5 Piano Experts Share Their Pop Teaching Tips

By Sean Wales | Piano Teaching

May 29
pop teaching tips

The Best Ways to Teach Pop Music 

Welcome to May's Expert Roundup post. I am so excited to share with you this month's experts and their pop teaching tips and insights. 

For May, I asked our experts what traditional pedagogical piano teaching methods they had to throw out in order to have success teaching pop music. In other words, I wanted to know what their pop teaching tips are.

If you haven't taught pop music before in your studio, or you are just starting out, it can be daunting adapting to this new style of teaching. 

Stick it out! It will be worth it in the long run and your students will thrive from learning pop music. I hope today's pop teaching tips and tricks will help show you that teaching pop music is achievable and will benefit your students. 

If you would like to see last month's Expert Roundup post on creative piano recitals, click here

Members of Tim's Inner Circle are constantly in touch with piano experts such as these. If you would like more information on how you can become a creative piano teacher, please click here.

Daniel mcfarlane 

What traditional rules of piano pedagogy have you had to throw out in order to have success teaching pop?

All the classical voice-leading rules I was taught as a kid. Also, the belief that "you must be able to read it to play it".

What is your favourite pop song to teach and why? 

I love teaching "Fix You" by Coldplay because it incorporates all the techniques that I like to teach in one super cool song!​

Check out Daniel's website here.

Sara campbell 

What traditional rules of piano pedagogy have you had to throw out in order to have success teaching pop?

That you have to learn the entire piece! One of the biggest reasons I avoided teaching pop music was because the pieces were really long -- most students are completely happy just learning the "hook" of a piece.

What is your favourite pop song to teach and why? 

Whatever song my student wants. I know that if they pick the piece, they are absolutely going to practice it.

Check out Sara's website and her blog here. 

kristin yost

What traditional rules of piano pedagogy have you had to throw out in order to have success teaching pop?

Here are three rules to throw out:

  1. Pop music is dumbed down. What a missed opportunity if you think this way! It's a perfect opportunity to teach technique, musicality and arranging skills in particular. 
  2. You should play it as written. Play it how you hear it (be a musician and use your ears) and make sure it has the right number of beats in the measure. 
  3. It's not as valuable as 'the classics.' This is probably the largest fallacy in academia. Using music that is familiar to a student is far more motivating than not.
What is your favourite pop song to teach and why? 

Depends on the week! This week it happens to be Bruno Mars', That's What I Like.

Visit Kristin's music business Centre of Musical Minds and her personal website here

Susan deas 

What traditional rules of piano pedagogy have you had to throw out in order to have success teaching pop?

Reading every note exactly as written. Pop music comes with the expectation of improvisation. If you're playing by reading an arrangement of a pop song, chances are the composer of the song didn't write the arrangement. So there's no need for that reverence for genius we would show in a Mozart or Beethoven piece.

Often arrangements of pop songs can be improved by simplifying or elaborating a few things - especially when the arranger has notated every tiny vocal ornamentation, which can sound a bit odd on the piano. And if you're playing from chords or a lead chart, then of course you improvise!

What is your favourite pop song to teach and why? 

Anything by Billy Joel. He's such a great songwriter, and such a great pianist, his music just sounds so great on the piano.

You can see Susan's website by clicking here.

nicola cantan

NicolaCantan_ColourfulKeys
What traditional rules of piano pedagogy have you had to throw out in order to have success teaching pop?

"The law of the page" – I was taught to reproduce what was on the score as closely as was humanly possible...but if you do that with pop you'll sound like a robot. Think of the written music more as a rough guide when it comes to pop, and use the opportunity to train your student's ears more than their eyes.

What is your favourite pop song to teach and why? 

Let it Be by The Beatles.

I can teach the chords from this to my adult students at their very first lesson and chances are, they'll love it. I mean, who doesn't love The Beatles? I love the quiet smile on an adult beginner's face when they realise how easy it is to sound good right away.

Nicola has a music blog, you can visit it by clicking here.

Conclusion 

Wow, so much to work with there. I hope you found it informative and useful. 

If you take one of these pop teaching tips away from you today, make sure it is this: encourage your students not to play pop music how it is written.

Clearly, pop teaching is all about creativity, improvisation and personality. Urge your students to put their own personal spin on a pop song.

Maybe they could improvise over the chords of a pop song, or even write their own melody. Who knows, maybe one of your students could write the next big pop song.

Over to you- what are your pop teaching tips? Share your insights with teachers from around the world in the comments section below.

Let's show piano teachers that anyone can and should integrate pop piano into their teaching. ​

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About the Author

Sean is one of Tim’s former piano students, now in his third year of study at the University of Melbourne. Majoring in Italian and Media and Communications, he hopes to one day work as a journalist overseas.

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