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Classical vs. Pop: Which Is Better for Piano Learners?

Learning to play the piano can be a daunting task, whether you’re a child or an adult learner. But even though there’s a lot of technique to keep in mind, it should also be fun! One of the most important aspects of learning to play an instrument is balancing the vital technical lessons with a sense of fun.

Most parents believe that their children will benefit more from learning to play classical music than pop music. After all, classical music seems to be more distinguished and complex. It seems like something that will have a more lasting impact on their child’s musical education.

But does classical music actually have advantages over pop? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each? And how can you create piano lessons with the best-rounded results?

Debunking Misconceptions

To get more deeply into the classical versus pop question, we first need to debunk some common misconceptions about both types of music.

These are some of the most common misconceptions related to this topic:

  • Classical musicians can easily play any other style of music.
  • Classical music is more complicated and uses more technique.
  • Pop music is extremely simple and straightforward.
  • Pop music doesn’t have much substance or technical advancement.
  • There is nothing pop music offers that you can’t learn from classical music.

Here’s something interesting to keep in mind: Most classical music was the pop music of its day. Pop music is a phrase that just means “popular music.” At the time that it was written and performed, classical music was extremely popular on all levels of society.

So there’s no guarantee that classical music is more complex or requires more technicality than pop music. You just know that it’s older music that can fit into a specific musical time period.

There’s a persistent belief that pop musicians don’t know much about music history or technique. But many of them have actually studied music at the collegiate level. There’s also a belief that musicians who specialize in classical music can easily shift to other styles.

When children are first learning piano, some parents will even say that they want their child to use classical techniques without ever trying any other styles. But that can actually be detrimental. Different styles use different techniques, not all of which are found with classical piano.

Pop music is also not as simple as some people believe. In fact, some pop music can be more advanced than classical music. You may also need a higher level of creativity and skill to interact with it.

Classical musicians often lack skills like the ability to improvise or pick out tunes by ear. Pop musicians, on the other hand, tend to thrive in these areas. By combining the two styles, you end up with a more well-rounded musical background overall.

The Case for Pop Music in Piano Lessons

Pop music shouldn’t make up the sum total of your piano education. Not only would you miss out on important aspects of classical history, but it would also be very difficult to craft a curriculum. You need to be able to learn scales and different harmonies in addition to melodies.

But there is a strong case for adding pop music to piano lessons, and it isn’t just related to fun.

When you learn to play the piano, you want to be passionate about what you’re doing. For children, the piano can be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with music. But if the lessons are boring or demotivating, the child might lose that passion and drive.

Some of the potential future benefits of a passionate relationship with the piano include:

  • A hobby that’s pursued through old age
  • An ability to really understand music
  • An ability to get creative with musical compositions
  • A career within the music industry
  • Educational opportunities like scholarships and grants

In addition, a strong background in music can help a child when it comes to forming connections in other areas of their education.

One of the best ways to keep people engaged with piano lessons is by using music that’s relevant to their interests. A child will receive major positive attention from their peers if they’re able to proficiently play popular songs on the piano.

The approval of peers is extremely vital to the development of children. This can be a gateway into a more complex interest in music over time.

Combining Different Styles

So you can see that there are ample reasons to teach both classical and pop music to students. But what about combining the styles?

Yes, it’s possible to combine both styles into one lesson! Some of this ability will depend on the piano teacher. The more versatile and experienced a teacher is, the better suited they’ll be to making a curriculum that works for a specific student.

Something to keep in mind is that if you want to play a pop song well, you’ll need to use many of the same techniques that you find in classical music. For piano learners, this might involve sound dynamics, phrasing, and pedaling.

Similarly, you’ll need to consider how you physically interact with the piano. Your posture and physical strength affect the sound of the piano no matter whether you’re playing Mozart or the latest Imagine Dragons song.

Let’s say that a student really wants to learn pop music. Maybe they have a specific band, singer, or album in mind. In the best-case scenario, their piano teacher can indulge this — while also throwing in some technical challenges. They could create their own arrangement of the work.

This allows the student to focus on the type of music that interests them, but they also learn vital techniques along the way. The more a student loves the song they’re playing, the more excited they’ll be to practice and build their skills.

Avoiding Pop?

So with all of this evidence regarding the benefits of pop music, why is it that some music teachers avoid it? Some focus chiefly on classical music, sometimes with genres like jazz thrown in. Does that mean they’re a bad teacher?

No, not necessarily. Different teachers have different styles. Some are very firm about the skills they want their students to learn and how they want their students to progress. Though this may seem inflexible, it allows them to be an expert in their specific curriculum.

It can be tough for teachers to think of ways to integrate the latest music into their teaching. In fact, some teachers might not be familiar with today’s pop music at all. It’s possible that their own music taste is so different that they really aren’t sure what’s playing on the radio.

Completely refusing to consider the merits of pop music isn’t a good idea, though. For example, pop songs have significantly more complex rhythms than their classical counterparts. Most beginners can’t even read the time signatures of a typical pop song because of how complicated the rhythm is.

For this reason, it’s best not to start right away with pop music. Teaching students basic chords and scales is important before you dive into pop songs. But you can certainly encourage students to practice plucking out the melodies of their favorite music on the piano!

Starting with Pop

If you do start with pop, you’ll need to slowly build on techniques, just like you do with classical music. It’s important to start with chords and basic notes. Then you can use a lead sheet.

A lead sheet shows the melody of a song on a single line. Then it tells you the chords that go with the melody. Students can learn to play the chords along with the melody note. This is often more simple than trying to read the chords on sheet music as a beginner.

Most pop songs use a combination of the same four chords. Once a student learns this, they can pay the bass clef portion of basically any song.

They will then be able to practice playing the melody. Since the rhythms are complex, beginners might have to take some time to puzzle out the different notes and what they mean.

Students also have the option to learn pop music by playing the melody by ear. They might also practice sketching the notes on a staff to get more used to reading music.

Final Thoughts

You might think that classical music is always superior to pop when it comes to learning piano. But that actually isn’t the case. The best-rounded students tend to use a combination of classical and pop music in their studies.

Classical music does tend to have important techniques that you might not find in pop. But pop music has much more complex rhythms. A student who studies both styles will be able to switch between them much more easily than one who only studies classical.

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