Make Your Teaching Pop

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Yes, you can use Bach and Beyoncé in the same lesson, and once you do, you might start wondering why you didn’t do it sooner.

When I was at the University of Michigan, one afternoon during a lesson my teacher, Ruth Dean Clark, announced the date of our next studio recital. “Oh, a friend and I just got tickets for Chicago for that night,” I replied, referring to the band famous for “Color My World”and many other ’70s pop hits. “What are they playing?” asked my teacher, assuming I meant the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Needless to say, I dashed to the concert after playing in the studio recital.

This anecdote illustrates the attitude many teachers used to have about popular music: It wasn’t even on their radar. As a teacher, I am much more accepting of pop music than my teacher was. Some of my students may occasionally even think I’m cool when I assign songs they know from current culture. But I can’t begin to compare with the hipness of the teachers you’ll read about later in this article. They don’t just toss a token pop piece at their students here and there. They take an entire genre that many of us dismiss and find tangible assets they can add to their teaching resources, using it to instruct or reinforce musical concepts. I’ve only recently given more thought to the wide-reaching power of pop in my teaching, and my students are already reaping the benefits. Let’s take a look at a few case studies.

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