Meri’s Musical Musings

What do Lady Gaga, Eddie van Halen, Scott Joplin,Whitney Houston, the composer of the music for the game Plants Vs. Zombies, Elton John, and Oscar Peterson all have in common?

They all had training in classical music at a young age for a significant portion of their childhood years.

Now compare their music to Justin Bieber, most rap artists, Miley Cyrus, or Brittney Spears.

They have little to no training in classical music.

Even if one does not end up as a professional classical musician, but end up as a professional musician anyway, classical training is probably the best kind of training to prepare for any type of music career.


First, good classical music training emphasizes efficient and proper technique. Check out the vocal power of Celine Dion or Whitney Houston; the latter was supposed to have an opera career, and opera emphasizes singing with a strong, powerful voice in order to reach the back of the opera auditorium—with either no mic or little dependence on it. Many top opera singers have careers of 20 years or more if they don’t leave for other reasons. In contrast, many pop, rap, and rock artists who sing with poor technique rarely have careers that last more than 2 or 3 years, and depend quite a bit on the microphone to make their voice louder. Some extended piano improvisations in jazz have notes that move faster than a difficult Beethoven piano sonata, and often in more complicated note patterns—but the classical training prepared them to be able to play long extended fast passages accurately with good technique. In most other styles, the fastest notes in any piece in that style are generally about half the speed of the notes found in the fastest classical passages. Eddie van Halen has had a long career playing guitar, and it’s because he started learning good technique almost from the beginning, and if you’ve seen him play, he’s done licks that compare to the most difficult classical cadenzas. While Justin Bieber, with his extremely poor guitar technique, would probably struggle with the easier guitar/lute preludes of JS Bach, such as the BWV 999 (which is frequently played on piano, on piano, in the RCM system in Canada and parts of the US it’s rated Level 6 for piano, which is a mid-intermediate level), and is only a moderate to moderately fast piece. One of the levels of the music of the game Plants vs. Zombies also has extended passages of 4 note broken chords on piano that are difficult to play and are rarely in conventional 4 note broken chord patterns.

Second, good classical training exposes artists to reading and writing music with staff notation, instead of relying on others to do it. Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have several people write down their songs, while many older artists, who learned to read and write musical notation, wrote the songs themselves or at most had a partner, such as Freddie Mercury of Queen who wrote Bohemian Rhapsody and Simon and Garfunkel who wrote such songs as Bridge over Troubled Water. Both songs have at least a couple of key changes, and the first one has several key changes, while music of most modern pop artists rarely changes key.

Third, classical music training exposes students to a variety of instruments or at least the sounds of a large variety of instruments. A few rock artists have been known to occasionally include a non-rock instrument in a song or two in a stage show, usually flute or violin, but I’ve seen cello and clarinet too. The music in the Zen Garden mode of the game Plants vs. Zombies has a soaring oboe melody! There is also a rock band that wrote a piece that has a symphony orchestra as part of the instrumentation, which doesn’t really work without that orchestral background.

Fourth, classical music training exposes students to a rich variety of harmonies. Listen to the richness and variety of chords in Bohemian Rhapsody or Bridge over Troubled Water compared to the relatively simple harmonies of almost any Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber song. The harmonies of the first two artists are comparable to a Romantic or 20th century classical piece; the latter two artists the musical harmonies are comparable to what you’d find in children’s songs or elementary pieces in most instrument method books.

Therefore, good classical music training is benefical to any musician, no matter what style they end up working exclusively or primarily in.



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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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