The Piano is one of the most universally recognised instruments in the world. Chances are your parents or grandparents had some form of interaction with a Piano when they were younger, whether it be through simple curiosity or through their parents paying for lessons. For those of you that don’t know, I’m a pianist. I’ve been playing since I was the age of four and have been able to now turn it into a career as a performer and tutor. As such, I have always been a strong advocate for the idea that every performer (especially singers) should take the time to learn the basics of the piano.
Due to the trends within pop culture however, the majority of performers opt for the guitar instead and whilst this is perfectly fine (an instrument is an instrument after all) there are many benefits to the piano that the guitar cannot offer, especially for those at the beginning of their instrument learning journey.
The brilliant thing about the piano is that you have all of the information right there at your fingertips. It may take a short while to understand the basics but once you find “C” what looked impossible soon starts to make sense. I’ve had students that are total beginners as musicians and musical learners, all it took for them to be able to play a basic tune like “Heart & Soul” was showing them the C major scale and gradually teaching them the tune.
Will improve your musical ear
As a singer the ability to be able to pitch a note correctly is essential. The ability to do this is referred to as your “musical ear” and although some people are born with perfect pitch, not everyone is that lucky so this is a skill that needs to be worked on. If you are able to play the piano (or indeed any pitched instrument) you will find that you are able to relate what you hear to notes that you play on your instrument, therefore improving your musical ear.
Allows you to develop your music reading
The ability to read music is a skill I feel every musician or performer should develop. I was quite late to this party as I was blessed with a great ear which has allowed me to learn the majority of any set lists without having to read music. Since going to university however, I have realised the importance of such a skill. Piano is the perfect instrument to learn to develop this skill as the go-to notation, is staffed notation, unlike guitar which is notated using TAB. You can get staffed guitar notation, it’s just not as common within popular music.
Will make songwriting and self accompaniment easier
When writing a song you’re going to want to couple your lyrics and melody line with chords. By learning the Piano you are able to come up with all of the components for your song without relying on one of your instrumentalist friends to do it for you! As well as this, when it comes to gigging you now have the option to ditch the backing tracks and accompany yourself on piano which will in turn give you some creative freedom when coming up with the arrangement of the songs you want to perform. As well as being able to accompany yourself, you will also be able to accompany choirs or groups which is an essential skill for anyone working within music education.
Another string to your bow
As with any career in any industry, it is important to spend time doing things to develop your knowledge and ability within your field. If you’re able to play the piano, it is simply another string to your bow and will be used a lot more than you think!
So there you have it guys, some of the reasons I feel every budding musician should learn to play the piano. I don’t have anything against guitar, drums or bass — I’m just slightly biased towards my instrument! If you have a friend who you’re trying to convince to learn the piano, show them this article, it may help!
This was a recent topic of discussion and debate amongst members of a musicians Facebook group I am a part of. I must admit it was entertaining to read some of the comments on the thread as people had their egos damaged by some home truths on the matter. For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on this never ending argument:
For me, live music, is exactly that, a LIVE band with LIVE instruments fronted by a LIVE singer. When I see a poster outside a pub with the words "LIVE MUSIC FRIDAY NIGHT" I, as a musician and avid gig-goer, expect an entirely live performance! Of course, the singer is live, they are actually singing, using their own voice, but some may argue that they are merely a glorified karaoke singer... I mean this in no disrespect to any of my fellow entertainers, but that is essentially what you are doing.
I understand the use of backing tracks amongst some entertainers, it saves costs and allows the said singer to only have to worry about themselves but I do not agree with venues labelling them as live music, because they are only half live. In the Facebook group, there were lots of arguments amongst members on either side, some people even getting into insults and age difference.. really?! I chose not to add my "2 cents" to the conversation simply because it seemed the group were too immature to have a normal discussion..
Another point raised was that there are many famous acts that choose to mime during this performances, this is a completely different thing and bore no relevance to the discussion, but since it mentioned, I'd like to add that I do not agree with this practice, playing to backing tracks for ease when you can't ship your whole band across the world, fine, miming to said backing track out of laziness, not fine.
Let's wrap this one up here with this final point from me; singing to a backing tack does NOT necessarily make you a less skilled performer, you still have to be able to sing to a high standard in order to get booked and re-booked by venues. HOWEVER, I know that I would much rather spend my money watching a live band, wether it be covers or originals, than watching one person sing to a track.
I can’t be the only person who has ever thought about what it would be like to spend some time with my past self and more importantly, what I’d say! This pandemic has given me some time for reflection so I thought I’d share the five main pieces of advice I’d give to my past musical self.
I started playing the piano from a very young age. The young age came with a lack of maturity when it came to practicing my craft and unfortunately some of those habits were hard to kick for a long time. If I could see 16 year old Gary again I would force him to focus on technique and learning pieces outside of his comfort zone instead of constantly going back to comfortability of what he already knows!
Learn to sight read from the start
Ask any of my musical friends and they’ll tell you that my sight reading and theory hasn’t always been the best. I’ve been blessed with the ability of a great musical ear and being able to pick up a song within a few minutes, young Gary decided that due to this, learning to read those funny dots on the page was a complete waste of time, oh how WRONG was he! Since being at university and teaching Piano myself, I’ve started to see the true value and importance of being able to understand and explain what it is you’re writing or playing!
Take your degree more seriously
When I first started my degree I was like a deer in headlights! I’d just finished my final date of the year with The Signatures and drove from Skegness to home and then to Colchester for my induction day. I spent the first year trying to get to grips with the new grading system and the new level of work expected of me and I’m not ashamed to admit I struggled, this struggle carried on somewhat into the second year until a lecturer I really respected sat me down and basically told me to wake up and get it together “you’re better than this Gary, this isn’t good enough, do better please.” That hit me HARD and from then on I went into my third year full steam ahead! if I could go back to 19 year old Gary I would tell him that story and tell him to forget the gigging and focus on his future! Thankfully I’ve turned it around now and am on track but it could have been a lot worse!
Spend more time winding down
Again, any of my close friends will tell you the amount of conversations they’ve had with me revolving around me taking a break and stopping doing crazy hours. I eventually listened to them when I ended up with shingles after a month long run of shows at The Edinburgh Fringe which involved flying back to London for 24 hours to play keys for a different band and then going back to the fringe and continuing the shows, NEVER AGAIN! If I saw younger Gary I would tell him that gigging so much that you run yourself into the ground is just not worth it, your physical and mental health needs to come first and there is nothing wrong with saying no and spending a few weekends a year in the beer garden with your mates!
Don't be afraid of not being good enough
This is something I still struggle with to this day but I have become better at managing it. I used to be intimidated by musicians that were better than me and it used to make me feel worthless but now I simply admire it. To the younger Gary I would say to be patient and continue to work hard on your weaker areas, don’t be afraid of asking for help and that most importantly you will improve musically and educationally as you mature and these improvements will be noticed by other people way before you notice them! You will never ever be done with learning and growing, rather than running from it, embrace it and magic will happen!
I hope this honest list will help those that read it learn to improve themselves and recognise the importance of self-reflection!