If there’s one book I return to over and over as I prepare for and teach piano lessons, it’s The Pianist’s Guide To Standard Teaching and Performance Literature by Jane Magrath.

If you teach piano classics in your studio, this is a must-have resource. It’s a comprehensive reference book that is easy to flip through to discover unfamiliar pieces or to understand the difficulty of a piece before assigning it to a student. Since the scope classical piano literature is so vast, it’s impossible for a teacher to know all of the music available to students. This book fills in the gaps where your own personal experience with music ends.

The Pianist’s Guide To Standard Teaching and Performance Literature categorizes all intermediate piano into 10 levels. It’s important to understand that this book only features intermediate music. Level 1 in this book assumes a student already has a foundation of reading and understanding music. Although Level 1 pieces are simple, they wouldn’t be the first pieces a student would learn. Similarly, Level 10 is the most difficult, but is not considered advanced level music.

The book is organized in 4 sections based on historical musical eras: Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1825), Romantic (1825-1900) and Contemporary (20th century). Within these sections, composers are listed alphabetically. Then, the standard teaching pieces of each composer are listed, usually in order of opus number.

At over 500 pages, this is a substantial and thorough book! With this book on hand, you’ll never be at a loss for what to teach next again.

Since there is no official standardized leveling system for classical music, Dr. Magrath uses a 10 level system to indicate the difficulty of each piece of music. These levels don’t necessarily correspond with leveling systems used in many piano methods. She also gives a short description of each piece.

Here is the reference chart from the introduction of the book that will give you an idea of how the leveling is broken down:

  • Level 1: Bartók Mikrokosmos, Vol. 1
  • Level 2: Türk Pieces For Beginners
  • Level 3: Latour Sonatinas; Kabelevsky Pieces for Young People, Op. 39
  • Level 4: Anna Magdalena Notebook; Gurlitt Album For The Young, Op. 140; Tchaikovsky Album For The Young, Op. 39
  • Level 5: Anna Magdalena Notebook; Sonatinas by Attwood, Lynes; Menotti Poemetti
  • Level 6: Clementi Sonatinas, Op. 36; Burgmüller 25 Progressive Pieces, Op. 100
  • Level 7: Kuhlau and Diabella Sonatinas; Bach easier Two-Part Inventions; Bach Little Preludes; Dello Joio Lyric Pieces For The Young
  • Level 8: Moderately difficult Bach Two-Part Inventions; Beethoven easier variations sets; Field Nocturnes; Schumann Album Leaves, Op. 124; Schubert Waltzes; Turina Miniatures
  • Level 9: Easier Bach Three-Part Inventions; easiest Haydn Sonata movements; easiest Mendelssohn Songs Without Words; easiest Chopin Mazurkas
  • Level 10: Bach Three-Part Inventions; easiest Chopin Nocturnes; Beethoven Sonatas, Op. 49, 79; Mozart Sonata, K. 283; Muczynksi Preludes

Early in my teaching years, I found that I would get in a rut of only teaching my students the classics that I learned as a student, mostly because I was unaware of all of the other music that existed.

This was a unproductive approach for a number of reasons:

  • I only started learning classics as a high school student when I already had strong reading and technical skills. As a student, I missed out on a lot of the beginning and early intermediate pieces that many students learn and I didn’t even know to teach them to my students early on.
  • My students have different strengths, interests and personalities than I did as a student, so I shouldn’t have assumed that they’d want to learn the exact same pieces that I did.
  • As a teacher, it gets tiring to teach the same music over and over.

How To Use This Book When Planning Music

Say you have a student who recently completed Beethoven’s Sonatina in G Anh. 5 No. 1 and you’re looking for other music to begin working on from other eras. Dr. Magrath ranked this piece at a Level 3.

Knowing that you’re looking for Level 3 music makes it really easy to flip through the book to get ideas.

For example, if you were thinking about moving on to Baroque music, you’d see that your student is not quite ready for most of the pieces in Anna Magdalena’s Notebook. But, there are quite a few pieces by Purcell that would be a better fit. Once your student uses the easier Purcell pieces as a gateway to learning Baroque technique, it may be a good time to level up to some of the Level 4 pieces in Anna Magdalena’s Notebook.

Or, if you wanted to look at some Romantic pieces, you’d find that Schumann’s Album For The Young has a many appropriate selections. Gurlitt’s Album For The Young would also present you with many options.

Another way to use the book is to use it for long term goal planning with students. It’s pretty common for students to have their eye on an advanced piece that they’d like to learn. As the teacher, it’s important to help them understand it might take years to be ready to play a difficult piece.

If a student wanted to learn Chopin’s Fantasie Improptu, for example, but currently plays at a Level 8, you could use the The Pianist’s Guide To Standard Teaching and Performance Literature to find pieces to serve a stepping stones until a student is ready for their goal piece. First, assign a Chopin piece at the current level, then move up to a Level 9 or 10. After that point, see if your student is ready to take on the Fantasie Impromptu.     

How To Use This Book For Professional Development

As I previously mentioned, my own piano lessons left me with a lot of holes in my classical study. I changed teachers several times and changed paths a lot, so I really missed out on a lot of the core classics that are key for developing piano technique and skills.

As a teacher, I have made a point to go back and learn the important classics well. After I completed my Master’s degree, I continued studying with my professor primarily for the purpose expanding my knowledge and experience with intermediate repertoire.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time flipping through The Pianist’s Guide To Standard Teaching and Performance Literature to get a better understanding of leveling and pacing in music and learning pieces at every level so that I could teach them better.

I make a point to sit down with this book at my piano on a regular basis and sight read new-to-me pieces and explore new repertoire.

I’m sure I’m not alone as a teacher to admit there have been many occasions that I’ve given a student a piece of music and quickly discovered I misjudged the difficulty of the piece or my student’s abilities. Using this resource eliminates this problem and helps you to save time by finding the right pieces to study on the first try.

Using The Pianist’s Guide To Standard Teaching and Performance Literature has not only helped my lesson planning immensely, it has also helped me to understand the scope of all teaching material that’s available to me and my students.

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