Why I don’t teach pop – usually

I was reading a FB post on a teacher group where someone had mentioned that their student was recording some repertoire that was wildly age-inappropriate, both lyrically and vocally. This was repertoire that the parent had chosen but that they wanted help on from the teacher.

I don’t teach pop. It’s not that I feel that classical music or Golden Age musical theater is the “one true way” to develop vocal technique. It’s not that I don’t like pop music. I love Lady Gaga, John Legend, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Lizzo…. But I feel like contemporary pop music is so artist-driven, and written for the particular range and style of an individual singer, rather than for the masses. And often, the lyrics are more adult-themed than I think a middle school student should be singing (this also happens with musical theater for that matter – I had an 11 year old whose mom wanted her to sing “Mama, who bore me” from Spring Awakening because Lea Michele sang it and she liked her on Glee; I had to explain what the show was about and then she agreed with me that no, it was not a good audition piece for show choir).

I like finding what’s right for a student based on who they are at this point in their vocal journey, and what’s going to take them to the next level. And my comfort zone is musical theater (both contemporary and Golden Age) and classical. I’ll also use Great American Songbook rep and folk songs, but rarely will I use contemporary (post-2000) pop unless I find something that I think will suit someone. I can’t remember the last time that happened. And especially not with a new student.

A few exceptions:

  • Contemporary musical theater – it’s pretty pop-y, but I still feel like it’s not as limited as far as singability as commercial pop music.
  • Jukebox musicals – if you’re auditioning for Rock of Ages, you’re not going to sing “Oh what a beautiful morning” for the audition, so we’ll need to find something with a harder edge.
  • You’ve been with me awhile and you have something to sing for a school event and you’re having trouble with it. In which case, I need:
    • Sheet music or at least a lead sheet with guitar chords. This should be in the right key for you, not necessarily the key in which it’s written.
    • An accompaniment track so I can hear what it’s supposed to sound like.
    • A recording of it in advance so I know what I’m getting into.

Again, not teaching pop is not about me not liking pop music or wanting to impose my musical tastes on you. It’s the best way I know for the studio to serve you, based on my skill set and my experience. Pop music, even though I’m certified in contemporary commercial music pedagogy, is not in my superpower wheelhouse (that’s an upcoming blog, BTW). So if you really, really want to sing pop music and only pop music – then I’m not the right teacher for you. In which case, Godspeed, and I’ll help you find the right teacher if I can.

5 thoughts on “Why I don’t teach pop – usually

  1. Great post. For the most part this is how I run my voice studio. I spend a lot of prep time choosing appropriate rep. each individual student. I’m not a believer in one book for all students as some other local teachers are. I do have a few students in the 30-40 age range who come esp. for breathing and vocal technique and we incorporate some pop, country, etc into their lessons as they are performers in those genres.
    I really appreciate your comments on age appropriate rep. It never ceases to amaze me the songs I’ve heard young students perform, esp. in the local music festivals. ex. “ I Dreamed a Dream” “Gooch’s Song” are just two off the top of my head.
    Thanks so much for your blog.


    • Yes, “Another winter in another town” was added to the Wisconsin festival’s MT list right before I moved 6 years ago. The line, “Then glance in the mirror and who do I see – a middle-aged woman inhabiting me,” just made me cringe.

      That said, I DID give it to a HS girl because it suited her voice and I knew she’d advance to state with it. Which she did.

      Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it. (Tell your friends!) 😀


  2. Excellent points, Christine. I also shy away from pop because students try to sing it in the original artists’ style. This can include inappropriate (and way too much) sliding between notes, breathy/light mix notes (which I suspect come the from the original artists not knowing how to squarely hit the note in their own voice), unhealthy belting (see previous parenthetical), and not singing on the breath. If I do work on a pop song, I want the student to create their own interpretation with healthy technique.


  3. Pingback: Who takes voice lessons? – Why I sing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s