Updated: 9 May 2018: 4th Edition
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.
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.
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” (BS) 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?
Not sure about how to teach chords?
Check out my step-by-step lesson plans for teaching chords, chord progressions and chordal composing in your studio today at topmusic.co/chords. You can even watch me teach one of my teenage students live!
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!
The 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!
So without further ado, here’s the list, in approximate order of level of difficulty:
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 chord charts so you can get stuck into them with students right away?
Then make sure you get my free, 12-page, full colour handy resource guide which you can download, print and keep on your piano.
In it you’ll find:
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.
Do you want to know how to teach pop music the right way?
I held a webinar on pop music a little while back and you can register and watch the replay at a time that suits you.
In the webinar we cover…
As usual, I’ll be giving away a number of bonus downloads only available on the webinar, including your certificate of professional learning.
Sound like something you might be interested? Great! I’ll see you there 🙂Register now
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.