Musical Potpourri

I’ve written here before about how I’ve expanded my piano teaching over the years to include popular music, show tunes, jazz, and even reading from fake books. This is a big shift from how I taught just ten years ago and a far cry from my own piano lessons when I was young.

Of course, part of the reason for this is simple. From a teacher’s standpoint, kids practice what they like to play. Last week, one of my 7th grade students brought in Stand By Me, Surfin’ Safari and It’s My Party – three pieces he polished up in one week. Finally he did some practicing, and it showed! Just two days later, another student brought in the first movement of Sonatina Op 36 no. 6 by Clementi. She loves classical sonatinas. I would say she prefers them to pop songs. What a treat! The melody sang above the Alberti bass. The scale passages were light and even. I had never heard her so prepared for her lesson. (Why does she enjoy playing Clementi so much? Could be because her ballet teacher uses the Sonatinas to accompany barre exercises in dance class.) In the end…mission accomplished. Both students spent time at the piano and put some  extra effort into preparing for their piano lesson.

In addition to motivating the students to practice, another reason I use all types of music is that I’m realizing that my students don’t draw a line between classical and pop and jazz. To them, it’s all music…so what’s the big deal?

One of the great traits of this new generation is that they know what they like and what they want and they aren’t afraid to tell you. Anyone who markets to teens knows that they have developed what Peter Sheahan calls “a BS Detector on their forehead that goes off whenever someone is selling them something that is either not in their best interest or has any hint of insincerity.” Take my children, for example. They developed their own musical tastes from an early age and their choices had nothing to do with the classical music I played for them or the popular music that they heard on the radio or through their friends. My oldest (now 20) has been listening to medieval music since he was in elementary school. My 17-year old listens to Herb Alpert and Dave Brubeck. My daughter introduces me to the latest Indie performers and loves French music. All three have expressed an interest in improvising or writing their own music at one time or another.

Greg Sandow has written about the blurring of the line between classical and popular music in performance. His recent post declares the debate over.  He quotes an interview with Sir Simon Rattle, where the conductor says “everybody is listening to everything.” Further down in the article, Pamela Rosenberg, the former general manager of the Berlin Philharmonic, talks about how the orchestra has started outreach programs which involve collaborations between orchestra members and students.

“The object isn’t to create brilliant young musicians,” she says. “The object is to get kids to unlock themselves—to understand that they also have create potential.”

Ah. Now that “unlocking” bit is what I think this piano teaching business is all about, isn’t it?

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7 thoughts on “Musical Potpourri

  1. Great post. I agree it’s all about getting kids to enjoy and play music, no matter what the genre. I used to be very resistant to jazz and pop, but now I actively encourage my students to tell me what they would like to learn. I adapt tv and theme tunes for them (The A Team last week), and try to keep up with what pop music interests them. So long as they are at the piano and enjoyin themselves, that’s all good! FRAN

  2. This is a great post! (I just happened upon your blog from Music Makers Blog)…

    I also incorporate popular music into my teaching curriculum. I’ve found that what is the point to teaching piano if the student isn’t enjoying what they are playing? My goal is to get the student to want to play for the rest of their lives.

    I had to chuckle about your comment by Peter Sheahan regarding this new generation. Haha! That is sooo the way it is! My son, who is 14, LOVES playing classical music on the piano, but jazz on the saxophone. Still, I encourage him to play popular/jazz and learn his chords so that he will be a valuable asset to any band, if needed.

    I’m so glad I found your blog! I will be following you!

    God bless!

    TK Goforth

  3. Do you feel it is important to teach both? Classical and Popular? I usually have my students working on one of both? If a student really prefers Pop music, would you allow them to do that all the time?

    • Hi Lori,

      I usually try to incorporate both, but sometimes I just go with Pop. It always depends on the student, what their goals are with music, how much time they devote to practice, etc. Everyone is different.

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