Confessions 5: Student listening tastes

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student“, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

Question 5

This question was born from an ugly personal experience I had as a child. At a local monthly musical society concert, a classical guitar teacher had found out his most gifted pupil had bought an electric guitar and was dabbling with it in his own time. Admittedly the guitar teacher was an older man, but he publicly tore strips off his prized student and humiliated him in front of the whole crowd. He then banished his pupil and told him not to return to lessons until he’d given up the electric guitar.

It’s in this context, I asked the following question.

“What would be your reaction to a student confessing they played synthesizers in a simple dance music style of playing? How would you feel about them listening to electronic music or heavy metal style genres?”

Ioana Andreea Boancă : Synthesizers…ok, I experimented with simple dance music in middle-school. Heavy metal…I’d say “you’re better than that” but I know it would be just a phase…sometimes their thoughts and opinions aren’t expressed by Rachmaninoff. It’s more about the message than it is about the quality of music.

Nikolas Sideris : Absolutely no problem at all! In fact I listen to all these kinds of music (and even more hardcore) and also compose them occasionally, when I’m called for (from the computer games industry part of my life).

If I may extend my reply though, it appears that the question itself is a little biased and offers a very limiting description to a very broad spectrum of music: “simple” dance music. Then mentioning electronic music, or heavy metal, but of which are extremely broad. I mean electronic is Moby, is Aphex Twins, is musique concrete, Xenakis, etc. Same with heavy metal music.

Simon Reich notes : I mentioned what I considered the far right and far left of musical genres (Heavy Metal – Electronic Music) and hoped that teachers would fill the gaps in between.

Jenny Walker : No problem. I can expand their minds while they do the same with mine.

Jimmy Rotherham : I would LOVE them to be interested in electronic music – it opens up a world of creativity – I make electronic music myself and have a degree in Music Production and Electronic composition and love getting crazy with Ableton and live electronic music performance. I’m not personally a heavy metal [fan], and given the subordinate role of keyboards in metal bands I would be more keen if they were guitarists. However, I just love it when students are passionate about any music at all, even Justin Bieber or Bloomin’ Frozen, I will work with it to help them learn it and you can easily lure them into better stuff from there.

Donal Gormley : Like Jimmy said, I love it when students are passionate about any music. That passion makes everything work. Can remember being on a Musical Futures workshop, they explained how the students start with what they’re interested in, the more they explore it, the more interested they become in other music. Definitely find it similar in piano lessons. Was recently listening to some wonderful heavy metal covers by vkgoeswild on YouTube with a student. She does a great job of making heavy guitar music sound good on the keys!

Jimmy Rotherham : I did a Musical Futures course too – it’s an interesting approach, and I would recommend that any teacher explores the philosophy. It worked wonders with difficult Year 9 classes.

Joanne Snowden : I would be interested to find out more about what they like. I only listened to heavy metal in my teens, but still loved playing classical piano.
I would then make sure they had plenty of the classics in their repertoire

Sarah Martin : It’s all music, isn’t it, whatever we may feel personally about their interests! I would just be delighted that they are playing and enjoying it. When pupils sometimes sheepishly confess that they don’t really listen to classical music I point them in the direction of our music collection and show them the wide variety of genres we listen to and enjoy! No snobbishness about music in this house!

Alison Mathews : Very happy, any interest/passion for music is great and it’s always exciting to see how each pupils’ interests can be developed or harnessed to extend into their piano playing. I’m happy to develop their knowledge of different genres of music but at the end of the day if they are involved in active music making that’s relevant to them then we’ll use it in lessons. Apart from anything else I have eclectic tastes and love to discover something new.

Frances Magdalene Wilson : Don’t have a problem with this – if they are enjoying music, listening to and playing music of any genre I’m happy


It was great to hear such positive responses to this question, especially the lovely phrase from Jenny Walker:

“I can expand their minds, while they do the same with mine.”

One time I had a school student on work experience placement and I started to show him some tasks for the day ahead. As he watched me explain the process of the task, he then said, “Why don’t you try doing it this way?” Now as a veteran of 30 years of doing this particular task, I immediately bristled at the comment, but then realised his idea was better!

Different genres and electronic instruments need not be seen as an enemy to musical education. In fact, an open mind to all avenues of learning can yield some unexpected surprises.

Next : In Confessions 5 Simon asks perhaps the thorniest of questions – what is the role of exams and grading?

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music
Simon is a regular contributor to Pianodao.

6 thoughts on “Confessions 5: Student listening tastes”

  1. The problem can be only one: the presence of musical censorship. I knew that on my skin for 26 years; and there the music of Schoenberg was banned, Berg and Webern, Cage and Stockhausen; and only then rock and roll and the Beatles. Forbidden fruits were sweet. Thanks to censorship!


  2. Related to this theme of expanding minds, I am planning next term to give my pupils a particular You Tube video to watch each week, just to expand their awareness of where years of piano practice can lead you. And also I intend to invite them to set me ones to listen to so I can gain an insight into what they like listening to…although I may struggle to keep up if they all take me up on this one! A few years ago too I had a pupil who always liked to set me a piece for the following lesson, as it was not ‘fair’ that I gave her all the work to do, so she would request a fast piece or a sad piece or similar and by playing to her each lesson somethin higher then her level it really widened her experience..


  3. I would think a better question to ask in response to the anecdote shared at the start of the post might be this: how can the profession of music teachers rid their ranks of people who thrive on the humiliation of their students?

    The anecdote is less about a generation having a problem with electronic instruments as it is about a kind of approach to teaching that believes students learn through derision and mockery. And whether it’s a mathematics class, a history class, a language class or a technical drawing class, teachers like this exist, to this day, sadly; teachers who believe that teaching is a top-down activity, that students are wayward rebels who need to be brought into line.

    Simon, what a horrible thing to have sat through, for all concerned: student, parents, friends, strangers.

    And how ghastly that this teacher thought that any ideological persuasion was worth using as an excuse to exercise his duty of care with such malice.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Elissa for this indepth reply & summation of a (hopefully now) small problem in the teaching profession. But you are correct, it is something that does need to be weeded out of the industry. Being a child at the time of the humiliating tirade by that teacher in the opening of my article, may have caused me to remember the whole incident quite vividly, but it was akin to abuse, as I felt empathy for the victim, but then also an assault on me in the audience as well. Really hope that the current wave of teachers can be more positive towards their pupils.


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