Teaching 101: Master Composer Collections

There are lots of ways to buy the works of Master Composers. Because lots of them are in the public domain, one way to get them is to download them from the internet. I’d like to caution you against that for a reason you might not have thought of. 

The most important part of a piece you’ll use for teaching a work by Bach or Chopin is really the editing. What you’re buying is a set of good fingerings, a clean layout — a book printed and designed for ease of use. It makes your job easier as a teacher if you use well put together books. If you download any-old-thing from the internet, you can find yourself with all kinds of problems that will eat up your lesson time and possibly your sanity.

There are two main kinds of books by Master Composers. The first one is collections by a single composer. These books are not compiled by level, but by composer. If you know the pieces in a book and how you plan on using them, these books can be wonderful.

Master Composer volumes can be expensive. Right now the First Volume of the Henle Edition of the Beethoven Sonatas is $52.95. If that’s what you need, then it’s a great value. Most students, though, need something with a more student-focused perspective. And something more reasonably priced.

Here are some of my favorites:

Mozart: Selected Works edited by Keith Snell 
Chopin: Selected Works Volume One  edited by Keith Snell (This is the book I always use to introduce Chopin to a student for the first time.)

Keith Snell’s Master Composer Books, published by Kjos, are the best value around. The editing is excellent and the book are the most reasonably priced on the market.

For teachers who aren’t as experienced assigning a wide range of levels, I highly recommend using a Graded Repertoire Series. These books contain a variety of styles of music all within a set parameter of skills. You can guarantee that there won’t be a suddenly way-too-difficult piece in the middle of the book. My favorite of these types of series is:

Essential Piano Repertoire edited by Keith Snell 

There are eleven levels of these books, starting with the simplest Prep Level pieces and going all the way through Chopin Etudes and Beethoven Sonatas. The beauty of these books is that they contain lots of music at a given level. You can use a book for lateral study (music that is at the same level so you have plenty of time to solidify a set of skills) without rushing a student on to something too difficult.

I found when I began teaching that I was not familiar enough with intermediate and late intermediate level music. I knew about the difficult pieces by composers like Bach and Mendelssohn, but I had no idea where to find the easiest pieces by Chopin or Mozart. This kind of series would have been a great help to me. (Too bad it wasn’t available then!)

There are also some lovely books collected by purpose, like the Quiet Classics book. This book is extremely useful for playing in church, at dinner parties or at any occasion where quiet classical music is useful. (I’ve also recorded all the pieces and you can download those recordings for free here. Enjoy!

Remember that books give students a chance to sight read music on their own at home. If you only give them single pieces, they never explore music independently. Giving your students lots of chances to see the world of music in a variety of ways makes their life richer!

Video Transcription:

I’d like to talk about repertoire books. Sometimes when you look at them you think they’re all the same. I wanted to help you think a little bit about how they are organized and what your choices are when you choose a repertoire book. And by repertoire book I mean just a book of pieces that are by master composers – not what we would think of as teaching pieces necessarily but pieces by Bach or Beethoven or Mozart or any of the great composers. There are many ways that you can purchase these pieces. Most of them are in the public domain which means anybody can make an edition out of that but that doesn’t mean it’s the edition that you want to use. So let me help you think a little bit about how to choose them. So first of all there are graded repertoire series which means the pieces in any given book are all at about the same level. There might obviously be slight variances but you’re not going to find a piece that’s only quarter notes and then find a piece that has sixteenth notes and crazy things going on in it. So one of the best series for that is a series called Essential Piano Repertoire which was compiled by Keith Snell and edited by him. This series is really nice because it comes with CD’s inside and what I like about the CD’s is you can send your student home and have them listen to the CD and pick their own pieces. Because the pieces are all appropriate and all and about the same level they can choose the ones that they like the best. And in this case I did make the CD’s – I recorded the CD’s that go with them. I like having my students hear good performances and I’m not necessarily going to be using their repertoire to help them learn sight reading skills. So it’s important to realize that you don’t have to teach every skill out of every piece. In other words you can have the repertoire be things that they listen to recordings and you help them in other ways and have sight reading be done with other materials. So graded repertoire where basically everything is about the same level that’s one kind of book. Okay another is slightly more generous collections by many different composers that run kind of a wider range so this is a series that Keith put together called Favorite Piano Repertoire and they’re just two books of it but they cover a much wider range. And these are just kind of the chestnuts – the best teaching pieces that are out there. And sometimes it’s nice to just have a lot of music in one place that’s reasonably priced that you can use maybe for a whole year even for two years with a student and that’s what this kind of book would be good for. Again there two this is the easier one and then the one at a slightly higher level is a little bit bigger I use both of them all the time. Then there’s a series of books that have a theme or that are put together for a specific purpose and this is one that I recommend to everybody. I can’t keep enough copies of it. I’ll buy three or four copies of it and, you know, a few months go by they’re all gone. It’s called Quiet Classics and this is a series that has a theme – the theme is beautiful music that you could play in a restaurant or in a church service or for a funeral or for a wedding and they’re compiled in an order that makes them sound good if you play the pieces in that particular order. Or also you can just pick and choose from them and play lots of beautiful pieces. Nothing is terribly difficult. But it’s also certainly not at an elementary level it’s all sort of intermediate to late intermediate but it has a theme. And then last but not least there are collections of works by a specific composer so for instance here’s a book of Mozart. And this has sort of the greatest hits at a certain level which is you know sort of late elementary through early advanced music but they’re not graded in the same way. So this might be a book somebody would keep for a long time and learn different pieces out of it. Now here’s another one, the J.S. Bach Anna Magdalena book which has a pretty wide range of difficulty in it actually. One thing I like about these books is just that they’re really reasonably priced and they’re clean and the editing is good. There are many, many different publishers that publish these kinds of of books and you’ll want to have a wide variety of them up your sleeve to use with your students.