Review: Lang Lang Music Theory, Levels 1 and 2

These two new volumes from Faber Music, Lang Lang Music Theory, have been written to accompany The Lang Lang Piano Method. I confess, I’ve not seen this, but I note that these two books, Levels 1 and 2, can be used outside of the method books. World-renowned pianist, Lang Lang, aims, through these books, to ‘inspire today’s kids’ with his passion for music. The progressive series provides an ‘imaginative way’ to learn music theory. The books seek to cover the ‘fundamentals’ through a series of practice exercises.

Quarter note and crotchets

Level 1 covers:

  • Notes on the keyboard
  • Crotchets, minims, semibreves and their equivalent rests
  • The grand stave, treble and bass clef
  • Keeping a steady beat
  • Bars, barlines and repeats

Level 2 builds on these, also introducing:

  • Dynamics
  • Steps and skips
  • Semitones, sharps and flats
  • Articulation
  • Dotted notes
  • Quavers
  • Time signatures
  • Triads
  • Intervals
Lang Lang Music Theory Levels 1 and 2

Whilst these two books are certainly imaginative, and presumably the illustrations add some element of fun, they feel out of step with contemporary, more holistic approaches to teaching music theory, and indeed, learning the piano. For example, in Level 1, crotchets are introduced on p.8, yet the notion of a steady pulse, or beat, does not appear until p.20. As many of us now embrace a ‘sound before symbol’ approach, I would expect to explore the notion of a steady pulse before introducing symbols which represent it, and symbols which subsequently introduce rhythm. Similarly, there is a focus on learning the notes on the stave from middle C outwards, rather than a landmark note approach which many teachers now employ.

Writing D

These books are designed for both the UK and international market, so terms such as a ‘quarter note’ is used alongside ‘crotchet’. Whilst I can see the appeal in this from a publication point of view, I think that needing repeatedly to use both terms could easily become confusing. On the positive side, there is plenty of opportunity to develop and refine the ability to take pencil to paper and write actual music. For example, students are encouraged to trace, then draw their own clefs and notes. I’m impressed that the Level 2 book makes some attempt to cover intervals, semitones and accidentals in a more comprehensive way than others. It’s really good to introduce these concepts in the early stages, and they give a good grounding for understanding scales, for example, further down the line. Again, it feels like some of the information is a little mismatched, with semitones and sharps being introduced on p.8, but F# being introduced as a ‘new note’ on p.20. It therefore feels that underlying concepts are not being drawn out. Understanding semitones allows students to appreciate how a sharp affects any note, so introducing F# as a ‘new note’ feels more complicated than it needs to be.

Lang Lang Music Theory Levels 1 and 2
B flat

Overall, these two books give a good grounding in the basics of music theory for pianists. The progression is not always as clear as it could be, and I missed an holistic approach to the introduction and development of new concepts. There are plenty of opportunities to practise and write music by hand, and I suspect that the books would work best alongside their method book counterparts. On balance, they feel out of step with modern approaches to piano teaching in which theory is learnt holistically alongside the practical, so for me, they don’t quite make the grade. They are, perhaps, more usefully seen as a novelty book to which Lang Lang’s name has been added. They will, nevertheless, appeal to some teachers and students, perhaps those in particular already using the Lang Lang method books.

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Lang Lang Music Theory is published by Faber Music in two books:

Level 1: ISBN 9780571542710 RRP £5.99
Level 2: ISBN 9780571542727 RRP £5.99

I was sent a review copy of these books free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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