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Teaching Pop Piano #2324517
09/05/14 05:37 PM
09/05/14 05:37 PM
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IPlayPiano Offline OP
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Hi, everyone. I wasn't sure whether or not to post this in the Teacher's forum or the Non-classical forum but I'm looking for advice on HOW to teach students to play pop tunes by ear either from scratch or with lyrics and chords.

Background: I am a classically trained pop/country musician with a jazz piano degree(Haha! It's true.). I was one of those kids that took classical lessons but never practiced my pieces and instead spent my time learning tunes off of the radio by ear. Because there is no such thing as a "pop" music degree, I took a jazz degree. I am now into my third year of teaching and I feel like I have a good grasp on piano pedagogy as it applies to classical music (never took a pedagogy class for Jazz) but I am struggling to teach what I am actually good at. Pop. There are two parts to my question.

1) Technique, theory, and reading. If someone plays a recording for me I can arrange it spontaneously and play it back. I do that using a combination of pop language, theory, and technical exercises that I learned in my classical training. However, I find that as soon as I begin to teach my students particular concepts such as chord function or transcribing melodies, I realize that these students still need to learn their key signatures, scales, intervals, triad exercises, etc. Next thing you know we are having the most boring lesson that ends with a boatload of practicing and assignments that AREN'T lady gaga.

2) Arragements! In my jazz degree I learned that there are two ways to play jazz piano. The first applies to solo piano: Play melody in the right hand and chords or basslines in the left. The second is in an ensemble setting: Chords/comping with both hands or comping in the left hand with melody in the right hand. I can say that when it comes to pop music, what I do is probably a combination of bass lines, arpeggios, "power" chords (no 3rds), rhythms that emulate a guitar, except I don't limit these possibilities to right or left hand. Instead, there is a lot of crossover. I try to cover the important aspects of the tune that make it recognizable and enjoyable to listen to. How can I lay this information out in a systematic way for my students to practice and learn to arrange?

I've never had to articulate my knowledge of pop music to anyone until I became a teacher. Now I am struggling to do so. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Last edited by IPlayPiano; 09/05/14 05:41 PM.
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Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2324535
09/05/14 06:55 PM
09/05/14 06:55 PM
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dire tonic Offline
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I'm interested in your situation and how you will deal with it, particularly how you will formalize your teaching of pop. Aside from my early, half-hearted and too-soon terminated classical lessons as a child I ended up working as a commercial musician mostly in the pop field (with an R&B slant rather than Country). But I never taught so I'm not in a position to offer any advice.

Just one thing made me curious; the absence of 3rds. I'm thinking now of most of the singer songwriters from the early 60s through the 70s. Not many songs I recall that didn't have 3rds. Perhaps I've misunderstood or your talking about just the LH maybe?


Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2324536
09/05/14 07:11 PM
09/05/14 07:11 PM
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-uothzTaaQ

This is an example where I wouldn't use 3rds (in the intro and verses).

Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2324541
09/05/14 07:24 PM
09/05/14 07:24 PM
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dire tonic Offline
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- for sure, in this song, 5ths work fine up to 45 secs or so. Then you'll need your 3rds?

I think I must have misunderstood; you avoid 3rds where the original song avoids them. Yes, I would do the same.


Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2324586
09/06/14 12:01 AM
09/06/14 12:01 AM
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Michael Martinez Offline
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1) Easy. Pick a key, show them the 7 diatonic triads, show them different ways of making chord progressions with these 7 chords, and how it basically revolves around the tonal center of the key, and have them do exercises to start recognizing/anticipating these chord progressions by ear. Once they get some small competence in that, then pick simple well known tunes (folk songs, Christmas carols, whatever) and ask them to harmonize the melodies themselves. When they stumble and pick a chord that doesnt work, or a weak choice where a stronger one exists, point that out. After doing this a while, have them apply this to songs they actually like (lady gaga or whatever)

2) After they gain some proficiency in #1, then teach them chord inversions, and show them how to spread out the chord tones in both hands, keeping the bass line on the bottom of the LH.

Last edited by Michael Martinez; 09/06/14 12:03 AM.

Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
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Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2324660
09/06/14 07:25 AM
09/06/14 07:25 AM
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dire tonic Offline
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ok, I see it now, you were simply defining 'power chords' for those who aren't familiar with the term, rather than implying this was a stylistic commonplace of yours - which was what I took you to mean at the outset.

Originally Posted by IPlayPiano
How can I lay this information out in a systematic way for my students to practice and learn to arrange?

How about picking out four or five of your favourite songs, making sure these cover a broad range of moods and tempos. Work up your best solo piano version of each of them then use your arrangements to show how you've used the piano to simulate the rhythm section, which elements of the original arrangements can (or must) be dispensed with (and why), how you deal with translating a freely sung vocal to a piano line (can sometimes be very difficult when dealing with grace notes).

Or, let the student take the initiative. Ask them to shortlist four or five songs and you choose one based on approachability, simplicity, or adaptability. The more tricky aspect of solo pop piano playing to my mind is in trying to accommodate the vocal top line and in conjunction, to simulate a big production arrangement particularly one with rhythm or layered ideas e.g. where chorus and verse are basically harmonically the same but added figures or more energetic drum/bass figures make the contrast.
Most dance music would be a challenge. Perhaps an interesting one?

I'd be inclined to work from a lead sheet or, better still, your own transcription of the chords, completely circumventing the ear training aspect of the task, delivering most of that on a plate and focussing instead on de-constructing the arrangment. This would get the student to focus on the presence of different layers, to be interested in the way the whole arrangement gels rather than the dusty business of having to think about intervals and chords at this stage.

Would it be worth you discussing a particular song here that you might bring to a student or a group for working up as a solo piano arrangement? I'd be happy to offer some input if I'm able. It might be interesting to see how different ears lay different stresses in the final result.

Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2324738
09/06/14 12:20 PM
09/06/14 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by IPlayPiano
1) Technique, theory, and reading. If someone plays a recording for me I can arrange it spontaneously and play it back. I do that using a combination of pop language, theory, and technical exercises that I learned in my classical training. However, I find that as soon as I begin to teach my students particular concepts such as chord function or transcribing melodies, I realize that these students still need to learn their key signatures, scales, intervals, triad exercises, etc. Next thing you know we are having the most boring lesson that ends with a boatload of practicing and assignments that AREN'T lady gaga.


I try and teach theory by connecting everything to the piece they're learning. Just subtle mentions of music theory, chord relationships, key signatures, intervals etc whilst they're learning a particular piece seems to work ok. The majority of my pupils will see the value of this and don't see that they're having a 'Music Theory' lesson.



Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2325323
09/08/14 10:34 AM
09/08/14 10:34 AM
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Dire tonic, let's try "Stay With me" by Sam Smith. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rC8RRXcfeo. In conjunction with our discussion on arranging I'd like to discuss the pedagogical aspects of teaching these songs.

This song happens to be in the Key of C which is great for my younger students. If it was in the Key of Db or B then they couldn't transcribe it or play along with it because they just aren't fluent enough in difficult keys and I'd be inclined to pick a different tune.

To begin, the student and I would listen to the song and sing it a little bit. It is usually the case that my student requested to learn the song and so they already have it in their ears.

Arrangement: I'd probably play the intro as is and then begin to play the melody with my RH 2345 finger in the middle of the keyboard, reserving my thumb to help out with the chord structure underneath. When it comes to the chorus I would probably play octaves in the left hand and melody in the RH with finger 3, while adding the outer harmony voices with my RH 1 and 5. Any other ideas?

Pedagogical aspects: What I usually do is begin a quick (as quick as possible or they lose interest) theory lesson (usually in one ear and out the other) on the important chords in this key and what they sound like in the song. I start with the intro, then verse. For my older students, they can begin to "guess and test" to find the correct chords. For my younger students, I explain the concepts while playing them the chords on the piano and the student tries to memorize the sequence as I show them what the arrangement looks like visually. They will likely forget it once they go back to school, then dance class, then supper, and then go back to the piano and try to play it again so I usually write it down for them (or get them to write it down, both of which are time eaters). Then, we begin to add melody, which some of my students can pick out by ear while others wouldn't know where to start. When it comes to this particular chorus, I will admit I feel 100% guilty teaching the chorus without at least teaching the student the concept of 3-note chords/triads and their inversions and at least assigning one exercise. Why? Because ultimately, I want the student to have a pool of musical vocabulary to pull from so they can function on their own. Not just a song that they have memorized how to play for the talent show (I call that the youtube tutorial effect!).

You can see how this song would be a much more difficult challenge if it weren't for it's key. Most common barriers: Students knowledge of key signitures, lack of chord knowledge, and definitely lack of ability to transcribe melody. So you can see where I am inclined to assign a bunch of scale writing, triad exercises, transcription assignments, interval assignments, etc. And kids hate that.

To tie this all together, I've begun to think that these students need a well rounded curriculum for learning to play by ear on their own. I think I will start structuring lessons as follows: 30% technique/theory/ear training, 30% reading popular music by the score, 30% figuring it out by ear and arranging, 10% pure listening/discussion. Does that seem balanced?

Amazing how writing all of this down has really brought clarity to my thoughts! And additional thoughts are welcome.

Last edited by IPlayPiano; 09/08/14 10:37 AM.
Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2325331
09/08/14 10:57 AM
09/08/14 10:57 AM
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I understand that your students want to quickly be able to play songs with a minimum effort. Who wouldn't. But unfortunately that's not quite the way it works. If they can't be bothered to absorb ANY theory, isn't it time for them to wonder how motivated they are?

If they ever want to rise above a certain level there's no getting around key signatures, chords, a minimum of theory. Frankly it's not that hard. Granted, it does require some patience and concentration. But I would say that a student unwilling to do that is not really motivated.

You say it's boring. Well it may or may not be, but it's the necessary tools that will enable you later on to pick up any song in any key. Isn't that worth a little effort? Or is their goal to wag their fingers on that same song in C all their life?

Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2325354
09/08/14 12:13 PM
09/08/14 12:13 PM
Joined: Nov 2006
Posts: 3,462
Western Canada
Diane... Offline
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Western Canada
Originally Posted by IPlayPiano
Hi, everyone. I wasn't sure whether or not to post this in the Teacher's forum or the Non-classical forum but I'm looking for advice on HOW to teach students to play pop tunes by ear either from scratch or with lyrics and chords.

Background: I am a classically trained pop/country musician with a jazz piano degree(Haha! It's true.). I was one of those kids that took classical lessons but never practiced my pieces and instead spent my time learning tunes off of the radio by ear. Because there is no such thing as a "pop" music degree, I took a jazz degree. I am now into my third year of teaching and I feel like I have a good grasp on piano pedagogy as it applies to classical music (never took a pedagogy class for Jazz) but I am struggling to teach what I am actually good at. Pop. There are two parts to my question.

1) Technique, theory, and reading. If someone plays a recording for me I can arrange it spontaneously and play it back. I do that using a combination of pop language, theory, and technical exercises that I learned in my classical training. However, I find that as soon as I begin to teach my students particular concepts such as chord function or transcribing melodies, I realize that these students still need to learn their key signatures, scales, intervals, triad exercises, etc. Next thing you know we are having the most boring lesson that ends with a boatload of practicing and assignments that AREN'T lady gaga.

2) Arragements! In my jazz degree I learned that there are two ways to play jazz piano. The first applies to solo piano: Play melody in the right hand and chords or basslines in the left. The second is in an ensemble setting: Chords/comping with both hands or comping in the left hand with melody in the right hand. I can say that when it comes to pop music, what I do is probably a combination of bass lines, arpeggios, "power" chords (no 3rds), rhythms that emulate a guitar, except I don't limit these possibilities to right or left hand. Instead, there is a lot of crossover. I try to cover the important aspects of the tune that make it recognizable and enjoyable to listen to. How can I lay this information out in a systematic way for my students to practice and learn to arrange?

I've never had to articulate my knowledge of pop music to anyone until I became a teacher. Now I am struggling to do so. Any thoughts would be appreciated!


This is wonderful to hear!!! You will have students lined up at your door when they learn there's a piano teacher like you out there.

The books I have used to teach pop/jazz/blues (fun music) are
1. Christopher Norton's CONNECTIONS (Level 1-8) Great stuff there!
2. Blue piano music by Tim Richards (with CD)
3. Exploring Jazz Piano by Tim Richards (Vol. 1 & 2) with CD
4. New Orleans Jazz styles by William Gillock (3 book set with 3 set CDs)
4, Jazz Connections (7 jazzy solos) by Eric Baumgartner BOOK 3)
with CD!

Go with what you love and that will inspire your students. All I can say is, TEACH THEM EVERYTHING YOU KNOW. As long as they have a reason to learn technic that goes along with why they learn something. In the end, follow your heart and you will never go wrong!

Congratulations on your musical direction! Your students will love you for it!

Last edited by Diane...; 09/08/14 01:59 PM.

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Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: mc9320] #2325356
09/08/14 12:21 PM
09/08/14 12:21 PM
Joined: Nov 2006
Posts: 3,462
Western Canada
Diane... Offline
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Originally Posted by mc9320
Originally Posted by IPlayPiano
1) Technique, theory, and reading. If someone plays a recording for me I can arrange it spontaneously and play it back. I do that using a combination of pop language, theory, and technical exercises that I learned in my classical training. However, I find that as soon as I begin to teach my students particular concepts such as chord function or transcribing melodies, I realize that these students still need to learn their key signatures, scales, intervals, triad exercises, etc. Next thing you know we are having the most boring lesson that ends with a boatload of practicing and assignments that AREN'T lady gaga.


I try and teach theory by connecting everything to the piece they're learning. Just subtle mentions of music theory, chord relationships, key signatures, intervals etc whilst they're learning a particular piece seems to work ok. The majority of my pupils will see the value of this and don't see that they're having a 'Music Theory' lesson.



This is perfect advice!!!


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Diane
Jazz/Blues/Rock/Boogie Piano Teacher
[Linked Image]
Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2325382
09/08/14 02:06 PM
09/08/14 02:06 PM
Joined: Nov 2006
Posts: 3,462
Western Canada
Diane... Offline
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Originally Posted by IPlayPiano
Hi, everyone. I wasn't sure whether or not to post this in the Teacher's forum or the Non-classical forum but I'm looking for advice on HOW to teach students to play pop tunes by ear either from scratch or with lyrics and chords.

Background: I am a classically trained pop/country musician with a jazz piano degree(Haha! It's true.). I was one of those kids that took classical lessons but never practiced my pieces and instead spent my time learning tunes off of the radio by ear. . Next thing you know we are having the most boring lesson that ends with a boatload of practicing and assignments that AREN'T lady gaga.

Here are some interesting variations. Gotta love improvisation! Right?



http://www.pianoworld.com/Uploads/files/goldsparkledress.jpg
Diane
Jazz/Blues/Rock/Boogie Piano Teacher
[Linked Image]
Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2325415
09/08/14 03:00 PM
09/08/14 03:00 PM
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Diane... Offline
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And another ... vote for teaching POP music! hahahaha

One of my male students brought this music to me, which I hadn't heard this before. He downloaded the sheet music, and he wanted to learn it ... & sing too! (go figure) So we got the chord progression down. He was only into his 2nd year of piano lessons, but was determined to learn it.

He learned it, sang it to his girlfriend for Valentine's day, and when her family went to Disneyland, they took him too!

Does learning POP music payoff!?? I'd say the answer is YES! hahaha

It's called "This Year's Love" by David Gray!



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Diane
Jazz/Blues/Rock/Boogie Piano Teacher
[Linked Image]
Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2325647
09/09/14 08:52 AM
09/09/14 08:52 AM
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That's a solid choice. There's so much that can be said which might be noteworthy for a student although I guess it will be beyond some (many?) who are still having trouble getting even the melody down?

Possible points of discussion:

Melody in first chorus and verse is pure pentatonic apart from just one note (exercise: find the note?)

The two-bar riffs which dominate the whole song use a variation towards the end of both the chorus and the verse (exercise: even if they can't be named perhaps spot where they are?)

Chords for the most part are thin, the verse having only 2 note intervals in the RH and a lone root in the LH. I think it's worth noting that pop can be harmonically more interesting in its own way than jazz which clings to fairly formulaic (but complicated!) LH chord inversions. By contrast pop often goes out of its way to generate a new 'sound' by doing something idiosyncratic with chords e.g. hollowed out, like your power chords, thin or not fully defined e.g. the diminished at the end of bar 6 of the chorus; the root+5th (no 3rd) in the 3rd bar of the verse and elsewhere. 'Fat', rich, fully defined chords can sound dated. Adding an unusual diatonic suspension to a vaguely defined chord can sound contemporary.

The Rhythm is dead straight four on the floor and a little double hit on the hi-hat. There's not much we can do on the piano to simulate it (pity!). A more gifted student might be tempted to develop an arrangement much fuller than the understated production on this track.

In the backing track, apart from one or two chord substitutions, not much distinguishes the verse from the chorus either harmonically or by virtue of adding layers. So what's happening vocally to mark the difference? (most of all itís the backing vocals but he almost whispers the verse and sings full voice in the chorus).

In the playing I'd do pretty much the same as you. I'd have to use 3,4,5 for the RH melody in order to get the thumb where I need it (smaller hand than you probably). Like you, octave roots in the LH for the chorus but I might keep the melody at the top of full octave-spanning chords in the RH even though the BVs go higher than the lead-vocal range. The various 'holes' left by the chorus phrases I'd probably fill in with some sort of RH comping - but only the choruses. I'd also be inclined to use the sustain pedal in the chorus (strictly none in the verses) to give a thicker sound.

I wish I could say something useful about teaching. I've a few hunches but they are based mostly on my own aptitudes so might be useless as a direction for others.

I think the key of C is a wise choice and I'd be inclined to stay in the key of C for other songs too until a student was beginning to get a sense of where everything is in that key. I'm thinking, even now, about the place of 'theory' in all of this!

30-30-30-10 sounds optimum to me but does it ever happen that an enquiring (rather than dutiful) student will lead you to develop a teaching approach you hadn't thought of?

Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: Diane...] #2325754
09/09/14 04:12 PM
09/09/14 04:12 PM
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EM Deeka Offline
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Originally Posted by Diane...

..
The books I have used to teach pop/jazz/blues (fun music) are
1. Christopher Norton's CONNECTIONS (Level 1-8) Great stuff there!
2. Blue piano music by Tim Richards (with CD)
3. Exploring Jazz Piano by Tim Richards (Vol. 1 & 2) with CD
4. New Orleans Jazz styles by William Gillock (3 book set with 3 set CDs)
4, Jazz Connections (7 jazzy solos) by Eric Baumgartner BOOK 3)
with CD!
..


Thanks for this list. I had heard of Christopher Norton's Connections before but only recently heard of his American Popular Piano method series. Why no love for this method which looks interesting for a non-classical repertoire based curriculum ?
American Popular Piano

Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: IPlayPiano] #2326004
09/10/14 11:42 AM
09/10/14 11:42 AM
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Michael Martinez Offline
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Originally Posted by IPlayPiano

Arrangement: I'd probably play the intro as is and then begin to play the melody with my RH 2345 finger in the middle of the keyboard, reserving my thumb to help out with the chord structure underneath. When it comes to the chorus I would probably play octaves in the left hand and melody in the RH with finger 3, while adding the outer harmony voices with my RH 1 and 5. Any other ideas?

yeah. This is too difficult for beginning students, because your spreading out the chord tones and they're not going to know which chord is being played.
Keep it super simple. Have them pick out the melody on the keyboard first. Then show them the most representation representation of the chords that fit the melody: left hand, root position, triad/tertiary chords. This is the best way to hear the chord progression and the simplest way for them to learn the chords. Melody note RH. Simple root position chord LH. It's too much to ask them to spread out chord tones in both hands, and furthermore it makes it more difficult to recognize the harmony.
Quote

Pedagogical aspects: What I usually do is begin a quick (as quick as possible or they lose interest) theory lesson

Forget theory. There's not much to discuss when it comes to the 7 triads that you can create from the major scale. It's about which order you play these chords in and it's more effective to demonstrate or train the ear with the different possible orders you can play these in.

Quote

teaching the student the concept of 3-note chords/triads and their inversions and at least assigning one exercise.

At this level, don't teach inversions. It's more important to train the ear to recognize the chord progressions and start being able to anticipate the chord progression. Keeping it simple with root position triad under the melody is the best way to achieve this. It also means that later on, the inversions and other thing will come easier for them.
Quote

Why? Because ultimately, I want the student to have a pool of musical vocabulary to pull from so they can function on their own. Not just a song that they have memorized how to play for the talent show (I call that the youtube tutorial effect!).

This won't happen because as they progress learning the sound of chords, they will be able to harmonize melodies themselves eventually, and this is one of the important ingredients to be able to function on your own.
Quote

You can see how this song would be a much more difficult challenge if it weren't for it's key. Most common barriers: Students knowledge of key signitures,

1. learn a bunch of tunes/chords in C. get this down pat.
2. same tunes/chords in F. get this down pat.
3. same tunes/chords in Bb.
4. etc.
Quote

lack of chord knowledge, and definitely lack of ability to transcribe melody. So you can see where I am inclined to assign a bunch of scale writing, triad exercises, transcription assignments, interval assignments, etc. And kids hate that.

Nor do they need to do this.


Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/
Re: Teaching Pop Piano [Re: dire tonic] #2331766
09/28/14 02:28 AM
09/28/14 02:28 AM
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Nahum  Offline
3000 Post Club Member
N

Joined: Sep 2014
Posts: 3,046
Israel
[quote=dire tonic] Just one thing made me curious; the absence of 3rds. I'm thinking now of most of the singer songwriters from the early 60s through the 70s. Not many songs I recall that didn't have 3rds. Perhaps I've misunderstood or your talking about just the LH maybe? [/quote] That's a good question, and it has some effect on the structure of chords in comping. It's about tunes based on fragments of pentatonic scale that can be supported types of chord extracted from the same scale: sus2(7) , sus4(7), power chords. I was exactly in the same situation when I had to start teaching pop piano at the academic level; and my knowledge of jazz piano did not help articulate the stylistic framework and formalize the learning process.At that time I did not have any books on the theme, and I just did transcriptions from the recordings.Today, there are several good books; for me the best -The Pop Piano Book Paperback by Mark Harrison http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Piano-Book-Mark-Harrison/dp/0793598788 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W7qlpT0_Go This is a real encyclopedia for the pianist! In any case, it was necessary to build a learning process, and I decided to start with the drums part ; preliminary exercises were carried out by hands knocking on knees - one hand eighths, imitates the high hat, the other - quarters on ofbeat like snare drum . Then this transferred to the piano: the left hand plays a bass in the rhythm of eighths - with single note or power chord on low C; the right hand plays a chord C on ofbeat in the first octave (even better C sus2). Already at this stage, there are problems of coordination between the hands. Here the main idea is to transform the piano into a drum kit + bass. In the same way, you can approach to the study chords and harmonic cadences - only in the groove; children like it !


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