In a wider society, there are countless myths that we assume are correct simply because everyone believes them. But quite often the commonly held perception is on the wrong track. This is also true in the world of piano teaching. While it may seem silly to counter them, on closer inspection, many assumptions that seem “obvious” are not only wrong, but counterproductive to the individual who is bound by their shackles. We will attempt to address some of these myths over a number of articles. This is an attempt to “liberate” new pianists before they get stuck in these age old quagmires. By getting these straight from the beginning you will be able to reach your goal unhindered by outdated schools of thought. Today we address the myth that a comprehensive study of classical music is required before you can play more modern styles of music like pop, rock or jazz.
Classical music has, for a long time been considered the “proper” way to start learning a musical instrument. There is certainly no denying that classical style music is more formal and requires a higher degree of skill than the average pop tune you hear on the radio, or watch on TV, or YouTube. Our school of thought on this matter however is that if your ultimate goal is to play popular music, then you should simply learn it right off the bat.
That is not to say that we are against classical training. There is no deny thing the great value in studying popular chord and scale techniques and improvisation. However the advantage of learning popular music is in fact that it is simpler making it quicker to learn, making it great for beginners to start learning from the start. The chords of most pop music are typically presented in a simple manner and often the notes are printed on the music, so you do not even need to know how to read sheet music to play the chords to your favorite songs. Sometimes these are printed as “guitar chords”, so you will have to check out a chart to figure out the positioning of your fingers. (Feel free to use our simple and extended chord charts for this by the way).
Theoretical knowledge can make you a better memorizer, interpreter, performer, sight reader and a better musician overall. These attributes are certainly applicable to classical music, though that is certainly not to say that they cannot be learned through the study of popular music and learning pop music is by far the easier route.
That said, one could certainly learn classical music first, which would make the basics of learning popular music a relative breeze, however learning classical music does use a slightly different skill set, which you may then need to spend time “unlearning” what you don’t need. You could learn them both at the same time, but if you have no use for classical music then you are wasting half of your effort learning skills that you won’t ultimately use. On a whole, our feeling on this matter is that avoiding popular music until you learn classical will make learning music theory much harder and may prevent you reaching your ultimate goals as quickly as it would have taken otherwise. So don’t get bogged down by thinking you need to learn classical music if you already know it’s not for you!
There are plenty of easy songs to learn on piano that are popular and contemporary and we see no reason to postpone learning them.