviate it as “RCM.” Some students and families will pursue this route which I recommend if you would like to gain an evaluated and nationally standardized musical education. To learn more about the Royal Conservatory of Music and the benefits of studying through that system please visit https://www.rcmusic.com . Also I will be offering another certification option through a different organization—stay tuned for more info in the future!

As an Amazon associate I earn through qualifying purchases.

Guitar
For Kids
• For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – General Guitar
• For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Acoustic Guitar
• For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Electric/Rock Guitar
• For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Classical Guitar
• Royal Conservatory of Music
• For Older Kids, Teen, & Adults – Jazz Guitar

Piano

• For Kids
• For Older Kids
• For Teens
• For Older Teens & Adults
• Royal Conservatory of Music

Voice

• For Kids
• For Older Kids/Teens/Adults
• For Older Kids/Teens/Adults – Pop/Rock
• Royal Conservatory of Music

■ Electric Bass/Bass Guitar
• For Kids
• For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults


Guitar

For Kids

First Book for the Guitar – Part 1: Guitar Technique

Children can learn how to play properly and find it fun and engaging with Frederick Noad’s straightforward yet detailed approach to teaching the guitar. This has to be one of the best guitar method books for children, and a complete version is also available.


Progressive Guitar Method for Young Beginners Book 1 (Kindle)

Progressive Guitar Method for Young Beginners Book 1 (Paperback)

Suitable for children ages 4-8, this book starts young beginners with learning how to read the staff right away by introducing relatively easy to play notes. Students eventually get to learn rhythm, scales, chords, and techniques for playing the guitar.


Guitar for Kids (Kindle Edition)

OR

Guitar for Kids (Paperback)

Hal Leonard Guitar Method (Hal Leonard Guitar Method (Songbooks))

This book is perfect for young beginners because of how it starts chords with only 3 strings and one finger at a time. Smaller hands that are still growing will ease into the stretching and development of finger coordination. The styles covered in this book are mainly popular and rock music, though there is “Ode to Joy” in there. Students will learn how to read standard notation–there is NO tablature (TAB) in this book. For those who wish to learn extra songs there is even the Method & Songbook version of this book available.

For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – General Guitar

Hal Leonard Guitar Method

Complete Edition: Books 1, 2 and 3 with Audio 2nd Edition

This book is great if you would like something challenging to start! You will learn how to read music and apply that to guitar technique. It is available in both digital and paperback format, and it includes all 3 books in one collection. It’s got quite a few folk songs in it too.

For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Acoustic Guitar

Hal Leonard Acoustic Guitar Tab Method: Method Book One

If your focus is more on the acoustic guitar, and you’d like to get started playing first without having to worry about reading standard music notation then this book is for you. You’ll still learn how to read rhythms and learn the notes on the fretboard. The main styles covered are popular, rock, country, and some blues. Available in both Kindle & paperback format.

For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Electric/Rock Guitar

Hal Leonard Guitar Tab Method (Kindle & Paperback Editions)

This book is very similar to the one above (it’s in the same tablature format) except that its focus is more on electric guitar songs with an emphasis on the rock genre. It too is available in both Kindle and paperback formats, and the paperback format that includes the audio tracks actually contains books 1 & 2 together.

Basics 1 – The Wolf Marshall Guitar Method

Out of all the contemporary based guitar books I use for beginners THIS one has to be the most challenging (and to me the most interesting!). Nowadays it seems most beginners prefer more accessible books that get them playing easily right away, and this book does allow for that, but it also explains the theory behind things, and it even includes BOTH tablature AND standard music notation, so you get the best of both worlds. Styles included are rock, blues, hard rock, rockabilly, metal, and more.


For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Classical Guitar

First I would like to mention that two of the most challenging genres of guitar music to play are classical and jazz. Many beginners, especially younger ones or those who have short attention spans, may benefit from doing one of the easier books mentioned above before diving into classical studies. Every student is different, so evaluating the progress and assessing goals and practice commitment will be part of the process in determining whether starting with the classical material is suitable for the individual.

In addition if one wishes to participate in the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) certificate program these method books below would be a good start before the transition to the RCM books which I will list afterwards. And I must emphasize that you will need to get a classical guitar (a.k.a. nylon-string guitar) not just a regular acoustic guitar in order to participate in the RCM exams. Plus the instrument is more suitable for the style due to its neck width (a separate article about guitar selection will be written soon!).


1) Solo Guitar Playing, Book 1, 4th Edition Bk/Online Audio by Frederick Noad

The most thorough method book on classical guitar has a logical approach that covers both the musical language and guitar technique.


2) A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar: Book 1 – Book Only

OR

A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar: Book 1 – Book/CD

For students who are starting off with classical guitar this book is thorough in its technique, and it will get you reading music notation too. There is NO tablature in this one, which is fine since classical music generally requires reading standard notation. The only version that has the audio tracks is one of the paperback versions; the Kindle version does not have audio tracks.


3) Classical Guitar (Hal Leonard Guitar Method) Kindle Edition

OR

The Hal Leonard Classical Guitar Method: A Beginner’s Guide…. Paperback Edition

This is also a good beginner’s classical guitar book, and it too does NOT have tablature.


Royal Conservatory of Music

3a) Royal Conservatory –  Preparatory Guitar Repertoire and Etudes

3b) Royal Conservatory of Music – Celebrate Theory Preparatory

3c) Royal Conservatory – Four Star® Sight Reading and Ear Tests Preparatory A

3d) Royal Conservatory – Classical Guitar Technique

Notice how I did not put the word “or” between any of the titles above listed as 3a, 3b, 3c, and 3d. That is because in the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) studies multiple books are needed. If you decide to go this route be prepared to practice and study regularly. It is usually advisable for younger children to start with the Guitar for Kids book by Hal Leonard before attempting RCM studies; they may even be better off transitioning from the Guitar for Kids book to one of the other classical guitar books mentioned above before studying with RCM. It will all depend on the child and his or her level of progress and practice.

For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults – Jazz Guitar

First I would like to quote the jazz guitar teacher I had when I went to university for my jazz degree: “You cannot learn jazz from a book!” He told me this when I asked him which book he would recommend for study and technique, and instead of giving me a book he proceeded to write out some picking exercises that he thought I needed for my own playing. The guitar is one of those instruments in which many people can play but few players can actually read standard notation or explain to you the theory behind the music. A sense of groove and a good ear go a long ways, and it can take time to develop those areas of understanding the music. With any style of music listening to a lot of it is going to help you learn how to understand and eventually play it. If you already know the basics of the guitar or of another musical instrument then it will be easier to learn jazz; the book recommended below already assumes that you have a basic understanding of the guitar.

A Comprehensive Guide with Detailed Instruction and Over 40 Great Jazz Classics

Hal Leonard Guitar Method – Jazz Guitar (with Audio)

Available in both Kindle & paperback formats. Audio tracks included in both formats


Piano

Or you may refer to this as “keyboard” especially if you are using a digital piano to practice. As long as your digital piano has 88 keys and hammer action keys (which means the keys feel and respond the same way as an acoustic piano or at least pretty close) then you’re good to go and should have a great instrument for years to come. If you plan to pursue RCM studies then it is crucial that you get the proper piano for that as technique is stringently evaluated (a separate article about choosing a piano will be published soon!).

For Kids

I select between two different method books for young beginner piano students. The choice depends on the goal of the student/parent/guardian and whether or not a transition to participating in Royal Conservatory of Music studies is going to take place.

1) Piano for Kids: A Beginner’s Guide with Step-by-Step Instructions (Hal Leonard Piano Method)

If you would like your child to eventually focus on classical music with some inclusion of jazz, popular, and folk music and possibly participate in exams (which could even lead to receiving high school credit then I would suggest starting with this book and then going straight to the Royal Conservatory Preparatory A books upon completion. This book is available in both Kindle and paperback formats, and both versions include the audio recordings. It covers enough of the musical language, theory, reading notation, and technique to prepare your child to be ready to begin the Royal Conservatory curriculum. With dedicated practice from the student and support at home from the parent/guardian this book can be completed in a matter of months.

OR

2a) Alfred Basic Piano Library Course Pack Level 1A

Four book set includes – Lesson, Theory, Technic and Notespeller Books (Paperback)

2b) Alfred Basic Piano Library Recital Book 1A:

Learn How to Play with This Esteemed Piano Method (Kindle & Paperback)

2c) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library, Ear Training Book 1A:

Learn How to Play Piano with this Esteemed Method (Kindle & Paperback)

The Alfred method uses multiple books per level, and for your convenience I have listed the course pack (paperback) which includes the main books that you would need to get started. Each of these books are available separately and via Kindle format too. Two of the Level 1A books that are NOT included are the Recital book and the Ear Training book, which is why they are listed separately above. If you’re not sure what to get just go with the course pack first and then if I think you will need the other books I will let you know!

Alfred Basic Piano Library is one of those “tried and true” piano methods that works very well with keeping kids engaged and ensuring that they understand the material, not just playing but also through music theory, note reading, and ear training. Some families would prefer to continue with this series even beyond Level 1A and 1B (there are 6 levels), and then if desired they can transition to the Royal Conservatory material whenever they are ready. Check out this handy dandy correlation chart that maps out the equivalent levels from various piano methods including Alfred to the RCM (Royal Conservatory) grades. So based on that chart and the material in the books once a student finishes the Alfred Level 3 then he or she should be ready for RCM Grade 1 and can work on preparing for the exam that corresponds with that grade. In addition Alfred Level 6 is the equivalent of RCM Grade 3, and there are—get this—12 grades in the RCM system, including the Preparatory and Associate Diploma levels. It’s kind of like how there are 12 grades in school from elementary to middle school to high school. This is why traditionally families who wish to pursue the RCM route start as early as possible, but even with a later start, even when starting as an adult, one can work hard and complete more than one RCM grade in a year especially if music lessons are continued throughout the summer months (don’t forget—there are online music lessons, so even if you are not in town you can still keep your lessons and your progress!).

For Older Kids

a) Piano Lesson Book: Complete Level 1, for the Later Beginner (Kindle & Paperback Available)

b) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Piano Course, Theory Book Complete Level 1: For the Later Beginner (Kindle & Paperback)

c) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Piano Course, Technic Book Complete Level 1 (Kindle & Paperback)

d) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Piano Course, Notespeller Book Complete Level 1 (Kindle & Paperback)

e) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library – Ear Training Book, Complete Level 1 (1A/1B):

Learn How to Play Piano with This Esteemed Method (Kindle & Paperback)

f) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library: Sight Reading Book Complete Level 1 (1A/1B) (Kindle & Paperback)

g) Alfred’s Basic Piano Library: Recital Book Complete Level 1 (1A/1B) (Paperback & Google Play Only)

These Alfred books for older beginners move at a faster pace that the regular ones. Since there is no “course pack” available each book must be purchased separately. Books A through D are the most important ones to get, but adding E and F would be helpful. G is entirely optional.

For Teens

Hal Leonard Piano for Teens Method:

A Beginner’s Guide with Step-by-Step Instruction for Piano (Hal Leonard Piano Method) (Kindle & Paperback)

This one is quite similar to the Piano for Kids book by the same publisher Hal Leonard, except the material moves a little faster, and the selections are for suitable for teens.

For Older Teens & Adults

Alfred’s Basic Adult All-in-One Course:

Lesson, Theory, Technic (Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course)

This book gets you playing piano with good technique and reading standard notation in no time. Designed with the adult or older teen in mind this book is mid-fast-paced.

Royal Conservatory of Music

In most cases I have noticed that it is advantageous to start a method book before transitioning to the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) series. That is because the program expects that you are already familiar with certain rudimentary knowledge and technique. That being said it is possible to start here; it just might take a little longer to master certain technical aspects required for playing these pieces. Please visit the RCM website to learn more about their certificate program.

a) TRP00 – Royal Conservatory Technical Requirements for Piano Prep Level 2015 Edition

b) TCT0B – Celebrate Theory – The Royal Conservatory – Prep Level

c) 4S0A – Royal Conservatory Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests Level Prep A Book 2015 Edition

d) Preparatory A Piano Repertoire

You could also buy a SET that includes all four of the books above.


Voice

For Kids

Singing Lessons for Kids: Songs for Kids to Sing

(Free Audio Available) (Progressive Young Beginner)  Available in both Kindle & Paperback

This book works well with young beginners who are learning to sing for the first time. The pace is gradual and will help your child learn how to sing songs, how to use ears to listen to pitch, and how to read music.

For Older Kids/Teens/Adults

Sightsinging: Essential Concepts Series (Musicians Institute Essential Concepts)

I actually use this book with some of my younger singing students too. This book is to help singers with sightsinging, ear training, and note reading warmups.

Vocal Exercises: for Building Strength, Endurance and Facility (Hal Leonard Pro Vocal)

This book of warmups is suitable for all styles and ages. Some warmups are more challenging than others.

For Older Kids/Teens/Adults – Pop/Rock

The Contemporary Singer: Elements of Vocal Technique (Berklee Guide) Available in both Kindle & Paperback

This book contains valuable information and guidance toward proper vocal technique, understanding vocal anatomy, and health. It is geared more toward the those interested in singing popular or rock music.

Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singer (Berklee Press)

This is a great companion book for the Elements of Vocal Technique method book (see above).

Royal Conservatory of Music

Below are the books recommended for preparation of the Royal Conservatory of Music Exams for vocal majors.

a) Preparatory Voice Repertoire (on RCM website only)

b) Celebrate Theory – Preparatory

c) Four Star® Sight Reading and Ear Tests Preparatory A


Electric Bass/Bass Guitar

The electric bass (also known as the bass guitar) is an instrument that is best suited to modern styles such as rock, blues, jazz, funk, pop, R&B. In fact if you are planning to do a Royal Conservatory exam (another topic that needs its own article!) you will need to get a totally different instrument called the double bass (also known as a “standup bass” or an “upright bass”) since much of the material played will be music of the Baroque, classical, and romantic periods. The books listed in this section are intended for the electric bass or acoustic bass guitar, which is a bass that is shaped and designed somewhat like an acoustic guitar.

For Kids

Hal Leonard Bass for Kids:

A Beginner’s Guide with Step-by-Step Instruction for Bass Guitar 

This book is suited for beginning bass students who are 12 years of age or younger. It contains access to practice audio tracks that can be slowed down. It also covers reading standard musical notation which helps for developing musical literacy.

For Older Kids, Teens, & Adults

Hal Leonard Bass Method – Complete Edition (Spiral-Bound)

OR

Hal Leonard Bass Method – Complete Edition (Kindle)

Books 1, 2 and 3 Bound Together in One Easy-to-Use Volume!

This book is suitable for beginning older kids, teens, and adults. Technique, theory, and playing a variety of modern styles is covered in this book which is available in both the spiral-bound and Kindle versions. Plus you get three books in one and access to the digital audio practice tracks.

Are there certain music method books that you use for beginners? Message me or write in the comments below! And if you are interested in studying a certain instrument and/or genre of music I can make some book recommendations to you.

Note: As an Amazon associate I earn through qualifying purchases.

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