The Piano – A Logical Instrument.
In the introduction to our series on learning music I touched upon the virtues of learning an instrument and the incredible choices available to those who wish to embark on this endeavour. In this article I take a look at the joy and benefit of learning to play the piano.
For as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved music and have always played an instrument since the heady days of my first recorder through learning the violin, guitar and vocals. The piano, or more specifically the layout of the piano, has always been used in my lessons to demonstrate musical theory so it’s quite surprising that I never really learned to play the piano until recently.
The Musicians Map
Most of us have seen a piano or keyboard, even if only briefly. We know there are white keys and black keys and, let’s be honest, there seems to be an awful lot of them. Way more than the fingers we have to operate them all. The layout of these black and white keys, however, is deeply routed in music theory and makes the piano the perfect instrument if the newbie musician wants to learn theory and performance at the same time.
There are many great tutorials and tutors available who will, no doubt, provide far better explanation that I will. However, by explaining a couple of simple principles I hope to encourage the fledgling musician to learn the piano as part of their musical education, even if that education is for a different instrument. You see the piano lays out, in black and white, the core principles of music theory, and it’s all based around the key of C Major.
If you look at a piano keyboard, you will see that there are repeating patterns of 2 black notes, then 3 black notes. The note to the left of the 2 black notes is C. Wherever you look on the keyboard, that key to the immediate left of the 2 black notes is a C. So we have already broken down the 88 notes in to sections between 2 Cs.
There are 8 white notes between the 2 Cs including the C at each end. This is called an Octave (“octo” being Latin for 8). If you play each note beginning with the lower (leftmost) C moving up to the upper (rightmost C), you will play a key of C major (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C). The piano is designed around the key of C major. From this you can figure out the pattern of tones and semitones in a scale (white and black notes), and chords named after that scale. You can figure out chord progressions and which notes will have which tonal emotion. The amazing part is that once you have figured these out, which is really just about counting, you have the template for the same patterns in any key, just by counting the white and black keys on a piano.
There is so much more to explain, but learning music is, essentially, about learning patterns, gaps and positions, and how to read them from sheet music. The piano visually demonstrates these gaps and gaps better than any other instrument. That’s what makes the piano perfect for teaching music, and why the piano features so strongly in teaching music for other instruments.
How to Learn The Piano
There are a stack of choices available here, depending on how structured you want you musical education to be. YouTube (and no doubt other streaming video services) have a huge repostory of clips showing you which keys to press and when in order to play a particular song. Some of the videos are about as informal as it gets when learning to play something.
At the other end of the scale is formal tuition with a tutor. Cornwall is packed full of musicians and music teachers willing to sell their time and share their immense experience and knowledge. Formal training is the perfect choice if you are serious about taking your formal grades or are studying a degree in music. This is true of any instrument, including a wealth of vocal coaches.
In between these, and a wonderful example of using technology to teach art, is the education music software packages, some of which I have had the pleasure of test driving over the last month.
All the applications listed employ a building block approach to learning the piano, so you start with the easy stuff and gradually practice and move up to harder pieces over time. The implementation of this varies between applications as does the presentation of the material. ithout question every one has different ways of learning, so some packages may be more suitable for you than other. All the applications listed offer either a trial period or satisfaction/money back guarantee, so you can find out which of these works best for you with no long term obligation.
Is it worth it
Okay – so as a musician and one who loves music, I have to say a resounding “Yes”. But let’s forget the biased opinion for the moment. I genuinely wish I had paid more attention to the piano whilst I was learning to play other instruments. The music theory knowledge I have gained during my “test flying” these apps has been incredible. Not just for the piano but also for the guitar as well. By understanding the piano, I have a better understanding of scales, chords and progressions which, in turn, has given me a better understanding of playing music on the guitar. Not only that, but my sight reading ability has rocketed.
Without question, the piano is probably the best instrument to learn and understand music on, simply because of it’s layout. This comes from a passionate guitarist who loves nothing better than to rock out with a Gibson Les Paul! I’d call that a resounding recommendation.