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What if you could learn to teach any pop song to any student without even leaving home?
My name is Tim Topham and I'm a piano teacher, accompanist, presenter and blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. I've been teaching for over 15 years and sharing teaching resources, tips and repertoire ideas on my blog, timtopham.com, since 2011.
A few years ago, I started getting a lot of students bringing pop music into their piano lessons. Students would arrive at lessons all excited about a piece of music they had downloaded or learnt from a YouTube tutorial and wanted my help improving it.
My first thought was always, "Well, that's nice, but we just don't have time for it right now. You've got your recital in a month and an exam later in the year so we really need to focus on your main repertoire. Why don't you bring it back later in the year when we've finished learning all your other music and we can have a play then?". (Secretly hoping they'd forget about it or lose interest in the meantime.)
I had decided that pop music simply wasn't as important as the "real" stuff of piano lessons: learning notes and scales, preparing for performances, practising rhythms, completing theory books, preparing for aural tests and so on. So I would direct the lesson back to the "important" stuff and assume that the student would get the message and stop wasting time on pop music.
Problem solved, right?
Even if you decide not to help a student with a pop song, they are going to practise it anyway. Lots.
If you see yourself thinking as I used to and assuming that students will follow your instructions and forget the pop music, they you may be in for a surprise. The students have decided what they want to learn and they're going to spend their time on it whether you like it or not.
And they're going to practise it... A lot. In addition, it's probably going to take them ten times as long to learn and you never know what impact it might have on their technique.
Have you ever thought about whether there is merit in helping students learn pop songs?
This is the question I asked myself a few years ago and I soon realised that far from being a waste of time, students can learn a massive amount about music from studying pop songs.
Don't believe me?
What if I could convince you that teaching pop music has just as much value as classical or contemporary piano music? Consider this:
- Do your students struggle to sight-read fluently?
- Do they fail to recognise even the simplest chord progression in their pieces?
- Are they getting demotivated with a workload of classical music?
- Are you finding it hard to motivate your teen beginners?
- Are you getting tired of teaching the same old music the same old way and often with the same old results?
If any of the above statements strike a chord with you (no pun intended), then it's time to rethink the merits of teaching pop music.
Bored students? Keep them engaged.
Give students depth and understanding.
Students connect with music that they know.
The most important thing that students learn from studying pop:
Understanding chord progressions and harmony.
What's so important about that, you might ask?
Well think for a moment about how you sight read music. Do you read note by note, as you would if you read the word "cat" as the letters "c-a-t"? Or do you visualise things in blocks and patterns?
If you're like me, you're able to sight-read because you understand harmony and can quickly recognise patterns and shapes that relate to the underlying key structure.
Two of the most important skills of effective sight-readers:
- They quickly recognise patterns and shapes
- They know (or can guess) the underlying chordal structure of the piece (the harmony)
The question is: what's the most effective and engaging way for students to learn these skills? Is it by doing another page of their sight-reading book? Struggling with more challenging classical repertoire? Playing more scales?
Or is it by understanding chords, what they look like and how they feel to play? Is it about learning more about the relationship between chords that creates progressions and, ultimately, music?
Playing pop chord progressions improves students' understanding of the structure of music.
Think about it:
- How much better will your students' reading be if they can recognise the harmony before they play a note?
- How much faster will they sight-read if they can predict the harmonic movement?
- How much more enjoyable will piano practice be when they can comprehend music faster?
- How much fun will students have when they can make up their own chord progressions?
Teaching pop music is the most engaging and inspiring way I've found to help students to learn about harmony and chords. Forget the theory books! With pop music, students can learn by playing music with which they already have a connection.
Improve your students' sight-reading. Studying and playing pop provides student with depth. They won't just be playing notes, they'll be understanding the context as well.
- Ignite their creativity. Once they get the hang of how simple it is to put together a pop song, you won't be able to stop them coming up with their own progressions.
Inspire your own teaching. It's all too easy to get bogged-down teaching the same thing year after year. Challenge yourself to teach in a new way and not only will your students benefit, you'll keep fresh and engaged.
Sounds good, but how do I do it?
I made a decision a while ago that if a student wanted to play pop music, no matter what it was or how little musical content it seemed to have, I would help them.
I'd listen to the song with the student at the start of the lesson. I'd ask them what they liked about it? Where did they hear it? What is their favourite part? What would they like to play?
We'd then start pulling-apart the music and working out how it was constructed. Sometimes we'd find the sheet music online and learn it from the score. More often, we'd try and play it by ear.
I soon realised that there was was a real pedagogical benefit to learning about music this way. Students were making connections between chords, they started understanding harmony and the relevance of keys, they began listening more carefully, they realised that they could find and comprehend progressions in their classical and contemporary piano solos as well.
Students started realising, some for the first time, that melodies are based on the notes of scales. This created an interest in improvising and exploring new chords and progressions. Scale practice became instantly more relevant. Students were making up their own music based on what they'd learnt from the pop they'd analysed with me.
Long story short, pop has become one of the most enjoyable and effective ways for me to connect with students and teach them about music in a relevant context.
Interested in trying it out in your studio?
Introducing PianoFlix: Teaching Pop.
As I began to share my ideas about pop with other teachers on my blog and at conferences. I quickly realised that there were lots of other teachers out there needing help understanding how to teach pop music.
In order to share my ideas with as many teachers as possible, I recently recorded a series of tutorial videos designed to help take you from complete pop teaching novice to enthusiastic expert without having to leave home, attend conferences, stay in hotels or fly on planes.
In this 8-part video series, I take you through everything you need to know about teaching pop music: chords, progressions, downloading music, simplifying arrangements, working with beginners, playing by ear, using technology and much, much more.
It doesn't matter if you've never taught pop before, or if you are already helping students with pop in lessons: my training is bound to challenge your thinking and give you a heap of new ideas and tried and tested approaches that work.
Don't waste time learning it all yourself - I have done the hard work for you.
Online Piano Teacher Training from timtopham.com
Learn how to teach ANY music that a student brings into a lesson: All the training is non song-specific, meaning that the techniques and tips you learn can be applied to any pop song your students want to learn.
Lifetime Access: Watch, replay, rewind and fast forward as much as you like, and for as long as you want. The training never expires and there is no start or end date. You just click play and stream it live onto your tablet, laptop or smartphone whenever you want.
Share and Inspire:
Share ideas and questions with other teachers on the course and your trainer, Tim Topham, directly through the membership area.
- Resources: Find links to other websites, videos, handouts and training downloads on the video pages to enhance your learning.
See what other teachers have to say:
I am continually inspired and impressed by Tim Topham's commitment to promoting excellence throughout all areas of piano pedagogy. I have discovered so many things musically through his sharing of the latest developments in technology and his sharing of ideas regarding the performance and teaching of pop repertoire. Tim has put together an 8-part series of easy to follow videos. As a classically trained teacher and performer I have found this an invaluable reference and I thoroughly recommend this video series to you.
Teacher, Examiner, Pianist
Leila J Viss
Creative Pianist, Blogger and Author: The iPad Piano Studio
If you've been avoiding the pop music scene in your studio because you didn't know how to teach the style, Tim Topham has come to your rescue. In a casual yet organized format, Topham will step you through his comprehensive route to successfully teaching pop music to pianists of any level. In addition, Topham's savvy program illustrates how equipping students to learn pop tunes can sharpen their technique, rhythm and theory skills.
At last! A practical, down to earth approach to teaching pop music! PianoFlix is a fabulous resource, crammed full of ideas and suggestions for dealing with the various problems teachers may encounter in teaching and/or arranging pop songs. Tim has taken the mystique from a topic that many teachers approach with trepidation, laying out clear, simple suggestions and strategies for both the novice and the experienced teacher. More than just teaching pop music, this series gives teachers the tools needed to give real relevance to music theory for today's youth and encourage improvisation and composition. Highly Recommended!
Composer, Teacher, Presenter
Ready to inspire your teaching?
Get free access to the first two videos in this series right now.
What you'll get
Video 1 - Before you start
- Is pop music just candy?
- What's the context for teaching pop?
- How does it fit with effective pedagogy?
- Getting in the pop teaching mindset.
Video 2: Pop Crash Course
- All about chords and progressions.
- How to teach chords.
- Song form, pop structure.
- Teaching with the Circle of 5ths.
- Hook theory.
Tim Topham's videos help you engage and motivate students using music they want to learn. Students always respond positively when they have a say in what they study. Allowing students to study music with which they already have a connection is a sure-fire way to inspire and motivate.
With this training, you can say goodbye to bored students who are ready to quit and say hello to a thriving, modern studio that teaches music of all styles and has some of the best sight-readers in your area.
What about classical music? Are you saying that it's a waste of time?
Not at all.
In fact, I still teach far more classical, romantic and contemporary piano solo music than pop. It's all about having a balanced musical diet. Just as we'd all agree that teaching only baroque music would be a disservice to pianists, so would ignoring the most modern and popular repertoire.
I have seen the enormous benefit that can be gained when students can explore pop as part of their course of study. Students start to talk in terms of chords and progressions. They'll understand the purpose of cadences and why some endings sound more complete than others. They'll be able to demonstrate chords that work well together, particularly the relationship between relative majors and minors.
Best of all, they'll be learning these (often dry) topics through music they enjoy and you'll be able to talk more musically to them: "Can you see that this is just a II - V - I progression in your left hand?", or "If this piece is called Blues, and it's in that key, what positions will the left hand pattern play in?" and so on.
Studying pop can be of particular benefit for teenage students who are struggling with beginner music or who may be on the borderline of quitting. When you're 13 or 14 and just starting to learn piano, the last thing you want to do when your friends say, "Play something for us!" is have to open a method book and play Little Johnny Jones.
You want to be able to play something that everyone can recognise, no matter how short or simple. It's why so many students have learnt the opening riff to Coldplay's Clocks, Adele's Someone Like You or the chord progression for Billy Joel's Piano Man. These are the sorts of songs that makes students' eyes light-up. Not only do they know they will love learning them, they know their friends are going to love hearing them play them. And what could be better than a bit of positive peer recognition as a teenage musician?
Students have 'cool' repertoire ready to play
Supplement the method book for beginners
Teens become re-engaged and eager to learn
Here's a quick look at what's coming up in the full video series:
Video 1 - Before you begin...
- How to bring pop into your teaching
- The pop teacher's mindset
- The pedagogical merits of pop
- Having a balanced musical diet
Video 2 - Pop crash course
- All about chords and progressions
- What's HookTheory?
- Song form, pop structure
- Teaching with the Circle of 5ths
Video 3 - Where to find music
- What to do when you can't find the music
- Best online resources for pop sheet music
- How to use YouTube tutorials
- How Guitar Tab websites can help
Video 4 - You want to play what?!!
- What to do when a students brings you a piece of music to learn
- Resources, links and videos to help
- How to work out what the student actually wants to play
- Teaching and playing by ear
Video 5 - Re-arranging for dummies
- What if the music is too hard for my student?
- How to make any song playable for any student
- Simplifying left hand patterns
- Finding the guts of the piece
Video 6 - Pop that works on piano
- What's the best pop music to play on piano?
- Where can I found out the best music to teach?
- Contribute to the pop music wiki page
- How to help students realise that some pop is better than others!
Video 7 - Apps and Technology
- What are the two best apps for teaching pop?
- Watch Tim demonstrate as he uses these apps live
- Using hooktheory in lessons
- Tech resources and links
Video 8 - Arranging 101
- How to help students build their own arrangements of pop songs
- 20 arranging ideas to keep things interesting
- Experimenting with styles
- Online examples
These videos are just brilliant. So clearly explained and so useful for any piano teacher. I was able to use the methods straight away with great success. Best value professional development I've ever paid for in my 20 years of teaching!
Tim Topham has really hit the spot with this video series. I teach a little pop music already but after watching just the first couple of videos I picked up so many fantastic tips and I already feel more confident! Tim's easy-going delivery makes these videos a pleasure to watch and so easy to learn from. Teachers will do their students a huge favour by watching this series!
Teacher, Author - Blitz Books
Yes! I'm ready to improve my teaching.
Click here for your free access to the first two videos in this training package.
Blogger, Presenter, Teacher
Best known for his blog at timtopham.com where he has been sharing teaching resources, tips and repertoire ideas with piano teachers and students since 2011, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist. Tim is Head of Keyboard at Xavier College, Melbourne and has also taught in Western Australia, Tasmania and the United Kingdom. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, a Bachelor of Music, Diploma of Education and AMusA (Distinction). He has worked in education as a classroom teacher, private studio teacher, head of department and head of campus.
"I can't wait to share this training with you. I know that you and your students are going to get so much enjoyment out of working with pop music, even if it's only a small part of your lessons.”
P.S.: By checking out the first two free videos, you'll get access to a special discount rate if you choose to purchase access to the full training series. Follow the purchase links after watching the second video for details. See you soon!