Ask Aureus • Piano

September 2021

The Battle Between Classical and Pop Piano

The piano is one of the most popular instruments that aspiring musicians pick up as their first instrument. Being extraordinarily versatile, the piano is widely used in many genres of music, both as an accompaniment or the highlight of a piece. While there is often the misconception that ‘serious’ piano learners only get in touch with classical pieces, that is not what we believe in at Aureus Academy, Singapore’s leading music school for children. Our highly educated and experienced teachers specialise in teaching a wide variety of genres from classical to pop and rock music. So then, what is the difference between pop piano and classical piano lessons and which is better for your child?

Pop VS Classical Piano

You may have already observed this while coming across piano instrumentals in pop music, that there tend to be more chords and decorative hooks than actual melodic lines. In pop piano lessons, the focus is to train students to identify and play chords, rather than individual notes, as the piano is often used as an accompaniment to the singer who sings the main melody. The role of the piano in this case would be very similar to that of a guitar, to ground the music in its key and mood.

To be able to play the right chords, it is important for students learning pop piano to have an exceptional listening ear, and to understand chord progressions in their chosen genre or sub-genres. For this, memorising chords and hand positions would take precedence over understanding music notation or learning how to read a score. Many pop pianists are also known to be able to play by ear instead of following a score, and would experiment much more with improvisation. This is especially since pop music is not fundamentally produced for the piano, and many songs have to be arranged and transcribed for the instrument by pop pianists themselves. This in turn allows freedom for the pianist to interpret the song in their own style.

Classical piano, on the other hand, are pieces written with the intention of being performed on the instrument. This means that the composer would have incorporated many details on how they want the pieces to sound on the piano, and understanding these notations on the score would be key to performing the pieces faithfully. Of course, there can still be minor variations in interpretation for a particular piece from one pianist to another, but there is significantly less freedom in portraying these pieces in a unique style, though that is not to say you cannot be creative with revamping these pieces for the modern context (like many piano stars on Youtube do!).

Benefits of Pop VS Classical Piano

As mentioned, pop music encourages freedom of expression and improvisation, and it is a great way to boost one’s creativity and imagination. For solo pop covers, there is plenty of room for creating your very own rendition of a song, in whatever style you prefer, be it adding a little jazzy swing to it, or to really fill in a ballad with rich, orchestral-like chords. There is practically no limit to what or how you can present a song, as long as you are able to imagine it in your head!

In that aspect of pop music, developing a good intuition for music in terms of keys and chords will build a strong foundation when it comes to exploring new genres of music like blues, jazz, and rock, which are also heavy on improvisation.

Additionally, being a pop pianist will open up many opportunities for collaboration with other musicians, as piano often comes hand in hand with guitar as well as vocals in pop music. This would be a good outlet for training one’s collaborative music skills, and to gain a broader understanding of music as a whole from the perspective of other musicians and instruments.

Classical piano, conversely, with its endless repertoire, would make it very much a solo musical performance experience. There are definitely classical pieces like concertos whereby the pianist plays along with an orchestra, or duets with other instruments like the violin, but for most parts of the learning journey, the pianist will be focused on solo performances.

This aspect of classical piano however, will allow the learner to be in touch with many techniques of piano playing and hone them to the more intricate aspects of playing the instrument. Piano has the biggest repertoire out of all classical instruments and the plethora of music options which spans centuries. From Baroque, Classical, Romantic to Contemporary, classical piano lessons will expose the learner to a wide range of difficulty levels and potentials to improve their musicianship. As such, classical training will build a strong foundation in terms of virtuosic abilities, which will allow the pianist to conquer more challenging performances in their musical career.

So, Pop or Classical?

Ultimately, it really depends on the interest and goals of the learner! Both pop and classical piano are beneficial in training different skills that are equally valuable to be an all-rounded musician and performer. Pop music enhances one’s hearing skills and creates more confidence in improvising and putting up a performance on the spot, which can be truly applicable for someone who likes to jam with friends. Being trained classically on the other hand will lead the way to picking up other instruments in future when it comes to sight-reading skills, especially since pianists have to read two staves instead of one!

In terms of enjoyment, since pop music is much more accessible to a wider audience, and is highly relevant in modern culture, it might be an easier way to get yourself started on your musical journey in Pop piano. It is also less demanding in terms of expressing tone and controlling dynamics, which are skills that take many years and a certain level of musical maturity to master – meaning that classical music will definitely require more patience and perseverance!

Classical music can be daunting at first due to their lengths and complexity. They may not appeal to many listeners as they are, after all, the pop music of over hundreds of years past! However, once you are able to appreciate the intricacies of classical music, you will also find the joy of discovering the many ways you can manipulate the piano to produce the sound you want.

Fortunately, at Aureus Academy, our piano teachers are highly educated and well-versed in both pop and classical music genres! If you wish to have the best of both worlds, you can even take piano lessons that cover both methods concurrently. You can discover more about our piano lessons or book yourself a free trial lesson for the true Aureus musical experience!

Alex Sarabi