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What Type of Music Can You Play on the Piano?

When I was a teenager, I would listen to the soothing piano music that’s played in the heart-wrenching drama serials on the telly. I love the music. The music spoke to me. I felt connected with the music. So, I decided that I wanted to learn to play the piano.

My mum and I went to this shopping mall called “Forum the shopping mall” very weekend. There’s a music school and a music retailer shop on the ground floor / basement. I often stood outside the school/shop and stared at the pianos, books through the glass. I supposed that’s what you call window shopping.

Finally, my family’s financial situation improved. My mum was able to afford piano lessons for me. That’s when I was 16. I started lessons at the music school. I was delighted. I was taught western classical music.

In Singapore and elsewhere in the world I imagine, to learn the piano is to learn western classical music. I’m not sure how that came about. But that belief is deeply entrenched in the minds of all people that I know. And also, it is imperative to go for piano exams. In fact, when parents discuss about their kids and their music education, the question that constantly pops up is “Which grade is your child in?” For those of you who is unfamiliar with the music exams, most major music examining boards in the world adopt a graded system. It usually starts from grade 1 and ends in grade 8. Thereafter, the diploma exams kicks in. Perhaps to meet the demands for students and parents who wish to have a sense of achievement, various intermediate grades or assessments flowed into the market. For example, there’s preparatory or initial grade which is pre-grade 1. There’s performance certificates at grade 5 and 8. There’s associate diploma to bridge the vast gap between grade 8 and the first level of the diploma exams. There’s also theory exams with their own graded system.

It is only after more than 20 years after I started my piano lessons that I question why learning the piano equates to learning western classical music. I think it’s a tradition. It’s how piano teachers were taught and what they teach their students consequently.

There’s many genres of music. Some of the key ones are:

  • hip hop
  • country
  • classical
  • pop
  • blues
  • metal
  • rock
  • reggae
  • jazz

The list of music genres goes on, almost endless in fact. I question the years that a child/person spends on learning western classical music. Can the child/person play other genres of music? E.g. rock, jazz, blues, pop? No doubt it takes years to be skilled at playing a style of music. But are piano students exposed to those different genres/styles which I believe are essential to the music education of a musician?

At the very least, piano students should be asked “What type of music would you like to be able to play?” That should be the starting point of piano lessons.

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