MTNA Conference: Pedagogy Saturday; Maximize Your Value, Power of Popular Music



I had the pleasure of attending Kristin Yost’s presentation, which was my last class on Pedagogy Saturday.  Kristin is the executive director for Centre for Musical Minds, LLC.

Kristin begins by asking the question, “If Bach and Beethoven were alive today do you honestly think they would be teaching minuets that they composed 300 years ago?” The answer is of course, “No! They would be teaching music that is relevant today.”

What makes this question so interesting is if this is the case, why do a lot of teachers not teach pop music in their studio? Not only do they not teach it, but they have no interest in teaching it. While learning Bach and Beethoven certainly has it’s place, students typically want to learn to play piano because they want to play pieces they can share with their friends and have fun. A couple days ago, I was tagging along with my husband and son who were doing a video shoot of the high school musical later that evening. While they were setting things up, I heard the piano playing and kids singing along. Do you know what it was they were playing/singing? A student playing basic chord changes from a pop song on the radio. And they were having a lot of fun!

Kristin’s school has what they call ‘Pop Showcase’ every year. What is unique about the pop showcase is students are jamming along with a live drum, bass and guitar accompaniment. There are no rehearsals with the band, so it is totally live jamming. Kristin will send home rhythm tracks with students about 3 weeks prior so they have the opportunity to practice as if they were practicing with the band.

While they have many performances throughout the day, every time the performances are different and new because each child is different and brought something different with a piece. They put their own spin on things. She goes on and says that whether we do a pop showcase or not, the focus should be the love of music. The tool to get there doesn’t matter. Musicianship skills are applied to their activities later in life.

“When you can speak the language of today, your studio’s will be full. If we have been teaching this way the last 50 years, I don’t think our symphonies would be bankrupt right now.”

When teaching Pop pieces, they can simply be lead sheets student created. Kristin she doesn’t get bogged down by notating rhythms, chords, and so on.  She has even created bridges, areas for improv etc… Knowing and reading go hand in hand. Using ear helps with difficult rhythm and notation.

One thing to keep in mind and what Kristin says is the key to a successful pop recital is to not go for cheap musicians. (She paid $75 each musician each performance- she had 5 performances, 3 musicians. Steal!) Musician’s will typically play by ear and follow students. You want to make sure they are experienced in this. There will be expenses, band, facilities, etc… Be sure to charge for the event.

A little side note on charging for events… I know some teachers are wary charging for the recitals. But if you only knew how much parents pay for other recitals. I know with dance, parents have to pay tickets per person, so it’s not just a recital fee. Then on top of that they have to pay for the costumes and anything else that comes along with the performance. So don’t be afraid to charge a fee, or even for tickets. You have your expenses and they should not be a burden on you. This is a great opportunity you are providing in your studio and if it’s a fun and fulfilling event, they will have no problem in paying.

Kristin shared a checklist for holding a pop recital-

-Hire Professional musicians

-Find a space with nice piano

-Choose age level appropriate music with strong rhythm

-Work on form with students to create their own lead sheets (practical theory)

-Practice tracks using GarageBand or keyboard rhythm accessibility; 3 weeks prior to performance, if not before.

-Work on feeling the beat, rather then counting.Great ear training opportunity. Students need to practice counting off.

-Average cost with hall rental,musicians, should be approximately $15-20 per students.Well worth it!

Music Ideas/Resources-

(Another couple resources that would be good is Playground Sessions and an app called NoteStar by Yamaha)

Beginning students: Faber popular books are great

-Martha Mier, William Gillock,Eric Baumgartner, HL Current Hits etc… Anything with a beat…

-5th’s and Octaves in LH will make any pop song sound good.

-“Count off’s starts the motor running” (Bradley Sowash)

-Extraordinary results with every student. Think differently…

-Find the strength of the student go with the strength and expand…

-Lots of rhythm tracks.

-I Reel B (backing tracks with chord changes)

In my studio I hold what I call Keyboard Festival every year. It’s one of my students favorite events as they play along with midi accompaniment, but I really love this idea of doing a Pop Showcase with a live band. I was talking with a piano teacher friend of mine and saying to really make this happen for my students, I would need to collaborate with other teachers just for the financial end of things. My studio alone wouldn’t be able to front the costs for a band and the facility even with charging a fee (which I definitely would do). It is definitely something I would love to do and hope that it can happen soon!

Whether or not you hold a Pop Showcase in your studio, I hope this has encouraged you to include pop music in your students repertoire. I know for my own students they love it when they can play pieces their friends recognize and can sing or jam along with. It makes them feel so good and I think they stay in lessons longer because they are learning pieces that are relevant to them.


  1. FIona Mendes

    Hi Jennifer: Thanks for posting this report and all your other reports on different MTNA sessions. I attended this session by Kristin Yost and yet you managed to get my attention while reading this post 🙂 Thanks also for some of the websites /resources that you post. I haven’t got round to looking at my notes yet but I am sure that all your information will definitely come in handy. Thanks again for your hard work ! It is much appreciated – Fiona


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