Should "popular" music be taught in lessons? - Jazz, top 40, new age, et al.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Apr 28, 2004 2:25 pm

It's still probably true that most piano teachers base their teaching on classical works and exercises, but should we broaden the curriculum to include jazz, new age, top 40, even C&W songs? Tell us what you like to teach or learn and why. How do you handle technical exercises in the context of non-classical music? Would learning more "current" music make you more inclined to practice or sign up for lessons? This is one everybody can talk about, so let's hear what you have to say. :)
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Wed Apr 28, 2004 10:20 pm

There's some great popular music out there. And some really poorly written stuff too. Just pick what's good! It can be really fun. And jazz is good if you want to learn/teach improvisational skills.
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Postby Mins Music » Sat May 01, 2004 6:54 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:should we broaden the curriculum to include jazz, new age, top 40, even C&W songs?

Absolutely! Find out what the student enjoys listening to and chances are, they'll enjoy playing it as well!

My favourite era is the romantic, then classcial, then baroque - so it's pieces from these eras that I enjoy teaching the most. However, they're not the ones I assign the most!

I teach boogie and blues, pop, folk, contemporary, Latin, movie and T.V. themes - anything that will get the student interested in practising!

If they've been working hard on a classical piece and I see they're starting to get bored or disheartened, out comes the top forty for them to pick (doesn't matter about difficulty), or something else I know they really enjoy playing.

One student wanted to play the piano only to accompany herself singing. So I didn't stress note reading at all - we learned chords and accompaniment styles to the songs she wanted to sing - all top 40! All based on improvisation.

:( Country and Western is something I don't think I have ever taught on the piano. Singing, yes. Piano - I've never had anyone interested (which is a bit of a relief, because my piano library is pretty barren when it comes to this style).
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun May 02, 2004 6:59 am

The inclusion of so-called 'pop' music in piano study is not new. There is, e.g., a long-established series by Denes Agay where each volume is titled "The Joy of _"; one is called "The Joy of Jazz". Many--perhaps most--of the more popular methods include pop tunes, jazz classics, ragtime, movie themes, and even rock, in simplified piano arrangements, and this has been going on a long time. I think students should learn that the wall we tend to perceive between 'classical' and 'popular' music is really arbitrary and was much more vague in former times; Haydn incorporated folk tunes into his sonatas and symphonies all the time, and J. S. Bach turned a bawdy song into one of the most revered of his Passion chorales.

But I too would draw the line at Country Western, because it's so totally identified with vocal lyrics and guitar. It would seem to pose almost the same problems as trying to arrange a Happening by John Cage.

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Postby 114-1083535208 » Sun May 02, 2004 4:08 pm

I use Faber's piano adventures to present popular music to beginning students.My interested students practice more if they have a couple of pieces in the style tey like to go along with classical ones.
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Postby Mins Music » Sun May 02, 2004 4:43 pm

Welcome to the board rainbowrhythms! :)
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Postby Ursie » Wed May 05, 2004 4:01 am

rainbowrhythms wrote:I use Faber's piano adventures to present popular music to beginning students.My interested students practice more if they have a couple of pieces in the style tey like to go along with classical ones.

Hi Rainbowrhythms (great name!) I use Faber's piano adventures and the children love it - although it isn't always to everyone's taste. It does give lots of different styles and rythmns which helps keep interest and motivation.

If any of my pupils bring popular music to play I always try to accommodate them. It can be difficult for some students to learn their instrument and there's just no point in grinding down a students enthusiasm by not allowing any 'fun' pieces. I would like to learn more jazz playing. It has it's own infrastructure for practicing technical issues etc. and there's just masses of music available - it's the improvising......needless to say I don't teach jazz. I would quite happily teach boogie, honky tonk and I intend to teach blues scales along with the usual major, minor, arpeggios etc. but until I have more personal practice time I just can't fit jazz in. :(
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Mon May 10, 2004 6:21 am

Picking up on Dr. Zeiglers’s original thread on this topic ...
How do you handle technical exercises in the context of non-classical music?
What would the technical exercises for jazz, for example, be? All of my piano training so far has been classical, and the technical exercises consist mostly of scales and Hanon. I assume that scales would be used irregardless of the music style. Are there other technical exercises specific to each style, jazz, rock & roll etc.? :)
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Postby Mins Music » Mon May 10, 2004 8:29 pm

Aflat, an example of a jazz scale is as following:

C D Eflat F Fsharp G A Bflat C. (blues)

Play it! Sounds great just in itself doesn't it!

Another is the pentatonic scale:

CDEGA.

A popular method of jazz is playing the relative minor over it's major (and vice versa)

Exmple: Bflat chord in the left hand with a Gminor in the right.

Jazz uses lots of 'crushed' sounds - dissonance. So they like to add more note to their chords, C6 - add the sixth note A etc.

Understanding the structure of chords is probably more important in Jazz playing than in Classical. In the latter, we contentrate on playing the correct notes! In Jazz, we like to take a basic structure and melody line and then improvise with it.

Also, hand position is quite different in Jazz works than in Classical, because of that crushed effect. Also the rhythm isn't as 'tight' as in Classical - favouring an 'offbeat' effect.

These are all skills that can be practised alongside a particular piece you're tackling.

To make an exercise for your piece, choose some of the difficult elements it contains - playing five notes in a strange or awkward hand position, and practise changing from one chord to another, and then another etc.

For Rock n Roll, you really want to view the piano is a percussion instrument (as it is), and not so much as a solo instrument. Think of Jerry Lee Lewis thumping out chords with a moving pulse. With a lot of 'pop' music these days, the piano is used only for accompaniment, while the singer provides the melody line. Think of Billy Joel and Elton John - if you know chords and arpeggios and have rhythm, you've got it made! :cool:
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Mon May 10, 2004 8:45 pm

I love Billy Joel. I wouldn't mind learning some of his music. But the only reason I would really want to learn it is because I like to sing.
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Tue May 11, 2004 4:54 am

Mins, I tried your examples and see what your mean. It would take some time to build up to speed but I do like the sound. Thanks again. :laugh:
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Postby Ursie » Tue May 11, 2004 10:16 am

Quidam, have you listened to Billy Joel's CD Fantasies & Delusions - his own piano compositions Op1-10 performed by Richard Joo? In fact, has anyone else listened to it?

'It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing' - one of Duke Ellington's song titles. My understanding with jazz is that it's all about groove - various grooves i.e the rhythmic character of the piece of music, swing being one. Rhythm is king, you've got to feel the rhythm in your whole body. Improvisation is a key factor - and being able to improvise within your allocated space. I think you have to build up a 'feel' for how long/short your space is. Lots of listening to other jazz musicians and trying to copy them from ear. And if you can find some other jazz musicians to play with - your on your way :D Now that you've done all that you might just have enough time to eat before falling into bed exhausted! lol :D
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Postby 114-1078657089 » Sat May 15, 2004 8:02 am

When I was a kid, most of us just got force-fed the ABRSM exam system (and some other boring stuff teachers would force on us - I spent grades 5-8 working through a book of Czerny exercises, and there were still a few left when grade 8 was over!), but did learn other stuff on our own. Richard Clayderman, and various other pop music comes to mind.

Speaking of popular tunes incorporated into classical music (and vice versa!), I heard the most amazing set of variations on the chopstick song; Sonny Chua's Theme and 12 Deviations :) goes from minuet to ragtime? to habanera, ending with a quote from Liszt's Hungarian rhapsody. Also, saw the animated movie Triplets of Belleville, which had Bach's 2nd Fugue (C minor) done in a jazz style, heavily syncopated. Yep, it definitely pays to know your classical music. Nothing like being able to catch obscure? classical music references :D
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Postby Mins Music » Sat May 15, 2004 4:41 pm

Rach3, there is a wonderful recording of a Jazz Trio doing the entire of Bach's Goldberg's Variations. Piano, drums and double bass - in true jazz style, each instrument takes on a variaion by itself - my husband loves the drum variation!

:cool: :cool: :cool:
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Postby 114-1078657089 » Sun May 16, 2004 8:41 am

Mins: that sounds really cool! Do you know the name of the trio that performed it?
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