Traditional or Classical Piano Lessons

Traditional Piano Lessons or Classical Piano Lessons

Let’s look at how piano is traditionally taught and why we as educators must change the way we teach piano.

The typical piano student learns notes on the staff and begins to play repertoire after a certain period of time. But, by the time this student is playing 2 o3 notes simultaneously, they have either lost interest or given up in frustration. If, on the other hand the student were taught all of his or her Triads in the first month, they could be playing from a lead sheet in just 3 – 4 weeks. This is a very realistic goal for a precocious 10 or 12 year old. Adults would learn all their triads in the very first lesson if they have played at all in previous years!

Now, with 30 –60 chords under their belts, the student is playing, at times, 4 notes simultaneously, the triad in the left hand and the melody in the right. But more important than the relative BIG sound , is the fact that the student is learning the theory of how chords are constructed. This gives them “LIFELONG” knowledge that will never change. As I ask my students, “ How many chords do you need to play the piano, 500, 200 a 100?” . No, when you master 60 to 90 chords you’ve just about got them all!

It truly amazes me the number of students who come to me after 3, 4, even 6 years of lessons and don’t even know how to construct all of the basic triads. These chords are the foundation of all music. But, on the other hand, if you are only being taught notes on a staff and century old repertoire, then what need would you have to teach CHORDS.


I’m sure you have probably heard this statement once or twice before. To me, this statement means music speaks to, and touches the emotions of all cultures and peoples. Music is such a powerful vehicle for touching and healing individuals and all of humanity that it deserves to be presented and taught in the most thorough and expeditious way possible so that the maximum amount of people can enjoy the benefits of a lifetime of making music. And in so learning, can improve the quality of life for all of us!

To help understand music as a language, it may help to compare it to, for instance, a spoken language like English. By making a comparison of the language of music to the language of English, I hope to illuminate the need for studying jazz/pop piano, specifically chords and their functions.

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are 7 different letters in the musical alphabet, a,b,c,d,e,f,and g. Words are made up of combinations of letters, and so too, chords are made up of combinations of letters or notes. However, in classical music you read notes on a staff and rarely are taught to “ see” the notes as organized letters, or components of a chord. In jazz you are taught from the beginning to see multiple notes as making up a uniquely named chord. So while the classical player would see the notes C, E, G as separate notes broken up, the jazz player would immediately see them as a C major chord. So, who is going to “speak” the language quicker and more fluently, with better retention, the student who knows the alphabet or the student who knows the words! Language is words. And the words in the musical language are called chords. The good news is that while the English language has tens of thousands of words, the musical language has less than 200 “ words/chords”. Even better is that those 200 chords are variations on about 20 different “chord types”.