Many piano students have a real feeling of “blah towards baroque”. As a result, these pieces are often neglected during practice, and the technique required to play baroque music suffers. As pianists and as piano teachers, it’s important to pass on the appreciation for (and the ability to play) this early style of music. But how do you inspire kids of today to even want to work on this music of yesteryear?
It’s true that baroque music is often somewhat unapproachable for piano students today. It’s not anything close to what they listen to on the radio…. or is it?
Check the “Clocks” And Then Follow Me “Sweet Child Of Mine”…
Are you familiar with either of these songs? If not, it’s time to pop in those earbuds and get groovin’ to some seriously fun music. Your students will most likely be familiar with both of these – and you’re going to want to be as well.
Because these two songs (believe it or not) share a lot of similarities with a lot of baroque music, and by harnessing this “relevancy factor”, your students will be learning to improve their baroque piano skills without even realizing it!
Guns N’ Roses… and Polyphony
One of the things piano students find most difficult when approaching baroque music is hearing, seeing, and correctly playing those interwoven inner and outer melody lines. Most piano students are quite comfortable playing pieces with a single melody line… but throw in a couple more and start talking about hand balance and you’ve lost them! Help them to develop the ability to hear Polyphony (and therefore be able to transfer it to their hands) by grooving to some Guns N’ Roses.
The main riff of Sweet Child O’Mine is all you need. Play a recording of this riff for your piano student several times, and then teach them to play it by ear on the piano. Work on bringing out first the lower and then the upper melody. Work on deciding which should be heard the the most, and when. Work on hand balance to create the desired effect (especially for the last 4 notes of the riff). Trust me, your student will want to play this riff over and over… you’ll have no trouble with motivating them to work on the technique needed to bring out the intricate melodies they will encounter in Baroque pieces.
Clocks and Common Chord Tones
This piece by Coldplay has always reminded me of a Bach prelude. This is due to the way Coldplay connects the chords using common chord tones. Teaching your student this piece (and pointing out this fact) will make those preludes make much more sense when you head into the Baroque music. Use a coloured marker to “track” the common chord tones. Talk about what changes through the chord to chord progression. Talk about what stays the same (and why). Label the root, tonic and dominant chords as you find them. Find the inner and outer melody lines these chord progressions create. Play only these melody lines, and then play the chords solid instead of broken to “feel” the progression. Take it all apart and then put it all back together. Your student will be enthused about dissecting the genius behind one of Coldplay’s most famous songs, and the next time they encounter a prelude these important skills will be old hat.
Have fun with prepping your students to play Baroque and take the “blah” out of Baroque for good!
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