Sometimes my piano students ask me why they are required to play classical music. Why not stick to pop, jazz, movie themes, etc? Classical can “boring” or “laborious”, while the other types are “fun.” There are several metaphors I like to use in answering this question, and I’ll give two here:
1. Classical music is great literature, while pop music is modern youth fiction. It may take concentration and in-depth study to read through and grasp all the themes of Paradise Lost or Pride and Prejudice, but who in their right mind would replace these with Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket? Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy both of the latter book series – it’s when you want to shove the tested and true literature, known as “great” since long before you were born, that the problem shows up. Your mind grows and becomes sharper through reading stories sculpted and refined by Milton and Austen (and many others), even if they may seem heavy and tiresome when first encountered. Stories of an a slightly more inferior nature meet your mind where it is for the most part and entertain rather than expand. A Chopin prelude is like a great work of literature and may be challenging but extremely rewarding. A Taylor Swift song arranged for piano is just fine for on-the-side learning and is no detriment to healthy practicing, but it probably won’t enhance your musicality in a significant way.
2. Classical music is meat, fruit, vegetables and a rich apple pie; pop music is Twinkies and Oreos. I love a good Oreo. Eating only Oreos, every meal, every day, though, is obviously not the smartest thing one could do for one’s diet and health. Same for your musical health. If you’re not getting heavy doses of meat-and-potato-like music by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, you’re missing out, and your musical health is going to spiral downhill in no time at all. Eat a hearty Scarlatti Sonata for lunch and save the pop tune for a tasty midday snack.
Basically, if the core of your piano practice is consistently fed and fattened by the superior quality of Classical music, adding some elements of pop is a great idea – it can display your variety and offer a nice brain-break and is just plain fun. But don’t feed primarily on Cheez-Its without your dose of chicken noodle soup, and be sure to read Tolkien along with your Rowling.
All the best,