How To Get Started Teaching Pop Music


A few weeks ago, I wrote “Why All Piano Teachers Should Teach Pop Music.”  The benefits of teaching pop music are many; and, as I mention in that article, you can be a teacher who teaches pop music (and related skills like reading chord charts and lead sheets, playing by ear, improvisation, transcribing, etc.) without spending all your lesson time on it.


This article introduces five steps to help you get started teaching pop piano right away.  Whether you are completely new to pop music, or have tried teaching some in the past, but aren’t sure how to get the most out of it, you’ve come to the right place.

  • Step 1: Define Your Purpose
  • Step 2: Pick a Song and Really Listen
  • Step 3: Learn the Song
  • Step 4: Create a Teaching Strategy
  • Step 5: Evaluate




If you enjoy reading this article and want more, I’m working on a project for you.  I’m creating a mini-course which will help you start teaching your first pop song even faster.  (If this doesn’t interest you, just skip to Step 1 below…)

My goal is to show you the best and quickest methods for incorporating pop music into your studio.  The course includes free printables and worksheets for your students, and I will walk you step-by-step through the process of teaching pop music.  By the end of the course, you will see the excitement that just one pop song can bring into your piano studio.

By the way, the mini-course is entirely FREE.  [Update: The course has is now open! (until October 22)  If you want to check it out, click here!]

You can use the steps in this article to help you get started.




Defining your purpose will help you determine the method that you want to use to teach pop piano.  Stephen Covey calls it “beginning with the end in mind.”

If you only teach pop music, then your purpose is likely already clear.  However, if you’re new to teaching pop music, try to come up with a specific goal for the next lesson that you will be teaching pop music in.

Here are a few purposes for you to consider:

  • Teach your student to play by ear
  • Motivate a student who is struggling to practice
  • Teach a specific theory concept (major and minor triads, scales, etc.)
  • Help a student to play in time
  • Teach about reading chord charts and lead sheets
  • Teach your student to play his/her favorite song


The best way to teach pop music and reach the above results is to teach using a chord chart or lead sheet or to teach by rote.  To see an example of this step, sign up for my free mini-course by clicking here.

If your purpose is to distract your students and have their excitement fizzle until they decide to stop taking lessons, teach using only sheet music.  (Okay, I’m over exaggerating…  Sheet music can be helpful at times, but I REALLY recommend stepping away from the sheet music often.)

If you haven’t done anything like this before, I suggest making the goal of your first experience to simply have fun with your students and give them a positive experience learning a new way.  Although some students will absolutely love this approach, others might have a harder time.




Where is your studio at with learning pop music?  You might want a song that is easy to learn, or one that is going to challenge them.  Most of all, which song would match the purpose that you have for your students.

I love teaching my students songs that feature the piano.  It is really exciting for students to be able to play the exact same sounds that they hear from a music video or on the radio.  That being said, teaching songs with little or no piano can lead to some interesting discussions about sound, timbre, and arranging.

Either way, listen to the piece and analyze it.  Note the different sections of the piece (yes, pop music has structure too 🙂 ).  What contrasts do you notice?  What is the mood?  What is the instrumentation of the piece?  Listen, and really listen again.  Taking time up front to learn the piece (from an aural perspective) will help you know what you want to teach the student.


*A note about picking songs to teach children…  Even if my student won’t be singing along or looking at the lyrics, I only pick songs with clean lyrics for young children.  I don’t make exceptions very often, even for older students, because there is so much music to choose from.  You may also want to make sure the music video is appropriate for the age you’re teaching.  Whatever you decide, make sure you communicate with parents and teach with their expectations in mind.




The next step is to learn the piece yourself.  Make sure you know the basic melody, harmony, and identifying characteristics of the piece.  Some examples of “identifying characteristics” are the openings to songs such as “Let It Go” from Frozen.  Even if you don’t plan to teach the student these things, it’s an important part of the piece.

You don’t need to be able to play the whole piece, but be able to play the amount you want to teach in order to achieve your purpose.

If you’re not comfortable learning the whole piece by ear, here are a few resources to learn pop songs:

  • (check out the music video)
  • or – You can see a page or two of the music to get you started.  I recommend purchasing the music if you like the arrangement.
  • YouTube Tutorials – search the name of the song and “piano tutorial” or just “tutorial” to learn more.  Also, search with “piano cover” to get ideas of how to convert the song to piano.




Now is where your purpose becomes especially important.  Using your purpose to guide your approach will help you decide how to teach the song: are you going to use a chord chart or lead sheet, teach by rote, or use sheet music?  Are you going to start with the chords, melody, or just a lick.

Most importantly, aim to achieve your purpose in a short amount of time.  Is it possible to complete your purpose in 5-10 minutes?

Plan how you might approach this piece for someone who just started lessons, as well as your more advanced students.   Could they learn the melody, the bass line, or both?  Can they handle chords and the melody at the same time?

You can determine a few different approaches matching different skill levels.  Or simply take one approach that all your students can follow.  (Beginning students will only learn the first step or two, and advanced students will fly through.)


The beautiful thing about this process is that now you are ready to teach this pop song to any student in your studio.  You can adjust the strategy to meet the needs and ability level of any of your students.

Although it’s important to really push your students at times, I think we underestimate the importance of regularly doing things to help our students feel successful.  I recommend making this process as simple as possible until students are really ready for a challenge.  That not only provides a quick win for the student, but can also simplify the planning process.




Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you fulfill your purpose?
  • What did your students learn?
  • Were there things your students learned that you didn’t anticipate them to learn?
  • Did you enjoy the process?  Did your students?
  • What will you do differently next time?




Want to see this post in action?  Click here to check out my free mini-course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *