When I first began to play the piano, the songs I really wanted to play were the pop songs I heard on the radio.
I've always felt that if you love music, why not begin learning about music with the genre you enjoy the most? If you enjoy listening to a certain composer, why not begin studying their works first?
Seems like common sense to me.
In fact, when I was a youngster I'd never even heard of anyone called "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" nor "Franz Liszt".. but I knew who "Billy Joel" was! I knew who "Michael Jackson" was! When I was a child you couldn't even ask me to pronounce the name "Rachmaninoff".. I would have given you a strange look and said.. "Rachmani-who??"
So no.. when I was first "invited" to play the piano by my father back at the age of 8, I didn't want to play "The Minute Waltz" (Valse in D Flat) composed by Frédéric Chopin. I wanted to play "Billy Jean" written and composed by "SirMichaelJackson!" At least.. that's what I was expecting to learn. Call me crazy.. but I was just a kid, ya know.
So if you can relate to that, and you'd rather ditch the classical music for a while.. you're in the right place.
Here on my "Pop Song Tutorials" page I'll be posting free lessons of my favorite "radio tunes" from back in the day. As I receive email requests from you all, and I occasionally come across a tune that I myself enjoy, I'll create my own rendition of new pop songs as well.
In time I think you'll agree that playing your favorite Top 40 songs is the best way to learn piano, and keep wanting to learn more about music in the future. So let's take a look at what's topping the charts (on my page) today...
When I was first introduced to the piano as a child I wasn't a big fan of traditional piano music. Although, there were some classical and jazz pieces that were quite the "ear catcher" for me.. if you know what I mean. For example, the first time I heard the old ragtime classics like Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer", "Maple Leaf Rag", or Bent Fabric's "Alley Cat" I was completely hooked on that stuff! Also, certain romantic pieces like Beethoven's "Fur Elise" and "Moonlight Sonata" had me fascinated with the piano.
In those days, my Dad was really good at playing stride piano pieces. So whenever our family and friends would come over the house you could feel the excitement in the room whenever dad sat down to play the piano. My little cousins and some of the neighbor's kids would instantly morph into silly-little dancing lunatics whenever my father broke out that "boogie-woogie" swing!
And I guess that's what's so special about the piano. It can transform any family room into a warm and cozy place and spread that joy of music to everyone else around you. In fact, that "joy" spread so heavily upon me that I soon began to develop delusions of grandeur!
I had this childhood image of myself playing like a master pianist for large auditoriums of people by my 10th birthday! But nope.. that fantasy did not come to pass. I was still too young to fully understand what it took to play the piano like that.
My father had already been taking piano lessons since he was about my age already. So as an eight-year old, just starting out.. I foolishly forced myself to study advanced piano scores that were just way too difficult for me and completely over my head.. ho hum.
My all time favorite ragtime title was called "Cleopatra Rag" composed by Joseph F. Lamb. Sure, now I can play it on the piano just fine. But when I first tried it this piece was a technical "atom-bomb" for me, which was far beyond my reach! I just didn't have the skill, the dexterity, the physical reach, nor the patience to sit there for hours struggling with complex sheets of music notation. By age 9, I would finally learn my hardest lesson yet.. that I simply didn't have the "chops" to play the piano well enough yet.. dang!
But alas, I stubbornly pressed myself on into an early piano retirement. After a few months of forcing myself to learn piano the "old-fashioned" way, I did what most frustrated students do.. I quit. But thank goodness it wasn't a permanent defeat (obviously).
How I Finally Learned to Play the Piano
It wasn't until I was about the age of 14 that I finally got the courage to play the piano again. I guess my love for music was too great for me to stay away from music forever.
And can you guess which style of music I chose to dive into? That's right.. I didn't want to hear or play anything but "My MTV" and the TOP 40 countdown! Believe it or not, this strategy actually worked well for me! I'll never forget the first radio song I taught myself to play and master on piano. It was a tune called "You Might Think" by the Cars.
Now, as a beginner piano piece "You Might Think" is definitely not your typical song. It is played with a constant driving bass note, and as a result, this rock n' roll tune might even sound "annoying" to some when played on the piano. In fact, my friend's dog barked at me once while I was playing it, lol!
Nevertheless within a month of practicing it I was finally ready to play the piano for my dad. He was quite impressed with my performance too!
I'll never forget after I finished playing.. he paused.. and then immediately grabbed me and gave me the biggest hug ever! He was so proud of my first accomplishment on the piano.
With my newly rediscovered love for music I went on to play "You Might Think", "Its Magic", and several other 80's pop tunes in my high school talent show. I quickly became the "go to guy" whenever my classmates wanted some musical help for the auditorium events.
During my freshmen and sophomore year of high school I became known as the designated "piano guy" for the school talent shows. Mind you, everything we performed in our school "variety shows" was only hip to us youngsters.
We didn't care anything about strict music lessons or any formal training about "the rules". We just did our own thing and had fun doing it too! ..and that's what most music teachers just don't understand.
This is why its so important when a young student expresses their desire to play the piano to just allow them the space to stretch their wings and have fun first. Later as time goes on, they'll figure it out for themselves whether they need more formal training (or not). But until then.. Mr. Bach and Mr. Beethoven can just have a seat in the corner over there and just wait for us to come looking for them!
How to Teach Young People to Play the Piano
I always stress the importance of teaching young piano students to play what they want to play. Let them choose the easy piano songs that inspire them the most. What may seem like a "stupid pop song" to an adult might actually be the gateway that this young student needs in order to gain that initial confidence and enthusiasm to keep learning the piano long enough for them to actually get good at it.
Here's a photo of myself and one of my young piano students taken during my vacation to Thailand in 2014. Her name was "Pookpit" and I stayed with her family for a short while during my trip. Pookpit loved cats, and she also loved the song: "My Heart Will Go On" from the 1997 movie "Titanic".
Although she didn't know how to play the piano, I helped her learn the four basic chords that are heard in this song. Then I showed her how to apply a basic one-note melody line together with each chord. I tried to make the lesson simple enough for her to understand while still keeping it enjoyable enough for her to keep practicing it for hours.
Pookpit was only 10 years old at the time, and her family had this 49-note "kiddie piano" just lying around. Nobody ever touched it accept her. Although she really didn't know what to do with it either. She loved music and she had some creative musical ideas floating around in her head. But until now, she had no way of expressing her ideas on her electronic piano.
Her family lived about 50 miles away from the nearest bus terminal in a remote province of Thailand. So the chances of her ever meeting anyone in her village who could teach her how to play the piano was very remote.
This electronic keyboard was more like a toy. However, I was able to use the numbers printed above each note to show her the correct keys she needed to press. At that time I could not speak Thai very well, and she spoke absolutely no English at all. However I suspected this wouldn't really be a problem because of the two universal languages that always exist in every culture and society. The first language is: Mathematics, and the second language is.. you guessed it.. Music!
Therefore, the only thing I needed to do was learn how to count from one to four in the Thai language ("Nuing, Song, Sam, Sii"), and then explain to Pookpit the basic time principle known as "four beats per measure" (4/4 time rhythm). Then I drew four simple chord illustrations of the main chords heard in the song, and I matched each chord illustration to the corresponding melody numbers and... Voila! Instant piano lesson!
Now although her English was extremely limited, there was one English word she was able to pronounce perfectly. And that word was.. "Titanic". So the last thing I did was write that word on the top of her lesson sheet so she can always remember how her favorite "pop song" is spelled in English.
This electronic keyboard seems to be a common brand in South East Asia. It costs about the equivalent of $52 (usd). Although the plastic keys on this starter model are not completely full sized, its still good enough to give a total newbie a somewhat "realistic" first experience on the piano.
Like I always say.. if you want to play the piano you don't need to go crazy learning everything about music all at once. That also means if you can't get your hands on the best gear at first.. don't sweat it. Its better to have at least some sort of access to a "piano" as well as basic introductory lessons than not having anything at all.
Trust me.. if a student loves music enough and is eager enough to learn, they'll find a way to get access to a piano and the proper training materials they'll need (I did).
Or perhaps the student will one day be lucky enough to meet a humble teacher (out of nowhere) who will teach them the basics of playing the piano.
One who can teach them just enough to "push" them in the right direction. So they can have a basic understanding and continue to expand upon what they've already learned. Who knows.. perhaps one day they'll be able to play the piano well enough to make their own music.. just like Pookpit did.
So if you'd like to try out some of my pop song tutorials, just select the song lesson you'd like to learn. I intend to do a few cover song tutorials every now and then, and you're welcome to write in with your requests. My selection process will be: if I keep getting requests for a specific title from several different people (or I just happen to like the song myself) I will consider doing a piano tutorial for it. So thanks for stopping by.. enjoy!