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Musicnotes.com: Creative arrangements for your students

The importance of incorporating current music into piano lessons is immeasurable—you will be more desirable as a teacher, you will see a spark inside your students that hasn't come out since last Christmas, and you may even have some fun making music come to life with your students. By speaking the language of your students through music that is meaningful to them, you will build trust and, in turn, allow for more musical and artistic growth through all musical styles.

Since 2010, there has been a marked improvement in access to popular music and the opportunities this provides for music learning at the piano. With Musicnotes.com, we can now literally pull up a pop tune and begin teaching it within approximately sixty seconds. Better yet, a student can buy it and have it magically appear on her iPad.

With more than 250,000 songs in a variety of keys to choose from, Musicnotes.com is becoming increasingly desirable for performing as well (see Example 1). Rebecca Pennington at The New School for Music Study uses Musicnotes.com regularly, but mostly for herself when she is accompanying. She had this to say: "I love the variety in arrangements for any given song and the option to change the key to fit the singer's range."

Dan Coates, who arranged the recent Alfred publication Current Hits for Teens, is an arranger for many of the "Easy Piano" versions of music available at Musicnotes.com, and he makes even the most syncopated pop tunes accessible to beginning and intermediate pianists. The key to making pop music sound "legit" is to not be married to the idea of reading rhythms as they appear, but rather to allow your students to play the work as they hear it (especially the melody). When the chord symbols are written, the student can simply play fifths and/or octaves instead of reading the bass clef notes. The simplest way to teach students to read the chord symbols is to direct them to use their fifth finger on the root of the chord, and play a fifth above, which will work most of the time with few adjustments. For intermediate students, suggest they play root, fth, and octave broken chord pattern. (To see a video showing a student using this pattern on Pink's Just Give Me A Reason, visit this page of our digital edition.)

Experienced teacher Christy Hacey of Ballwin, Missouri, shared in an online discussion group that she uses Musicnotes.com in a variety of ways, but in her studio she primarily uses it for students who are playing pop music. "It's nice to be able to choose which version works best for each student. For some, the piano/vocal sheet music is what we need, for others, a lead sheet or an easy piano arrangement will work. Being able to change keys is helpful as well."

What you need to know 

The music can be pricey at up to $5.25 a song, but you get your money's worth! For their "Musicnotes Edition" music (public domain and mostly classical), you can print unlimited copies of the music, but all other music is allowed only one complete print, as if you bought the sheet music in the store. Extra copies of music may be printed for a reduced price of $1.95, less than fifty percent of the original purchase price.

If you own an iPad, the app allows every single purchase you have ever made under that account to be stored inside of the app. Don't like the key? No problem, you can have it transposed for you instantly. Note that to print a transposition, you must select the key you would like to have printed.

There are usually a few options of arrangements per song, such as Easy Piano, Piano/Voice, etc. (see Example 2). There are advantages to all of them; it's up to you to determine which suits the needs of the student in question.

Educational benefits 

1. Technique: Reinforcement of the technique for fifths and octaves seems to "stick" easier than if addressing it in technical exercises (not to mention the fact that it is more fun). 

2. Ear-training: Many times the music is too difficult rhythmically to read as written. This shouldn't be viewed as a negative. By using the ear to guide in playing the actual rhythm, it becomes an ear-training opportunity for your student—and you. 

3. Improvisation and Theory: What better way to incorporate practical theory than through music the students are begging to play? Teaching improvisation in the LH comping patterns, chords, and inversions, and in the solo section gives students skills they will use the rest of their lives in a variety of settings. 

4. Accessibility: The music is available as soon as the songs hit the charts, so there is no waiting on an arranger at one of the publishing houses. 

5. Enjoyment: Who doesn't enjoy playing music they know and love? You can see students demonstrating the fun of performing more pop hits at claviercompanion.com. Perfomances include Cruise by Florida Georgia Line, Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, and Lights by Ellie Goulding.

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About Piano Magazine

Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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