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The Power of Now

· Practical Pedagogy

The importance of current pop music in piano lessons is immeasurable. Since 2012, there has been a marked improvement on print/digital access of popular music, and the opportunities this provides for learning. Hal Leonard and Alfred in particular, have been putting out some wonderful books with recent Top Radio hits and Broadway Classics, but takes the accessibility to a completely new level. There is even some music available by pedagogical composers like William Gillock, Eric Baumgartner and arrangers like Mike Springer and Mona Rejino. The fact that your student can come in and ask to play a (requested) piece of music that you can download within two minutes and begin working on in the lesson, is nothing short of awesome. The educational benefits that surround the accessibility of are highlighted here:

  1. Technique: My favorite thing to do with pop music and technic! Reinforce 5th and octave technique that seems to “stick” easier than if addressing it in technical exercises (not to mention the fun factor).
  2. Ear-training: Often times the music is too difficult rhythmically to read verbatim, but this shouldn’t be viewed as a negative and could be used as an ear-training opportunity for your student, or even for you too. The kids who know the song will have no problems. 
  3. Improvisation: It’s an opportunity to teach improvisation in the LH/comping patterns, or in a 2-8 bar solo section that  lays the foundation for improvising in their music for the rest of their lives. When we make it accessibly, even easy, it's amazing what they will feel confident to do on their own.
  4. Accessibility: The music is available as soon as the songs have hit the charts (or before), so there is no waiting on an arranger at one of the publishing houses.
  5. Enjoyment: Who doesn’t enjoy playing music they know and love?
  6. Reading: If you buy a song that has vocals, you will have 3 staves.  LH plays the single note chord symbol, 5th, or octave pattern based on the chord that is circled, and the RH plays the vocal melody. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples that have personally used this past month:

Ella – Big Green Tractor (Jason Aldean)

Ben – Hotel California (Eagles - classic!)

Kathryn – Come Together (Beatles - another classic!)

Caleb – Believer (Imagine Dragons)

Reese - Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)

What you need to know:

  • The music can be pricey at around $5.25 a song.  You can join the club for a nominal fee if you are a power user, and receive 10% off each purchase. For their “MusicNotes Edition” music (public domain and mostly classical), you can print unlimited copies of the music, but all other music is allowed only one complete print, as if you bought the music in the store.
  • If you own an iPad, the app allows every single purchase you have ever made, to be stored inside of their app.  Don’t like the key?  No problem, you can have it transposed for you if you need to.
  • There are usually a few arranger options per song, such as Easy Piano, Piano/Voice/, etc…(see screen shot). There are advantages to all of them.
  • Always make sure you get the version with the chord symbols written in…it’s the best opportunity for applying good technique and lends itself to easier improvisation sections.