In today’s video and blog post we’ll be talking all about Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course. We’ll go through the material this method book covers, talk about its pros and cons, and I’ll let you know if I recommend it for your piano learning journey.
I’ve been asked about this method time and time again, since it’s one of the most popular method book series for adults. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to do a video on it!
Other popular series include the Piano Adventures for adults and the John Thompson piano course, both of which I plan to cover on this channel in the coming months.
Let’s dig in!
A quick correction: I mentioned that you could transition from the 2nd adult book to the 3rd regular book in the basic series, but having reviewed this I don’t recommend it. Simply go through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Alfred adult books and call it a day. You’ll be around a grade 2 level.
The Alfred series has been around for a long time – I grew up using their regular lesson books for children, and I’ve taught with their books as an adult.
According to Alfred’s website, the Alfred music publishing company started back in 1922 in New York City. In the 1950s they decided to specialize in learning materials for students, and the company has exploded in popularity ever since.
How Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course works
I’ll give you a brief overview on how to go through Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course if you’re a complete beginner, and then we’ll get into some of the finer details.
*see correction above
In 2.5 years to 5 years, you’ll progress from an absolute beginner to an early intermediate student. Some people will move faster or slower, but this is the pacing I observe and recommend.
Most students won’t be learning from the Alfred method books exclusively – they’ll also be learning supplemental side pieces and technical exercises (whether from other Alfred books or not). Because of that, the lessons in each of the books can be stretched out comfortably to a year (or six months for a very motivated and impatient student willing to work twice as hard).
Focus of the Alfred series: Chords
Both Alfred Adult method books have a focus on chords. This is both the method’s strength and weakness.
Chords are great because they allow your left hand to get in the action early without too much struggle. Chords are a way you can make your pieces sound pretty good even from the early stages. And chords are hugely important if you’re interested in learning any type of contemporary music.
The downside of a chord-based approach is that your left hand won’t be as equipped to deal with Classical music if you’re headed that route. Classical music requires a more dexterous and independent left hand, which is initially more tedious to develop.
If you’re only used to playing chords with your left hand, it’ll be a rude awakening when you attempt your first Baroque or Classical dance piece, where the left hand makes big leaps and follows its own path (instead of being led along by the right-hand melody).
Song selection of the Alfred Adult series
Since the Alfred books tend to be chord-focused, they’re naturally more pop-focused as well. The majority of the selection contains standards like Happy Birthday, When the Saints Go Marching In, The Entertainer, Amazing Grace, and other pieces in that vein.
The second book has more diversity in selection and includes a healthy mix of contemporary, Classical and original pieces. You’ll find everything from “Brahms’ Lullaby” to “Canon in D” to “La Cucaracha”.
Now let’s look at each book individually and talk more in-depth about them.
The first Alfred book for adults is one I’ve taught from dozens upon dozens of times. It’s the book I used exclusively when I first started teaching piano, so I have a soft spot in my heart for it.
One thing you’ll immediately notice when you crack the cover is a list of books that can be used alongside this one. Since all these books are interconnected, it even tells you at what page you’re ready to start a supplemental book.
For example, by the time you reach page 45 of the Adult Lesson book, you’ll be ready to start the Alfred Pop Song Book 1.
Books that can accompany the Basic Adult Piano Course include:
This is handy especially if you’re working on your own without a teacher. It takes all the guesswork out of your learning experience.
Chapters and pieces
In the first Alfred Adult method book there are 12 chapters (plus an introduction) and about 63 pieces (in addition to a variety of exercises and lessons). This means that you’ll be completing 1-2 pieces per week if you’re planning on completing the first book in a year. The first book is 112 pages.
This first book is considered a preparatory level (what I affectionately refer to as “musical kindergarten”). Students are often surprised that they can’t just dive into grade 1 material. But like primary school, we need to lay the groundwork and learn the basics before we get to a grade 1 level.
The preparatory level in music is generally a 1 to 2-year process for adult students (longer for children). The first Adult book roughly corresponds with the RCM’s Preparatory A level, and the second Adult book roughly corresponds with the RCM’s Preparatory B level.
The difficulty of the first Adult book follows an interesting path. The first half is very simple and easy to get into. However, there tends to be a difficult hitch at the end of the “G position” chapter with the pieces “Beautiful Brown Eyes” and “Alpine Melody”.
There’s something about these pieces. My students tend to get stuck here. With Beautiful Brown Eyes it’s a combination of learning a new chord AND the ¾ time signature AND the bottom-top left-hand pattern. And Alpine Melody is a harder version of the same.
But once you get through that stormy patch, the going is pretty good again right up to “Go Down, Moses” on page 85. From that point onward, the pieces are fairly challenging for the beginner. I usually find my students confidently progress at a quick pace until this point, and then the last 20 pages or so are a real slog. We usually give up and move on around page 100 (the piece “Singin’ in the Rain”), since by that point most people are itching for a new book to start tackling.
One reality of books meant for beginners is that they tend to be kind of hokey. Learning “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is practically a rite of passage, but it can be a little dispiriting for the adult beginner who longs to play serious music.
The Alfred’s hokeyness factor is medium. The first half is especially hokey, common of most method books. “Rockets”, “Love Somebody” and “Money Can’t Buy Everything” are examples of cringey pieces, but I encourage students to look past their goofiness and find the educational value in them.
There really aren’t a lot of serious pieces in the first book. “Amazing Grace” and “Over the Rainbow” are always classy, but don’t appear ‘til the very end. “Jericho” is the first truly cool piece, and it appears at page 81 in chapter 11.
A beginner usually has a ton of fire and motivation when they first start learning the piano, and this overcomes some of the hokeyness of earlier pieces. I use that to our advantage and we usually cruise through the first half quite quickly.
But once that natural motivation starts to fade, they hokeyness becomes a problem. At this point I like to introduce supplemental pieces (perhaps something from the RCM’s Preparatory books) – pieces that seem more professional, serious and fancy.
These fancier pieces are rewarding to learn but also take quite a bit longer. A piece from the RCM Preparatory book might take two to three times as long to learn as a piece from the Alfred’s Adult book. This gives the student perspective, and generally instills a newfound fondness for the easier material of the Adult book.
As with the first book, the level two book comes with corresponding books if you’d like to stay within the Alfred family but not be limited to the selections of the method book.
These extra books include:
Chapters and pieces
The second Alfred Adult book has 15 chapters (some quite small), including an extensive review section as the first chapter, and contains 42 pieces. There’s also an appendix of references, including the Circle of Fifths, chord charts, and scale charts. This book is 96 pages (including the appendix), and thus a little leaner than the first one.
I find this leanness to be an advantage, though. Students can usually complete this book without getting tired of it (unlike the first book).
As with many chord-based approaches, I find the note-reading in this book to be relatively easy (if you’re able to pinpoint chord patterns), but the rhythms to be more challenging. Pop music tends to be more rhythmically complicated at this level than comparable Classical pieces, and selections from this book, such as “La Raspa” and “Rock-a My Soul”, are no exception.
However, there are still plenty of easy wins and straightforward pieces, such as “You’re in My Heart”.
Many students tend to find “Hokey-Pokey” a surprising challenge. They tend to think that, since the tune is familiar, it’ll be pretty easy. But those 3-note right-hand chords are a real challenge for most learners, which is why this tends to be a sticking piece.
Overall, I find the second book to be a real challenge, though a doable one. It’s not usually so difficult that students give up, but frustration can happen sometimes (especially when parts of the first book were so easy).
But I’ve never met a second method book that didn’t frustrate students in some way. By this point in the journey you start to realize that the path to learning piano is a long and sometimes arduous one. Sometimes practice is real work, not pure pleasure (in fact, this is most of the time).
So this isn’t a flaw with the Alfred books – more like a trend in a student’s learning path.
By the third book, things tend to get easier again. Not because the material is easier (it isn’t), but because most students who haven’t given up are used to the constant new challenges, and the material is starting to sound like real piano music.
At book two I’m often prompted to say things like “Hang in there! The pot of gold is around the bend!” There’s so much to overcome at this stage in your learning journey – I’d almost go so far as to say it’s one of the hardest points of your learning journey period.
Most people who are going to quit, quit here. Don’t let that be you!
I want to briefly mention that there’s a third book in the Adult series, but I don’t have it so I can’t speak to its content. I’m sure it’s a great book, and finishing it will put you at about a grade 2 level. I plan on looking through this book soon in order to have a full opinion on it.
Would I recommend Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course?
I absolutely recommend this series to students. It’s stood the test of time, and I’ve personally seen it get results. The chord-based approach is appealing, especially for students who aren’t particularly interested in getting into Classical music, though there is some of that as well.
However, I tend to use the Piano Adventures adult series nowadays. I haven’t used it for as long, but I think it has a slight edge in that it’s more balanced in its pop/Classical approach, and it’s less hokey.
The next adult series I’ll be talking about on this channel is the Piano Adventures one, so stay tuned for that.
My rating for this series would be A-, and my rating for the Piano Adventures books would be A. I haven’t yet found a series that I consider A+, but I haven’t done too much exploring – something I plan on doing more of this year.
Overall, it’s a great course – solid, effective, affordable, and most teachers are familiar with it.
Let me know in the comments if you use/have used the Alfred books – I’d love to know what you think!
Thanks for hanging out, and I’ll catch you in the next video.