CPTP077: How to Teach Lead Sheets and Chord Charts with Susan Deas - Creative Music Education

CPTP077: How to Teach Lead Sheets and Chord Charts with Susan Deas

By Tim Topham | Classically Trained to Creatively Curious

Mar 03

Teach lead sheets and your students will be more likely to be lifelong pianists. In fact, Susan Deas surveyed teachers and found that 90% thought teaching lead sheets was useful skill. Cultivating a love of music and keeping students playing was also rated as a primary focus, and most teachers thought lead sheets would help with this.

So why are many of us still not fitting this creative skill into our lessons?

Susan Deas

Susan Deas takes a practical, straight-forward approach to lead sheet playing. Her book, Improvisation for Classically Trained Pianists, breaks down this skill into a truly step-by-step process.

As Susan says: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, have a go!”. Jump in to episode 77 and find out how you can teach lead sheets in your studio.


If you’d like to download a PDF transcript of this episode, please click below.

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In this episode, you’ll learn

  • The difference between a chord chart and a lead sheet
  • Why Susan set out to research the area of improvisation
  • What Susan found out about teachers’ attitudes to creativity
  • Why teachers don’t teach lead sheets, and why they should
  • How to get piano parents on board with improvisation
  • How Susan prepares young students for lead sheet playing
  • What you can do to fit more improv into your piano lessons
  • Susan’s top tips for how to teach lead sheets

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Do you teach lead sheets in your studio?

If so, what approach do you use? If not, what’s stopping you getting started?

Do you like the idea of a more step-by-step process for teaching lead sheets and chord charts?


About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

  • May says:

    It’s fascinating that 72% of teachers said they would include lead sheet arranging if exams required it. I live in the U.S. where national exams aren’t the norm. My local music teachers group (affiliated with Music Teachers National Association) launched a Piano Skills Festival a few years ago to encourage students and teachers to explore skills beyond performance. Lead sheet arranging is one of the required skills for our Piano Skills Festival. Based on what I’ve seen as a teacher, judge, and now committee member planning the Festival, even 2nd year students are capable of playing from lead sheets – if you sequence the requirements well! We have 11 levels and hope to expand to 15 by the time it’s all said & done. More and more teachers in my geographic area are including lead sheet arranging in their teaching because of this Festival.

    • Tim Topham says:

      Thanks for leaving your comment, May. Great to hear the MTNA groups are using this in their assessment.

      Do you mean your exams currently have 11 out of 15 levels? Would be really interested to see the framework if it’s possible to share?

      • May says:

        Yes, we’ve only completed the curriculum for 11 out of 15 levels. The Piano Skills Festival launched with 10 levels and plans for 5 more levels. This year, we’re rolling out Level 11. Since it’s volunteer work for the committee members, it’s a slower process than developing national exams. It’s a local Festival, so I can’t speak to what other MTNA groups are doing.

        Right now, we have 5 required skills: technique, sight-reading, lead sheet harmonization, transposition of the lead sheet harmonizations, and performance (of published arrangements). We’re developing an improvisation curriculum that we plan to launch in 2018 for existing levels. Long term, we want to add a student-written arrangement category and student composition category, but we don’t have solid plans for those yet. The curriculum is copyrighted, so I can’t share specifics here.

        Of course, we’re also educating teachers as we go so that they feel comfortable teaching these skills that they didn’t learn in college! That’s part of why I’m following your blog now: to gather resources to share with our member teachers.

  • Great podcast, Tim. This is sorely needed. As you know, Musikgarten starts the process with little ones, but these creative graduates need this lead sheet book. I agree that the hardest part is putting chords AND melody in the Right hand. I can’t wait to explore her book.

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