I studied music in the classical music world, where musical snobbery is rife. As much as I’d like to distance myself from that snobbery, I’d be lying if I said I had never been one of those snobs who categorise as music “good” and “bad.” And I’d also be lying if I said I had never made comments about artists like Ed Sheeran’s terribly unsophisticated song lyrics, repetitive chord progressions, spoken-style melodies etc etc.
I’ve recently found myself teaching lots and lots of Ed Sheeran songs to my students. Especially my teenage students. And I’ve changed my opinion on the Sheeran-meister. Yes, his lyrics are woeful. (I point you to this gem from “Wake Me Up”,
“And if your DVD breaks, today, you should get a VCR ‘cause I never owned a Blu-Ray, True say.” )
But there are a lot of things that are wonderful about Ed Sheeran songs. In fact, I would go as far to say that his songs are absolute gifts to music teachers.
Here are the reasons why I think music teachers should learn to embrace a little Ed Sheeran in their teaching studios:
1. Ed Sheeran songs will make you practise simple chord changes over, and over, and over again.
What’s one thing teenage students generally hate doing? Practising. Especially repetitively practising. Especially practising something incredibly boring, over and over again.
Cue the Ed Sheeran song. Suddenly your teenage student is happy to play the same three or four chords, over and over again, in pretty much the same patterns. There’s no better way to get good at basic chord progressions than by playing them over and over, and Ed Sheeran songs provide the perfect backdrop for that repetitive practice. Made a lot more fun if you play along to his actual tracks, which are often in D – a nice easy key for learning chords. You can even teach a bit of transposition – learn it in C, then transpose to D. Perfect transposition lesson.
2. Ed Sheeran songs will show students how pop songs are constructed, and how easy it is to write your own songs.
Seriously, Ed Sheeran is making heaps of money just flinging out four chord songs with banal lyrics. If he’s doing it, why can’t your student have a go?
Learning the pop songs from sheet music often makes the music seem more complex than it actually is. When you show students the chord chart version, they see just how easy it is to construct a song. This can lend itself to composition and improvisation lessons. It’s also a great tool for students to learn how to express themselves with music after only a short amount of time. You don’t need to be Beethoven to write an Ed Sheeran-style pop song – the music is simple and accessible – and it appeals to the masses.
3. Ed Sheeran songs can be learnt very quickly, so you can move through more repertoire.
The more you play, the better you get. I’ve been saying this for a while – students need to play more music. Less reading, less theory, more playing. You learn music by MAKING music.
4. You can tailor an Ed Sheeran song to be a challenge for any level of pianist
Beginners can learn a simple chord progression (or even a bass line) from the song, and learn to play along.
Intermediate students can learn to play all the chords, maybe in 2 different keys. They can learn fills, intros and accompaniment patterns. Students who are happy to sing can learn to sing and play it. You can teach the difference between what you would do in a band as opposed to a singer-pianist act.
Advanced students can make up an arrangement of the song – using chord charts – working out both the melody and chords. You can make them arrange it into a solo, using different compositional techniques. You could even make them transform it into a different style of music for a big challenge. (Eg. change this song into a Mozart sonata!) That’s getting fancy, but I think you get my point.
Of course, Ed Sheeran is not the only artist whose songs can provide this sort of inspiration to your music lessons. Pop music in general is a great point of entry into playing an instrument. It’s easy, accessible and loved by most of the population. So, before you throw out the idea of teaching anything as musically unsophisticated as Ed Sheeran, consider the points above! And I’ll leave you with the wise words of the Sheeran-meister himself, “We could change the whole world with a piano…But what do I know?”
Happy teaching x