Performing popular music builds engagement, lifelong learners

Every music class should be performing regularly as part of their curriculum. It’s important to not overlook popular music as a medium for that performance either in line with a history of popular music or as a stand-alone performance track. This will give students a better opportunity to become lifelong musicians than if they were simply playing constructed melodies and accompaniments.


All music teachers were performers at one point that had extensive training in reading standard notation, performing with excellent technique, and honing their skills to near-perfection. The reality is that most of our students won’t share that experience so teaching performance has to be done in a more accessible manner.

Using “social instruments” – loosely defined as instruments people play in common social settings – and teaching students how to perform them in social ways is our best way to ensure the chance of lifelong musicianship. We should be empowering eventual adults who can pick up a guitar and accompany a song or sit at a piano and accompany or play a melody.

In our middle school, we use keyboards, baritones ukuleles, and guitars as part of our performance curriculum. The students begin with right hand melodies on the keyboard and chord accompaniments on the ukulele in sixth grade before building to left hand accompaniments on the keyboard, adding the guitar, and eventually playing two hands together on the keyboard before they leave eighth grade.

Teaching students to read chords and play improvised or practiced accompaniments on these instruments is the basic performance skill my students should be leaving with. Guitar TAB is also a useful tool. I don’t foresee much use for standard notation by my students beyond reading a lead sheet (sometimes called a “fake”), so I approach performance that way.

Engage your students with performance now and into their future with popular music performance.

images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

Performing popular music builds engagement, lifelong learners

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