Music History…Music History! Are you still with me? Why teach music history to piano students?

Honestly, I used to hate my college Music History class. “Music Misery” does that ring a bell? The only thing mildly amusing about it was how excited the Professor used to get when telling stories about composers. The guy was really jazzed about the subject. Me? I didn’t care. I just wanted to pass the test and get on to playing the piano and composing strange-sounding music. I just didn’t see the point. I felt that I needed to be in the practice room not sitting at a desk learning about the antics and escapades of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms.

I was, in a word, foolish. Music History matters to the musician. Understanding the context in which the music was written helps us to interpret the music. Just as studying the history of any culture helps to interpret the writing of that culture’s time period.

But there’s a much better reason to teach our students about Music History. It’s super interesting! In the last few years, I’ve become something of a Music History buff. I was looking into the history of Für Elise for a blog post I was writing for I had no idea that piece was such a mystery! Even the name, “Für Elise” may not be the name Beethoven intended for the work. Fascinating!

Music history is ripe with juicy stories. Like the whole Schumann-Brahms alleged love triangle. The story behind Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, the Story of Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, or the story of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude and Poland’s “November Uprising” of 1831. In fact, there are great stories behind most of the music.

Why Teach Music History to Piano Students?

Yes, Music History is amazing indeed. It brings the music to life. It brings my students to life too. It helps them see that the music isn’t just a mess of black dots and lines on white paper. This music was conceived and written by a real person. A brilliant, awesome, emotional person who lived and loved and died. An artist who’s enduring voice was shaped by the place and time in which they’ed lived.

So the next time I’m teaching a work by a classical composer, jazz great or pop artist I’m going to dish it up with a side of Music History. Because it really does matter to me and to my students. As musicians, it is our heritage. It is our art, and we are part of it.

Read the post “Easy Music Theory”

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