Every piano teacher has had a student who has said this. Sadly, too many piano teachers don't know how to respond to that request.
Some immediately respond with a short sermon on the importance of classical literature and why this is so important to learn and that we should not get distracted by anything that will take our attention away from our goal.
That answer is very unsatisfactory to me and I think most students. Wanting to learn to play the music they love and listen to is not necessarily saying they don’t want to learn classical literature. I also think it is a short-sighted idea that music can only be learned from something that is old and written centuries ago. Perhaps “our goal” should be exactly that, and with that request, playing music of today is part of that shared goal to grow and develop as a musicians.
To be honest, I think most teachers respond with a bad answer because they simply don’t know how to teach a student the songs they listen to. Usually, the only options a teacher has is to do what they do with classical music and seek printed music. As a teacher, we might seek out a collection of popular music arranged for the student’s level and believe this is going to meet the need.
Sadly, this usually goes poorly as well. Songs hit the radio, Spotify, or iTunes and have instant popularity with our students. In contrast, it takes 6 or 10 months or even more for it to get noticed by a print music publisher, and then and even more time for it to get to an arranger. By the time it goes through arranging, editing and on a company’s publishing schedule two years may have passed. How many 6th graders do you know that want to play the music they liked as a 4th grader. That is a lifetime ago to them! They want to play the music they listen to right now. Even if a publisher could speed up that timetable the printed arrangements always come up short in other ways. The rhythms aren’t quite right, or the key is changed.
As a piano teacher, we can see either an opportunity or an impossibility. In a short series of a articles, I’d like to discuss the opportunity we have as teachers when a student approaches us with this request. Today, I’ll give an overview and we’ll dig into these ideas in subsequent postings.
First, we must recognize that this is an opportunity to train the young musician’s ear. Ear training or aural musicianship is a very important part of a music education. Unfortunately, it is also one that is neglected.
We don’t have music to read? Let’s learn the song by ear! I’ll bet that is even the way the performers learned it. Why shouldn’t we? Think of the opportunities we have to teach intervals, as well as recognize chords, note patterns, and rhythms.
Speaking of chords, this is a great time to put a practical use to those chord progressions we drill through our students to practice with their scales. The truth is that those same classical chord progressions are used in pop music. They are not always used in the same way, but chords are chords and this foundation the student already has is a great place to build.
As they learn to understand and play chords, we can help them understand pop chord notation. What a great time to teach a student how to read a guitar chart with lyrics and chords only. A student who is beginning to excel in that or one that has done well with Roman numeral chords will be fascinated by the Nashville system for chords and the practicality of it for a studio musician. Yet another great opportunity to teach and challenge your student!
Speaking of practicality, learning to play by ear and growing in one’s understanding of chords and the way music is written can help a student become a great sight reader and can open doors to accompanying, playing in a school jazz band or on a church worship team. As teachers, we should be raising up students who can fill these roles and have these skills.
So that is the overview. In my next article, will focus on chord reading and playing. In the meantime, see if you can think of other benefits to broaden--not replace--a student’s musical education by helping them learn to play what they love to listen to.
Dave Brubeck heard this rhythm played by Turkish musicians on the street and was intrigued by it. When talking with one of the musicians he was told, "To us, this is what blues is to you." That is where the title came from and the foundation for the piece. The Turkish melodic hook sounds almost classical to our ears and then the piece moves into a great blues feel. Also check out the recording on Brubeck's album, Time Out.
Banned at times in the WWI era for criticizing the Soviet regime, yet admired by Stalin himself. Maria Yudina's playing mimicks her personality. Free, somewhat rebellious, muscular, and reinventing. It is fitting that she recorded this at a time in 1962 a year Stravinsky was finally invited back to the U.S.S.R. after 30 years of having been banned himself. Yudina is a pianist worth listening to and in addition to Stravinsky, has brilliant recordings of Liszt and Bartok
Do you ever feel that way about performances. It is like the anxiety takes over our body. We try to relax. We try to remember what we've prepared to do. But, something just makes us tense up and the more we think about the possibility that we'll tense up and make a mistake makes us tense up even more. What do you do?
Here is a great article on dealing with and coping with performance stress. There is no magic cure, but knowing we all deal with it in various ways can be an encouragement. Check out the article here.
Even a seven-time Grammy award winner still has to practice and doesn't always find it fun. In his words, it's sometimes "kind of a slog." But, this great pianist has several suggestions to make practicing more enjoyable and still productive.
Before Spotify, iTunes, and compact discs. Even before the 33 1/3 rpm LP's were the 78 rpm record discs. In the 1930's Horowitz recorded many of these with short pieces such as Chopin mazurkas and etudes, Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, and other shorter works by Debussy, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and others. Perhaps the very best is the 1930 performance of the Paganini-Liszt-Busoni Etude in E flat. The control over technique is astounding. This is the etude that Arthur Rubinstein heard Horowitz play in 1926 and wrote about in his memoirs: "I shall never forget the two Paganini-:Liszt etudes, the E flat and E major ones. There was more than sheer brilliance and technique; there was an easy elegance-the magic that defies description." Horowitz was a technical monster, but along with this technical mastery is a simple elegance that is unmatched.
In Great Pianists I'll highlight inspiring and challenging interviews with pianists from the past and present. #pianists, #piano