Teaching Popular Music

My very first piano teacher Mr. Herbert Sweet taught me to play popular music from the very beginning. I remember he would write out the melody and the chords to songs in a manuscript book and teach me to play my favorite pop tunes.

I think teaching popular music is super valuable. It is great for developing the ability to play by ear. It helps with music theory by teaching students about chords. Learning to play popular music includes a level of creativity and improvisation that helps people to become comfortable at the keyboard.

“Fake it till you make it” and “Close enough for rock and roll” are expressions we’ve all heard. Basically, they mean, keep going, don’t stop playing. This can be very helpful in quelling performance anxiety and making play the piano a lot more enjoyable.

Plus, Popular music easily builds a student’s repertoire. It can also be motivating because in the long run, popular music is much easier to learn and memorize than most classical music. Lastly, popular music also opens the door to the study of blues and jazz.

Getting Started

I start popular music with early-intermediate students I want them to have a firm foundation. Which means good technique and the ability to read music.

I sometimes make exceptions with the ability to read music. Some students have such “great ears” that learning this way is their strong suit. If they are struggling with reading, we focus on playing by ear alongside working from a method book.

I teach my students popular music without using books or music notation. I want them to learn to play their favorite songs by ear. Here are the steps I follow.

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