Sunday, April 29, 2012

Using Jane Magrath's "The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature"

Jane Magrath's book, "The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature", is an invaluable resource for teachers of all levels of experience, from new teachers who currently are building their studios to veteran teachers who have years of experience and a waiting list a mile long. I remember purchasing my copy while still an undergraduate student, and I have used it faithfully year after year to assist in planning long-term curriculum, specific lessons, and recital repertoire for my pre-college, college, and adult students. We also spent hours using it as a resource in our graduate piano pedagogy classes at Louisiana State University. (Tons of thanks to our professor Steve Betts for incorporating this book into our classes!)

The guide contains descriptions of thousands of elementary through early-advanced pieces from the Baroque through Contemporary periods, and it is organized chronologically by musical style period, with the composers of each period listed and discussed alphabetically within the period. Major and minor works of each composer are discussed in detail, and a specific level from 1 to 10 is assigned to each piece. This great leveling system is included in the front of the book and lists specific examples from the standard literature offered as representative pieces of each level. For example, the first volume of Bartok's Mikrokosmos is labeled as Level 1, the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook's selections are labeled as Level 4, Bach's easier Two-Part Inventions are labeled as Level 7, and Beethoven's Sonatas, Op. 49 and Op. 79 are labeled as Level 10.

I refer to "The Pianist's Guide" frequently, using it as a resource for discovering "new" repertoire for my students, organizing the literature they study into levels that progress smoothly from easier to more difficult literature, and exposing them to some wonderful composers that are perhaps less famous than great masters such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven with whom they are most familiar. I also use this reference as a way to find, for example, all of the Level 2 pieces from the Classical period (I keep lists of these searches, which we began in graduate school, in a binder arranged according to level), especially when I am teaching multiple students who are studying music of the same level of difficulty and who need to play a variety of pieces for a specific recital or festival.

Using the levels from "The Pianist's Guide" as a standard gives me the luxury of maintaining one organized way of thinking about the many levels of elementary through early-advanced literature, especially when I am teaching from a variety of different collections and using many different series that each assign their own levels to their specific teaching materials. This organized thought process helps to ensure that I assign literature to my students that progresses smoothly from level to level and that I provide pieces for them that gradually move from elementary literature into more advanced literature in an organized and sequential fashion.

There are several collections of standard literature Jane Magrath has compiled and edited that follow the leveling system of "The Pianist's Guide". Stay tuned for more information on these wonderful collections!


  1. Thank you for the review! I keep coming across this book, and I believe it's time to add it to my library. Sounds like it will be a wonderful resource. I look forward reading more of your suggestions.

  2. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Tiffany. By the way, your comment led me to your blog, which I am excited to follow!