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?