Beginner’s Luck: Easy Play-Along Method Books

Teaching is an art form that positively touches the lives of our students.  I’ve seen many changes and improvements of this art in my 50+ years of public school and studio teaching.  One big change is technology.  Digital media is changing the way students learn.

Music educators today have access to a wide variety of technology resources such as computers, tablets, smartphones, hand-held digital recorders, DVD and CD play-along recordings, plus interactive software applications that influence how we teach and how our students practice and perform.  Most Instrumental method books incorporate play-along accompaniments with Cloud-based practice tools to enhance how students practice and link parents to their child’s progress

When I began teaching in my music studio for Music & Arts in Englewood, Colorado, I ascertained that none of the students were using the play-along recordings included in their method books at their weekly lessons or as part of their practice routine.  I realized that without cutting-edge instruction tools, my students were often not motivated to practice or eager to perform.  With my technology background, I felt I could infuse some excitement into their music experience.  With targeted technology, I watched my student’s take ownership of their sound production, intonation, rhythm accuracy, and articulations.  They began to understand the truth that it isn’t:  “Practice Makes Perfect,” rather “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.”

Taking Practice to the Next Level

Most entry-level instrumental method books carefully lay out sequential instruction with insightful comments.  But another level of technology can expand method book 1 repertory with exciting contemporary play-along recordings.  I was fortunate to discover this in Hal Leonard’s Easy Instrumental Play-Along series, an excellent supplement for my private beginning students.  After only three months of instruction, they can play along with motivating contemporary music.

Hal Leonard The Big Book Of Disney Songs Hal Leonard’s Big Book of Disney Songs is a mammoth collection of Disney’s timeless film scores. Available in 10 different volumes for a myriad of instruments, this folio includes instrumental solos of more than 70 Disney classics. Learn More


Presently, the Hal Leonard’s Easy Instrumental Play-Along series has four popular music play-along books especially written for first-year players.  The four books cover Disney tunes, classic rock tunes, famous classical music themes and Christmas carols; for nearly all band and string instruments: flute, clarinet, alto, tenor sax, trumpet, horn, trombone, violin, viola, cello and keyboard percussion. What makes this series so attractive is the ten well-crafted arrangements in each book carefully edited down to 5 or 6 notes and basic rhythms.  Each tune is recorded twice first with full performance and the second track is a rhythm section.  New students can easily and quickly learn the melody practicing with the full recording.

The accompaniment audio tracks can be downloaded or steamed using the unique code inside each book.  No more scratched or missing CD’s. Students can easily download to a computer, tablet or smartphone. And the winning tunes are well-worth downloading.  For example, the “Classic Rock” book features catchy tunes by Queen, Steppenwolf, Van Morrison, Kansas, Sting, Steve Miller Band, Marvin Gaye, Eric Clayton, Santana and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Disney book features movie themes from the “Lion King,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Peter Pan.” The “Classical Themes” book contains dynamic, toe-tapping melodies by Vivaldi, Beethoven and Bach.  And the Christmas book features familiar favorites of sacred and secular carols.  These stimulating play-alongs are great supplements to any beginning level band or string method, accelerating first-year learning and success.

Hal Leonard The Easy Christmas (Fake Book) Standard We’re pleased to present the latest addition to our popular Easy Fake Book series, which features large, easy-to-read notation, simplified harmonies and melodies, lyrics, and all songs in the key of C. Learn More


Modeling their teacher’s assistance students quickly learn sound production, rhythmic accuracy, style articulations, intonation and beat confidence with the cool rhythm section arrangements.  All of my private students performed well-received mini-recitals for their families and relatives at Thanksgiving.  One of them even played for donations putting an empty box in front of his music case on the floor with a signed “Donations Accepted.”  You can only imagine the excitement generated when my oboe student performed Queen and Sting tunes  with an authentic sounding cover-like rock accompaniment.  My trombone student played a rousing performance of “Can Can” with the full ensemble accompaniment.  Christmas brought more opportunities for mini-recitals for visiting relatives and Skyping with out-of-town relatives.

Warp Speed Success in Three Months!

The norm for most beginner first-concerts in the November or December is to perform songs from their method books.  These tunes are usually short and in unison with optional piano accompaniments. But you can only imagine the excitement generated when the entire beginning band or string group performs rock, Disney, classical and Christmas tunes with dynamic accompaniments through a good sound system.  Believe me, the reaction from parents, friends and administrators can create a pied-piper effect!

 “Perfect Practice”

Early success encourages my students’ home practice and provides more commitment to “perfect” practice.  Success is the best motivator for entry-level students.  To make these play-along recordings even more innovative, I use a Superscope digital recorder to quickly customize the tempos in their lesson for home practice.   Later, I’ll tell you how digital recorders add motivation to my studio teaching.



John Kuzmich, Jr Ph.D. is a veteran music educator of five decades teaching experience in the public schools specializing in jazz education and music technology.  He has guest presented on five continents:  Europe, South America, Australia, Asia and throughout the USA and Canada.  As a senior editor of three national music educator journals (Jazz Educators Journal, American Suzuki Journal and The Instrumentalist) for nearly 20 years,  Dr. Kuzmich is well aware of the needs of aspiring musicians and their music teachers as is also evident in his 800+ published articles and three landmark jazz pedagogy textbooks.

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