Top 10 Pop Songs for Piano Students

By Tim Topham | Piano Teaching

Jun 09

pop songs piano

If you’ve decided to embrace teaching pop in your studio in the last few years, well done! (If you haven’t, then keep reading as I’m determined to get you thinking more about how this can impact your studio positively starting right now).

There are myriad pedagogical benefits of working with students on pop music including keeping things relevant, helping teach theory, harmony, chords, musical structure and rhythm in an engaging way and keeping students highly motivated.

However, when you first get into teaching pop music, it can be hard to know where to start.

Do you start teaching pop by searching for and downloading music and then helping the students carefully read all the intricacies of the score, or do you approach it from a chord perspective by reading the chord chart and if so, how do you make that interesting? Or do you let students learn songs from YouTube tutorials or perhaps learn to play it by ear together in lessons?

The answer is that you can approach pop through any of these channels and they all have their benefits.

In fact, I tend to teach songs via a combination of all these methods at the same time!

Let me explain.

Sometimes score reading is easy, so we’ll start working there. But when the music gets too tricky for a student, we might listen to the recording and nut-out the rhythm by ear. You don’t always have to follow the score! Other times, it will be easier learning the chords first and then letting the student play the chords in the rhythm that they already know because they’ve listened to the song a hundred times. Then we can use a backing track app to add the singer or we can try playing the melody notes.

Remember, above all, modern piano teaching is flexible. If you are comfortable teaching in a flexible way (ie. not always following every dot and dash in a score above all else) and using a variety of methods to learn a piece, you’re ultimately going to be a much more versatile teacher and you’re going to be giving your students a much deeper and broader understanding of musical styles and structure.

Teaching chords

The foundation that’s most important to piano students learning music of any genre is for them to understand and experience the chordal structure of music.

Why?

Because chords are the ultimate foundation and building-block of tonal music. If your students understand chords, they will understand music in a much more comprehensive way.

What’s the best way of teaching about chords?

Yup, pop music.

When you’re teaching students about chords, the first thing they need to know is how to make Major and Minor chords anywhere on the piano.

I do this using a method called the “Big/Small” method of noting how many notes are skipped between the notes of the chords. It’s a similar way to thinking about the notes of a Major chord being comprised of a Minor 3rd and then a Major 3rd. Other teachers tap the keys counting all the notes between the chord tones. Eg. Is it a 4-tap or a 5-tap gap?

Whatever method you use to teach students how to play chords, this information is pretty useless unless you put it into context for them.

That’s where my Top 10 Pop Songs for Piano Students come in!

Practising chords through pop

teaching piano chordsThe best way to get students to practice chord finding and playing is to get them playing some music they know.

But what are the best songs to teach from a pedagogical perspective?

Finding the most appropriate songs is particularly important when you first introduce chords because if you don’t put the chords into context and make it relevant, students will very quickly lose interest.

Don’t waste time on trial and error in your own studio, use these songs and have your students playing pop in no time!

Not sure about how to teach chords?

Check out my 10-week chord teaching lesson plans – they’re available to all members of my Inner Circle Community.

My Top 10 Go-To Songs

So without further ado, here’s the list, in order of teaching preference:

  1. Let it Be – Beatles
  2. Hey Jude – Beatles
  3. Clocks – Coldplay
  4. Piano Man – Billy Joel
  5. Skyfall – Adele
  6. The Scientist – Coldplay
  7. Someone Like You – Adele
  8. Get Lucky – Daft Punk
  9. Simpson’s Theme
  10. James Bond Theme

No doubt you’ve heard of a number of these songs, and for good reason. Most of them are easy to play with only a few notes or chords and kids really seem to relate to them.

Want to know why I’ve chosen these? Want to know how I teach them? Want a copy of the music or chord charts for the main riffs in these pieces? Then make sure you get my free 5-page handy resource guide which you can download, print and keep on your piano.

In it you’ll find:

  • examples of the chord progressions and written music (depending on the piece and how I teach it)
  • notes about why I chose each song and how I teach it
  • tips about teaching each song and other activities you can do with them (eg. transposing)

What’s your favourite pop song to teach?

Leave your best song in the comment area below and let us all know why you’ve chosen this song and any tips you have about teaching it.

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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.

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