There are many reasons teachers choose their studio repertoire. But, is it actually worth teaching classical music? Especially when today’s students might not be too interested in the “dead white guys” that have historically appeared in the classical canon.
Is classical music bad?
No! Just like any other era of music there is great music … & stuff that doesn’t really live up to all the hype. My kids have made this very clear when my husband & I talk about “awesome hits” from the 90’s. Though to give them credit, they were right about “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65. But, back to classical music!
It’s important to go beyond the typical answers for why you teach classical music. Especially when people are searching online for answers to “Is it worth learning classical music?” & “Is classical music still relevant in today’s world?”. (At the time of this article these are among the top questions asked regarding this topic.)
I think we do our students a disservice when don’t take those questions seriously. After all, we want them to critically think about the music they listen to & play. Right?
Typical reasons for teaching classical music
There are many great reasons why it’s worth teaching classical music. Some of the most common are:
- Learn the fundamentals of music,
- Better technique,
- Attention to detail,
- Better musical expression,
- Integral to learn music theory,
- Better analytical skills of what’s on the stave,
- Incredible music that has stood the test of time.
“Can Music Help You Study?” goes through some of the research into music (both classical & pop) with the possible effects of listening to music while studying. Turns out the questions aren’t “Why is classical music good for studying?” or “Why is classical music good for the brain?”.
The big takeaway from the research is that it isn’t so much the genre of music, but the fact that there is music in that person’s life. The research isn’t consistent on whether it has to be classical music to get the full benefits. And that means those question about the importance of teaching classical music just got more important.
It’s worth teaching classical music
I would encourage you to move beyond the common reasons. It’s not that they are inaccurate. Your students may just not care. As a parent I completely empathise when studio parents don’t want a fight on their hands each week for practice time. That’s the activity that gets cut first. And, none of us want that in our studios.
Here’s an updated list for why it’s worth teaching classical music:
- Go to the source: Look at songs or musicians that inspired your students’ favourite musicians & bands.
- Accompaniment patterns: What was the original & what does it look like now?
- Classical music appears in video games, TV shows, movies, ads, cartoons & more!
- Some classical music was meant to have sections improvised (perfect for students that want to up their improvising skills).
- How music is put together: Complex rhythms are in modern music, just not in the same way as classical music. Form has always been an important part of music. Find the similarities & differences.
Much like the argument for including more female composers throughout music’s history, making the music relevant to today & what is important to individual students is what will draw them in. Every single one of those reasons for teaching classical music is related to what your students is interested in now.
It’s worth teaching classical music when the fight to get students to practice or just care is replaced with music they are genuinely interested in. When students hear music by composers they can relate to, they want to play the music. Whether you do this in-person, online or in group lessons, focus on making the music relevant for your students.
Bridging the gap
In my studio, we don’t have a classical music approach. We do learn classical music, but all music learned is chosen by my students. So unless that sonata by Beethoven or etude by Chopin catches their attention … it’s not something they will be forced to learn. I would much rather spend my time teaching music my students are excited about.
That being said, I do create bridges between a more classical approach & the more modern music my students tend to gravitate towards.
- Listening to classical music in our digital escape rooms,
- When we compose, I’ll introduce classical & modern accompaniment patterns,
- When learning more modern music, showing the similarities between classical music patterns & what they see or hear now.
When you create a bridge between classical & modern, it is worth teaching classical music. Or more accurately, your students feel it is worth learning classical music. Inspire them & they’ll be interested in learning more. The question of “Why is classical music important today?” is easily answered. Because the music they already love has a connection to it!
When it comes to whether it’s worth teaching classical music … what’s your favourite reason?
- Great foundational bridge for a wide variety of styles,
- Musicians & bands today are inspired by some of this music,
- Students playing music they love that was inspired by or is classical music,
- Way to make connections (both emotional & analytical) between music history & today’s music.
Let me know in the comments below!
Easiest way to start
If you’re thinking, “I like the idea of making classical music still relevant in today’s world”. But, you’re also thinking “This sounds overwhelming.” I hear you. That’s exactly how I felt as well!
The absolute easiest way to start is digital escape rooms. This is my go-to for introducing new styles of music to my students because it’s low commitment for both of us! Students do a short activity during lesson. The teacher doesn’t have any marking afterwards.
“Travel Through Time: Women In Music“, in particular, goes more into the background of each composer. And, when students care & are invested … it’s worth teaching classical music. (Look below for an extra idea for this series.)
Because I can rarely do any activity exactly as written (even my own), I tailor supplementary questions & activities on the fly with each student. Student is super interested in social justice? We talk about what the lyrics might have been or how the song may have been used to support social justice efforts.
If you have other ideas on how you expand on digital escape rooms, let me know below! I’d love to hear them.