Teacher Spotlight: Making the Jump from Classical to Hip-Hop

It’s hard to think of two musical genres more different than hip-hop and classical. Although the genres are polar opposites, more and more musicians are finding ways to blend the two. TakeLessons teacher Erica C. shares her experience as a classical pianist joining a hip-hop band on the keys and explains why hip-hop and classical aren’t as different as you might think…

I’m not going to lie: when I told people that I was playing in a hip-hop band, I was scared of what they’d think. After all, the drama of a Chopin prelude and the sound painting of a Debussy piano suite warm the cockles of my heart. Strangely, there was more talk of what I’d wear than the music I was playing.

When you look in the dictionary for a definition of “hip-hop artist” you won’t find my picture there. But for some reason, it works. The first – and what I thought might be the last – hip-hop show I played had a vibe unlike any show I’d been to or played. (Even the word “show” was different than Classical music that calls performances “concerts.”)

At the end of the night, musicians and audience alike talked about the great energy and excitement over the great music heard that night. From seasoned veterans to nervous novices, everyone appreciated the art required to make the music. The artistry in creating the music cuts across the lines we draw between genres. The art is at the core of what all artists do, be in music, sculpture, painting, or dance. This idea has implications and applications for music education that I’ve seen before, but never this clearly.

Think of basic music skills as tools in a toolbox. (Yes, it’s an old metaphor, but a good one.) The more tools you have, the more you can do. If a builder goes to construct a house and all he has are nails and a hammer, he’s pretty limited in what he can make, probably just a box. But add a saw and a drill, and he has more to offer. The basic skills that I teach in music lessons, like chords, scales, and key signatures, are the tools that you’ll reach for when it comes time to make music, whether it’s country, jazz, or pop.

I count myself very blessed to have the tools in my toolbox that have allowed me to be comfortable with hip-hop rappers and folk banjo players just the same. I’m guessing that people will still chuckle when I tell them that I play keys in a hip-hop band. To be honest, I still get it a kick out of it. But when I hit the stage, the music speaks for itself, and the doubt melts into confidence. I can’t really ask for more than that.

Check out Erica performing with her band the Piecemakers in this clip:



Erica C. teaches singing, music theory, and piano lessons in San Diego, CA. She specializes in teaching classical technique on piano and also teaches opera voice. Erica has been teaching for 13 years and joined the TakeLessons Team in July 2013. Learn more about Erica or search for a teacher near you!




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