When Students Want to Learn Other Music
Stephen R., California
What is the best way to handle when students request or bring in other music? I think this might have been a topic a while back! A girl brought in a pop song the other day and asked if she could learn it! I’ve never heard of it before! It was full of sixteenth notes and ties! I notice a lot of pop songs students want to learn tend to be rhythmically complex! I told her that we haven’t started the reading process yet, but we will in Level 3, she’s in Level 2! I sight read a little of it, but it wasn’t easy! How do i handle this without taking the wind out her sails, so to speak! If i teach her some of it by rote, i obviously wouldn’t want this to occupy our lesson and the need to move forward in the curriculum!
Also, when students bring in other music for personal accompaniment, how do we handle the fact that it won’t sound like the written piano arrangement or how they’ve heard the song! We are still playing it in accompaniment style!
Elaine F., South Carolina
It’s so hard to get the pianist to sound like they want to sound because the LH is often the bass player– and this is all he has to do— and the RH is the singer– and that is all she has to do but now trying to do both– whoa!!! very tricky. Sometimes you can keep the RH and put an easier bassline in the LH
Kevin M., California
Hi Stephen I will usually use this opportunity to teach the Accompaniment, of course they have to provide the melody via singing, or you could either play the melody with her accompaniment, or sing along yourself, Plenty of good lessons there I have also in past (depending on the song of course) been able to get a Singer pro version of the song, great because you get the chords, L.H and the rhythm which makes it much easier to teach. Sometimes I can find a song that works easily as written, Adele’s “someone like you” was one of those, really easy to teach and sounded just like the song! If I just think it will interfere with the lessons then I have that conversation with them. Sometimes depending on the student I suggest they try you tube, and let them know we can revisit this once we have gotten to that point in the reading process.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
You might be able to teach the song playing-based (I wouldn’t use the term “by rote”), but subject to several conditions. The first, as you suggest, is that the project doesn’t occupy too much of the lesson or practice time. I would manage this by keeping the dosage very small, and having the student understand why we are doing this and agree that the project may take some time.
Another condition is that the student agrees that this is a bonus project and won’t be allowed to distract from the normal unfolding of the SM curriculum. If for any reason you feel the student may claim territory by bringing in lots more songs or complaining that the SM ones are not what they want, I’d recommend you avoid this arena completely.
Another condition would be that a song supplied by the student isn’t an illegal download or photocopy. You will also need to watch that you’re not breaching copyright by writing down too much in the student’s notes. But then, you wouldn’t be writing very much down if you’re teaching it playing-based, right? In other words, a diagram to help the student remember a sentence should be okay, but writing down something like the whole chord sequence might not be okay. I don’t want to go into further detail about this, but just use your common sense.
Another condition would be that you feel the song is suitable for the level the student is at. That doesn’t necessarily mean that if the score looks complicated the song will be too hard for the student to learn. Often complicated-looking rhythms turn out to be syncopation which is easy to play, especially if the student knows how the song sounds.
A related condition is that you can find a suitable playing-based strategy. Of course, you can work out a strategy for almost anything, but if for example the song suits a ‘fragment’ strategy and the student hasn’t learned fragmenting yet (from around the beginning of Foundation 4), then you would explain that they should wait until a little later.
Another condition is that it doesn’t interfere with shared lessons. That may mean teaching the whole class, or having the one student teach the others.
A compromise arrangement that can often work is to, rather than teach the full written piano arrangement, teach the melody in the RH and use the chords for the LH. Down the track you could slowly introduce more LH detail. Or, in a shared lesson, teach one student the accompaniment and another the melody and have them duet. Obviously, this will only work if the score includes the chords.
The important prerequisite for all this is that you are the one in control of the process. I have usually found that students will accept my decision. Once or twice, when a student is insistent about a piece that I know isn’t suitable, I’ve started teaching them anyway and they soon recognised that it wasn’t going to work.
Kerry V., Australia
Going by my experience as a student is that I was so very keen to learn something that I would include this extra material just to find that really and truly I was not ready. Er on the side of caution. Even just a little may be too much. From that I would assess the situation/student to see if it is possible to include. I would, at first use this as an accompaniment project reminding the students that music has layers of learning and skills.
Keep in mind too that this could be a ‘fad’ for the student too and could quite quickly wish to go to another song in a short amount of time.
I’m curious about the ‘rote’ learning. In my training materials of years back (I don’t know if this has changed) but for the SIS when questions are suggested people may ask one is “and is SM taught by rote!” So I would like to know more on what ‘rote’ means to you.