New Popular Teaching Resources

I am a big believer in having students participate in music exams, festivals, and competitions, and a big percentage of my students are on the classical diet. Some students, however, just want to learn music ‘for fun’ – I am ok with that, too! These students are typically late beginners, in their teens, and have a busy social life. They listen to Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and want to play tunes that their friends and peers recognize – tunes from the latest hits, TV shows, and blockbuster movies. Until recently, it is hard to find sheet music for these tunes that are suitable for piano students. I am talking about the typical vocal/guitar/piano arrangements that contain lyrics, chord symbols and guitar diagrams, and most often than not, are written with numerous dotted rhythms, complicated syncopations, ties, not to mention awkward leaps and not-always-pianistic figurations. The worst type is the one that only has the melody in the vocal part, and the piano part only has accompaniment – they are great for the wannabe singer, but not so suitable for your average beginner piano student that just wants to play and not sing! If you dread teaching from those “commercial” arrangements and ultimately having to tell your students that they are too difficult for them to play, you may like to check the following new publications out:

Current Hits for Students – Arranged by Carol Matz

This value pack of three books, for late elementary to intermediate levels, contains technically graded arrangements of pop hits. Students will play music by their favorite recording artists such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Scotty McCreery, Paramore, Christina Perri, Michael Bublé, Miley Cyrus, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Antebellum. The arrangements are all extremely “teacher friendly,” – key signatures are limited to no more than one flat or two sharps, rhythmic complexity is reduced by avoidance of excessive use of triplets, 16th notes, dotted figures and ties, and the left accompaniment is based on open fifth intervals, sequences, and simple arpeggiation.

Students do not have to slave over cluttered pages that contain too much information that they do not need, overly difficult and often unpianistic reductions of the original recording, but instead can enjoy the satisfaction of playing their favorite songs that are technically accessible to them. Lyrics are provided for those that want to sing along. Ample fingering, expression and pedal markings are provided.

Jazz Standards for Students – Arranged by Sharon Aaronson

This series of three books is also arranged for late elementary to intermediate students. It includes jazz favorites that have become classics over the years, and introduces jazz styles such as blues, ragtime, swing, Latin, ballads, and the jazz waltz to developing pianists. Still technically accessible, this series features more use of syncopation, chromatic chord coloring, compound meters, triplets, and of course the swing rhythm. The arrangements sound mature and sophisticated, and are especially suitable for the teenage or adult students who like to play to impress!

Medleys from Broadway & Medleys from the Movies – Dan Coates Popular Piano Library

Who has not come across a Dan Coates arrangement?! His name is synonymous to piano arrangement of popular music; he has arranged everything from movie, television, and Broadway themes to chart-topping pop and rock titles. This new collection of two books, Medleys from Broadway and Medleys from the Movies, is a must for the intermediate/late intermediate pianists who love to entertain and impress a crowd! All the arrangements are extended – medleys covering several main themes that average 10-15 pages long! This is “show music” at its best – there are frequent changes in tempo, mood, key, and meter, the writing is pianistic and “fancy” enough to sound attractive, yet the music is very sight-readable for the suggested levels. This is perfect music for the party pianist – meaty, substantial amount of music that spans a long time, requires minimal effort, and are pleasing and satisfying to play!

Pop & Movie Hits A to Z

This is a new collection of three books:

5 Finger – 75 Short Late Elementary Piano Solos with Optional Duet Accompaniments – Arranged by Tom Gerou

Big Note Piano -45 Fun and Familiar Piano Arrangements – Arranged by Carol Matz

Easy Piano – 45 Fun and Familiar Piano Arrangements – Arranged by Dan Coates

Together, that’s 165 arrangements! Each book is only $19.95! They are colorful, not too thick to open flat, and as with all Alfred publications, the layout and engraving is beautiful. Some titles appear in all three books – for example, Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz – so the teacher can choose the most appropriate version according to the student’s level. Suitable for both kids and adults, these span from elementary to early intermediate levels, and I like how the titles are arranged in alphabetical order – it is easy to find the song you are looking for! This set will compliment my popular music library, and next time someone shows up to my studio without their books, we are going to have a blast playing these arrangements that are “specially crafted to sound impressive with minimal effort and maximum fun!”

Teachers, summer is a great time to play something fun. Take advantage of the value packs above while they last!

About the Author

Yiyi Ku
Yiyi Ku is a pianist and teacher. Born in Taiwan, she grew up in New Zealand and obtained her Master of Music degree with Distinction in Composition and Piano Performance from the University of Canterbury. Yiyi also holds a Licentiate in Piano Performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National As... [Read more]


  1. Rachel Velarde

    What a great list of resources! While I’m a voice teacher, I’m the mother of two young pianists who would love some of these works. I’m going to let their piano teacher know about them. Thank you!

  2. Yiyi

    Rachel: glad you like them!

  3. Yoly

    Fantsstic article Yiyi. Thanks so much for sharing. I love the term “classical diet”. Brilliant!

  4. Yoly

    I meant to write fantastic!

  5. Valerie

    Thanks, Yiyi- I’ve often been in a similar boat to you- mostly teaching classical, willing to expand, but having a hard time finding pop arrangements that work. This is really helpful!

  6. Lisa Hill

    I also encourage my students to perform at every opportunity. From ideas I’ve received through music teacher helper, I had a Piano Olympiad this summer where students earned points for personal piano recitals and/or music parties with friends…in addition to points for pages of music learned and scales/arpeggios by memory. My white board is covered with their recital programs and invitations. Students rise to the occasion when a contest is going on.

    I rarely lose students and offer a varied musical diet including current pop/rock/movie hits. I dislike Piano/Vocal/Guitar arrangements and have used some arrangements through Hal Leonard in their Current Hits and Top Hits. The books my students like the best are the Dan Coates/Carol Matz Greatest Pop/Movie Hits and Megahit series. These books are released every year and contain the latest songs in very playable and pianistic arrangements. They energize my studio; students are excited to have something to play for their friends. The latest 2012 Greatest Pop/Movie Hits just came out in a value pack…yea! I’ve probably sold one of these books to every student this summer. Dan Coates arranges the songs in a late intermediate level (Easy) and Carol Matz arranges them in an early intermediate level (Big-Note).

    Sorry to write so much.

    Lisa Hill
    Pflugerville, TX

  7. Yiyi Ku

    Lisa – thank you for your feedback! Your Piano Olympiad sounds like so much fun! (note to self: do this next year!) Thanks for sharing the Dan Coates/Carol Matz pop series – I agree, their arrangements rock! Please do keep letting us know when you come across a good series!

  8. Leila Viss

    Thanks for a great book list and terrific tips too!

  9. Bella

    AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME!!!! Thank you SO MUCH for this information! I agree, the commercial arrangements are awful for not just students, but everyone! They make a simple pop song look like a difficult Mozart piece. I will definitely order some of these books for my students.

  10. Lisa Hill

    Hi again,

    A couple of things about the Piano Olympiad…

    As I saw my students become excited and working so hard to get a gold medal, I realized I couldn’t give them a cheap plastic one at the summer party. I thought the “medal” medals would cost me an arm and leg…but I found a website with the same medals as Friendship House for half the price or less. I ordered a few to check out the quality before I made my big order. They were wonderful and so reasonable I even had the kids’ names engraved. Gold went to students with 300+ points, Silver 200+, and Bronze 100+…about 90% earned a gold medal.

    Here’s the music medal website:


  11. Amanda

    Thanks for the great ideas! I am always in search of new music to inspire my students.
    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Yiyi

    Thank you, everyone, for commenting, I am glad you like the suggestions. Lisa – thanks for telling us more about your Piano Olympiad and sharing the website!