Once upon a time about 250 years ago there was a young boy named Wolfgang who took music lessons with his father. To keep the young squirmy boy interested, his papa tempted him with a steady diet of inspiring music by such top-notch composers as Monterverdi, Palistrina, Byrd, and Gibbons. To make it a little more educational he threw in some 500-year-old plain chant. Little Mozart resisted and begged to play some popular music. Like a lot of young people of his time, he was especially fond of minuets. And his father, wanting to be up to date, obliged the little boy and said he could play some popular music, but only in the summer and only if he learned his other, real music, first.

Of course I just made this up. Leopold Mozart wrote pieces in the contemporary style of the time for his young son. So why do some musicians today only regard music by long dead composers as the only valid music to teach piano students?

Why not have a carefully sequenced method series that uses the music styles of today? Why not seriously teach these styles with a series that starts at the beginning and moves gradually up to the early advanced level? Why not offer this in addition to classical music?

Christopher Norton and Scott McBride Smith, very well known in the field of piano pedagogy, have written a series that does just that. Recently I had an opportunity to hear this series presented in depth. I bought the books and played through all the pieces. I was very impressed with the quality of the music. Christopher Norton has a long history of writing well-composed music in popular styles.  The music is carefully graded to progress gradually. It is meticulously edited by Scott McBride Smith with all the musical elements we want our students to learn. All popular styles are represented. I love the covers, which will work for any age. There are no “popular” hits in these books. All of the music is specifically composed for the piano in popular styles students are used to hearing.

There are 9 levels complete with Repertoire, Etude, Technic, and Skills books. The books can be also be used as a supplement to your regular method. Inside the Repertoire books, there is a CD of backing tracks for the Repertoire and Improvisation Edude books. There is a practice and performance tempo track and all the tracks are carefully listed on the back cover.  I have really playing along with the CDs! This summer I hope to work on improving my improvisation skills. I improvise a lot, but always on my own. These CDs will allow me to improvise within a group. I also like the Glossary at the end of the Repertoire book. You might need to study up on all the different popular styles so you can have more fun teaching them.  

I would like to point out this is not a beginning method book in the traditional sense. Students should be reading notes around middle C before starting the Primer book. If you’re one of those teachers who just has to use a specific primer book or you’ll fall off the bench, your piano will burst into flames, and your students will never get to the conservatory, you can start the students the way you usually do and then move into this series.

Let’s make it our goal to give students quality music in today’s styles as well as the great classics. Check out the web site at you can view a discussion of these books. The videos will probably answer all your questions. American Popular Piano is published by Novus Via Music Group and distributed by Hal Leonard.

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3 thoughts to “Review: American Popular Piano

  • Kylie

    Hi Susan, you wrote this post about 2 years ago now…I’m just after your opinions on the method as a ‘method’.

    I’ve been looking into APP as a method for group lessons for kids who want to play for fun, maybe only have a keyboard, cant afford private lessons…etc.

    At the moment I’m thinking of beginners aged 9 – 10 yrs and 11 – 12 yrs. Groups of 4.
    Working with APP would have the aims of developing music reading, ensemble skills, improv, ear skills, basic theory knowledge etc.
    A totally separate and different aim to my regular private lessons which are focusing also on technique and classical preparation and well rounded everything!

    Do you think APP can stand alone as a method/core books once you get to that prep level? Or does it need a method book to sit alongside it? Bearing in mind I wouldnt be aiming for the depth and breadth of private lessons.
    I was thinking of starting off with Hal Leonard all in one books (i used to teach HL) and maybe hal leonard adult method for older group before launching into APP.

    thanks for any comments you have 🙂
    – kylie

    • susanparadis

      What a great idea and one way to bring music to more children!

      I think the APP books need a method book to go along with them. Also, they work better with older students.

  • Paula

    Thanks you sharing this information,I love this music!


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