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Piano Levels Explained: Info & Comparisons

By Jesse Preis

An introduction to the piano levels of Hoffman Academy:

In this article, we will introduce you to the different piano levels at Hoffman Academy. We will also look at several other piano methods and their leveling systems to compare and contrast their approach to this beautiful instrument. 

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What are piano levels?

Piano levels are a way to organize and track your progress on the instrument. Our new leveling system at Hoffman Academy has eight levels. These levels are Early Elementary, Elementary, Late Elementary, Early Intermediate, Intermediate, Late Intermediate, Early Advanced, and Advanced. You may be familiar with our former leveling system (Preparatory through Level 10) or our unit books. Below, you will see how our levels correspond. 

This new leveling system has been designed to correspond closely with other leveling systems. That being said, it’s important to note that different methods introduce certain concepts at different points in the learning process, and every student has their own way of learning and retaining information, so switching between piano methods isn’t always cut and dry. It’s better to start a new piano method by entering at an easier level and reviewing what you already know, rather than frustrating yourself with something that is too challenging. If you’re transferring from another method to Hoffman Academy, we recommend testing your skills with our Placement Quiz.

Explaining the piano levels of the Hoffman Method: 

Early Elementary: (Preparatory Level – Units 1-4)

  • Learn the names of the keys on the keyboard
  • Learn short songs by ear
  • Play these short songs one hand at a time, then start playing both hands together
  • Introduction to white-key pentascales and 5-finger positions with very minimal to no deviations from the position
  • No key signatures yet
  • Gain confidence with simple rhythms and textures
  • Learn simple two note chords before becoming acquainted with I, IV, V, and suspended chords
  • Start learning to read music using guide notes, improvise, hear and play rhythms, and compose your own songs
  • Start learning to recognize dynamic and articulation markings, such as crescendos, pianos, fortes, staccatos
  • Songs you can learn at this level include “The Wild Horses” and “Ode to Joy” and fun popular tunes such as “Linus & Lucy, Amazing Grace,” and “Lean on Me.

Elementary: (Level 1 – Units 5-8)

  • Introduction to black-key pentascales with occasional deviations and shifts from a 5-finger position
  • Introduction of occasional fingering challenges (cross over, thumb under) 
  • Still no key signatures
  • Texture: single voice melody with chords, or very simple 2-voice texture most often in similar or contrary motion
  • Start learning to recognize tempo markings, such as andante, allegro, moderato, presto, etc
  • Notate transpositions
  • Reinforce major and minor triads, intervals, rhythms, and improvisation through games and exercises
  • Gain new knowledge of articulation markings, such as slurs and ties
  • Reinforce note reading using guide notes and knowledge of melodic dictation
  • Introduction to tetrachords and key signatures
  • Songs you can learn at this level include “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Are You Sleeping,” “Vivace,” by Gurlitt, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and fun popular tunes, such as “Jingle Bells,” “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, and “The Imperial March” from Star Wars.

Late Elementary: (Level 2 – Units 9-11)

  • Introduction of one-octave scales and arpeggios
  • Use of key signatures (easy keys, up to 2 sharps/flats)
  • Introduction of compound meter 3/8 and 6/8
  • Still plenty of simple, familiar chords and 5-finger positions, but with some hand position shifts and deviations from the 5-finger position
  • Songs you can learn at this level include “Andante” by Johann Christian Bach, and fun popular tunes, such as “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter.

Early Intermediate: (Level 3 – Units 12-14)

  • Key signatures with up to 3 sharps/flats
  • Chromatic scale is introduced
  • Counting with subdivided 16th notes is introduced
  • Damper pedal is more frequently used
  • Songs that you can learn at this level include “Minuet in G” by Christian Petzold (formerly thought to be by J.S. Bach) and more challenging arrangements of pop songs and movie themes like “Duel of the Fates” from Star Wars.

Intermediate: (Level 4 & 5 – Units 15-18)

  • Key signatures with up to 4 sharps/flats
  • Ornaments are introduced
  • Create your own chord progressions and utilize smooth voice leading
  • Introduction of 4-note chords through V7 inversions
  • Songs that you can play at these levels include the lyrical opening section of Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” “He’s a Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean, C.P.E. Bach’s “Solfeggietto,” and the full version of “Linus and Lucy” from Peanuts.

Late Intermediate: (Level 6 & 7 – Units 19-22)

  • Gain command of more advanced key signatures (5+ sharps/flats)
  • Reinforce technicality by playing 4 octave scales and arpeggios with hands together
  • Gain confidence with diminished 7th chords and other technical exercises
  • Songs you can learn at these levels include the “Mission Impossible Theme,” the full version of “Für Elise” by Beethoven, and the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.

Early Advanced: (Level 8 & 9 – Units 23-26)

  • Introduction to playing scales in double octaves
  • Play scales in other orientations, such as 6ths and 10ths 
  • Diversify and intensify technical and theoretical prowess
  • Songs that you can learn at these levels include Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and Jon Schmidt’s “All of Me,” which is the music played during the opening sequence of every Hoffman Academy lesson.

Advanced: (Level 10 – Units 27+)

  • Further develop your command over difficult technical skills, such as scales, arpeggios, chord progressions, inversions, etc.
  • Pieces like Debussy’s “Clair de lune” and Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” are now within your reach.

Comparing the Hoffman Method to other popular methods:

There are so many different methods to choose from when it comes to learning the piano. So, which one should you choose? Each one offers a slightly different approach and has a different leveling system which keeps track of the student’s progress. Some of these methods include the Suzuki Method, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and a variety of traditional sight-reading methods.

Traditional Sight Reading Methods

There are many popular methods that fall under the traditional sight reading method category. These include the Faber Piano Adventures series, Alfred’s Basic Piano Library series, and John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano series. One reason that they are so popular is that these book series are inexpensive and available both online and in many music stores. They emphasize reading music notation as the primary way to learn music. The downside to this is that the student doesn’t learn other important musical skills such as aural skills, improvisation, and composition. The Faber Piano Adventures series has 8 levels, which include Primer, Level 1, Level 2A, Level 2B, Level 3A, Level 3B, Level 4, and Level 5. Alfred’s Basic Piano Library series has 7 levels: Level 1A, Level 1B, Level 2 through Level 6. John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano series has 5 levels: First Grade through Fifth Grade. 

Suzuki Method

Originally intended for teaching the violin and then adapted to the piano, the Suzuki method focuses on learning the piano through listening and repetition. This encourages students to acquire music in a similar fashion as one learns to speak. Learning to read music is not introduced until later in the method. A certified Suzuki method teacher is required for this method to be successful. Due to the emphasis on ear-based learning and the absence of note reading until late in the process, learning in this method can be more time consuming and parents need to be committed to helping their children at home. There are seven standard levels to the Suzuki piano method: Volumes 1 through 7.

Royal Conservatory of Music

The Royal Conservatory of Music is known for its rigorous curriculum and standardized exams that test students’ proficiency in theory, technique, and performance. This method requires a teacher that has been trained and certified through the RCM process. The upside to this method is its rounded approach to music learning, including aural skills, reading skills, improvisation, and technique. There are twelve piano levels: Preparatory A, Preparatory B, and Levels 1 through 10. Preparatory A through Level 4 are considered Elementary levels, Level 5 through Level 8 are Intermediate, and Level 9 and 10 are Advanced.

Hoffman Method

The Hoffman Method was designed by Joseph Hoffman to be a whole-music approach to teaching piano, which incorporates the best aspects of each of these methods. From the first lesson, this method stresses the importance of: 

  • Having fun at the piano with games that encourage exploration, improvisation, creativity, composition, and expression
  • Learning through experience first
  • A structured step-by-step learning environment that bridges the familiar to the unfamiliar
  • A strong emphasis on listening and singing
  • An organic approach to reading music that connects sounds to symbols
  • An efficient and relaxed approach to technique
  • A mixture of traditional and popular music to keep students engaged and learning

The result is confident music makers who feel a profound sense of ownership and musical understanding. Students of the Hoffman Method can play by ear and by sight. They compose, improvise, sight read, and become truly fluent in the language of music. 

Now you know a lot more about the piano levels for Hoffman Academy and other methods! Piano levels are important for keeping track of your progress and achievements, but they do so much more. Through a step-by-step approach they make your goals achievable and fun and they help to choose repertoire that is appropriate for your current abilities. If you’re interested in the benefits of learning with the Hoffman Method and you’re new to the piano, sign up for a free online account or for Premium membership! If you have experience with the piano and are curious to find out your place in the Hoffman Method, take our Placement Quiz. It’s easy, fun, and only takes a few minutes.

From all of us at Hoffman Academy, we hope that you have a fun and happy time creating music!

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