Review: Rockschool Piano Method Books 1 & 2 for beginners
As a piano teacher who has proudly used the Rockschool Exam Syllabus in my lessons for several years now, I was very excited to learn that the Rockschool were releasing their own piano method, so I ordered my copy as soon as they were released.
Having looked through these method books, I have mixed feelings. Here are my honest opinions of the method, and I’d be keen to hear your thoughts if your students are enjoying these books. Tell me in the comments below!
Let’s take a look at the Rockschool Piano Method series.
The goal for these particular method books is to teach beginner piano students basic rudiments of playing and prepare them for the first two exam levels: Debut and Grade 1.
Unlike most exam boards such as the ABRSM, Trinity (& others), Rockschool is a popular music board which contains no classical music. They include a wide range of music genres from Pop, Rock, Jazz, Soul, Reggae etc. Many of the repertoire in the syllabus includes a backing track for students to play along with in their exam.
First of all, it’s colourful. The covers are appealing to look at, and this continues throughout the book. Colourful, eye-catching illustrations look great throughout and make the content look much more appealing and fun for young students (and adults!)
Many of the exercises and pieces in these books include backing tracks.
This is fast becoming a very popular resource amongst piano teachers. There is a wide range of tracks in different musical styles to keep things interesting for you and your students.
Rockschool method also features a series of games placed throughout the books to help reinforce various concepts, which is a great idea. These “Games” are mostly pages of six one-bar exercises meant to be used as flashcards. The teacher points to an exercise, and the student plays it. This might be considered more of an exercise than a game, but may be useful nonetheless!
Related: Learn the best tips for motivating and connecting with teen students in our Teens & Transfers Course in TopMusicPro academy.
While the Rockschool Exam Syllabus is full of music from “real” popular music artists such as Ed Sheeran, Queen, tracks from The Greatest Showman, etc., it’s worth noting that the method only includes music specifically written for these method books.
This means there are no other types of recognisable pieces in this method, such as traditional/nursery rhymes. In my opinion, simple traditional pieces (perhaps with a modernised approach with backing tracks) would’ve been useful. But I understand this is a popular music method, so the inclusion of traditional pieces is probably something they preferred to avoid.
Curious about the Rockschool Exam system? Find an overview of their syllabus & levelled content here.
The method begins by showing some basic concepts such as mnemonics for reading the treble clef (though not for bass clef), note values, simple rhythms etc.
It then jumps straight into on-staff reading starting with Middle C. This is a pro for me as someone who prefers this over off-staff reading for beginners.
From here, it gradually adds new notes whilst encouraging reading of steps and skips.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of focus on chords. I expected more emphasis on reading both written chords and chord symbols. The left hand often plays bass melodies to harmonise with the right hand or interesting syncopated bass lines.
Related: Hear from one teacher who took on 50 students who were about to quit piano lessons elsewhere, and how he motivated them to be enthusiastic and motivated players.
I do have a few concerns about these books.
Teachers will be expecting these books to be a reliable resource to teach all required concepts, not just for Debut and Grade 1 exams, but to provide a solid foundation for any beginning piano student.
Rockschool also claims that these books are suitable for students who intend to self-learn. In my opinion, I don’t feel they have achieved this yet.
Book 1, Topic 2 does contain some genuinely helpful guides on how to read music—explaining clefs, The Musical Alphabet, Note Values etc. But it does bother me that they explain to the student that there is a Treble Clef and Bass Clef – but only provide an example of a Treble Clef.
I have shown this page to a couple of students/parents, and they did make the same comment. The Bass clef is introduced later in the book, however.
As part of the introduction to Book 2, there is a tip that students can try two Grade 1 scales (C Major / A Natural Minor) on page 55. However, these are not Grade 1 scales, but Debut. I considered that this might be a typo, but these scales are quite clearly included in the Grade 1 section of the book – which doesn’t actually include any Grade 1 scales.
Rockschool claims that their books “contains everything a beginner needs to learn all the way up to Grade 1 level”.
Book 2, Topic 5, states that students are ready to start learning the material for their Debut Grade exam. For the most part, I would agree with this though they haven’t covered Dotted Crotchets which do feature in the Debut exam book. There are a small few pieces in the method which contain Dotted Crotchets, but they are not introduced or explained.
As part of the introduction to Book 2, it is explained that “By Topic 10 (the end of the book) you will have the skills you need to tackle Rockschool Piano and Keys at Grade 1”
So, I decided to compare the method books and Grade 1 exams and make a list of any differences in concepts. Here’s what I’ve found is missing:
Forte and piano symbols do appear in games/pieces from Book 2, Topic 6 “Dynamics and Articulation” but without much explanation.
I made note of further terms which seemed unclear to novices, like mezzo-forte, mezzo-piano, 8va, crescendo and diminuendo, and other music vocabulary essentials, as well as some fingerings inconsistencies which might give trouble to beginners.
Finally, there are a few concerns about an adequate explanation of major/minor triads in Book 2 — a topic that appears on Debut exam (as part of the General Musicianship Questions) to recognise if a chord symbol is major or minor.
It’s possible that students may be able to do this having followed the Rockschool Method, but I feel there is a lack of reinforcement on this topic.
In a Grade 1 exam, students will be asked to explain the interval construction of major/minor/augmented/diminished triads, a subtopic which is not explained.
So, the big question is – should you as a teacher buy this? As a teacher of the Rockschool Piano exams, I wanted to be able to confidently say “Yes, definitely!”
The target audience is both for students who are looking to self-learn the piano, and for piano teachers to use with their students, presumably to sit Rockschool exams.
While it’s my opinion that these books aren’t as suitable for the self-learners, this method may be more suited to a teacher who prefers a minimalist style and will fill in the extra explanations within the scope of lessons.
The main appeal with this method should be the idea that it integrates directly with the exam syllabus. With guidance from a teacher (and supplementary material), this method may work for a student up to Debut level.
However, I wouldn’t recommend these for a student working on their own towards Grade 1. Further instruction from a teacher and/or alternative method books would be necessary to fill in the gaps and for further reinforcement of some of the concepts that have been briefly covered.
That being said, this is a step in the right direction. The general idea behind this method is great.
This also could have the potential to be very appealing to teachers, particularly to those who use the Rockschool exams. Students will certainly love the colourful pages, backing tracks and even the stickers.
If you would like to try these books for yourself, they are available through Hal Leonard (Europe and Australia/NZ), MusicRoom (UK), and Amazon.