Piano and other instruments - Can piano help with other instruments?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Apr 03, 2007 7:14 am

Music majors at most universities are required to take some piano, or demonstrate some proficiency in it, no matter what their particular instrument (including voice) might be. Of course, the music theory one learns to play piano can carry over pretty directly to other instruments, but there are probably other benefits, as well. For example, the ability to follow and balance melodic lines and harmonies in each hand, gained from playing piano, could be useful in understanding and playing chamber music, where one must blend one's own playing with the rest of the group.

Is some knowledge of piano a valuable asset for those who play other instruments? In what ways can it help? Can pianists learn things of value from other instrumentalists that will help their playing of piano?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Apr 03, 2007 6:07 pm

Very definite 'yes' to the first question. Piano is valuable because only on a keyboard instrument can one perform the whole texture, rather than a single line. Last question: 'yes' again, especially if accompanying or playing in a chamber ensemble. When coaching a chamber group I always stressed FIRST that the pianist has to know and listen to the other parts in order to be a worthwhile member of the ensemble. And even in many solo works--Beethoven especially--you get a composer who is thinking orchestrally in the piano writing, and it helps greatly to be familiar with his symphonies, etc.--same with Haydn. And it helps the ear and the imagination if the pianist can think of the way a cello or violin or singer can sustain a melodic line. The piano can't do that, but a good pianist can create the illusion that it can.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:12 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:And even in many solo works--Beethoven especially--you get a composer who is thinking orchestrally in the piano writing, and it helps greatly to be familiar with his symphonies, etc.--same with Haydn. And it helps the ear and the imagination if the pianist can think of the way a cello or violin or singer can sustain a melodic line.

It's interesting that you mentioned this, because a variation on it was what motivated me to start this thread. Most major composers (though not all - Sibelius, for example, was a violinist) started as a pianist or some other keyboard instrument player. I've often felt that it was the piano training in having to think about the interplay between the two hands that led naturally to their composing. This is a bit the converse of the argument you made, but probably at least partially true. :)
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Postby Stretto » Thu Apr 05, 2007 4:26 pm

I've had students who wanted to take other instruments but their parents had them take piano first as the parents firmly believed that piano provides the basics. I've had students take for a couple of years and then move on to the instrument of their choice. I'm pleased to hear that those students who wanted to take other instruments are now taking them and going strong.

One of my teachers told me something interesting. It was her opinion that everyone who plays the piano should take guitar and violin. She didn't ellaborate much but it had something to do with bringing out the sound of a piano in a similar way as on a guitar or violin. She said on a violin the instrument is right by your ear so you can really listen for the sound you are trying to produce.

I had another teacher who showed me how one could take a piano piece and relate all the parts to instruments in the orchestra. I remember big, full chordal, forte sections of the piece, he marked the words "tutti" above. I had so much fun with that piece as part of my assignment was to assign each part an instrument. When I've been bored with practicing the piano, or a certain piece, it has helped tremendously to imagine or pretend different sections are parts of an orchestra and play as if you are the conductor.




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Thu Apr 12, 2007 10:04 am

Over the years, I have had many students write or call to tell me they were so glad that they took piano and stuck with it at least two years as the next instrument they went on to study, was so much easier to learn. I have had students playing cello, flute, saxophone, violin and french horn. Some continue or return to the piano.

The second year is sometimes a slower pace and I have always encouraged students (and parents) to get through a second year.

Love the idea of designating sections of a piece to different orchestral instruments. I have asked students to think of another instrument on which their piece might sound well - but not taken it by section or theme. I will have to loan some more Peter and the Wolf" to my younger ones, as many are not familiar with all the instruments.

My middle schoolers, in band, should really enjoy this exercise. I am trying to encourage them to start a small group. Time is the big problem.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Apr 13, 2007 9:06 am

Dr. Zeigler's mention of how many great composers were keyboard players got me to making a mental list. Here's what I came up with:

J. S. Bach: organ, clavichord, harpsichord
Haydn: Harpsichord and piano
Mozart: started harpsichord, swung enthusiastically to newly developing piano
Beethoven: piano--great improvisor
Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofieff, Stravinsky: all piano.

Of course, many of these people played other instruments as well, and it used to be considered a natural part of their education to do so. Haydn and Mozart were passable string players and also conductors. Mendelssohn was a pioneer conductor, and Stravinsky was much more a conductor than an instrumentalist.

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Postby Stretto » Fri Apr 13, 2007 1:12 pm

I'm reminded from loveapiano's post that I started with clarinet when it was first offered in school and then switched to piano after a year or two. It really helped me take off with piano because I could read basic music already and only had to learn bass clef. In some ways I wonder if one was going to take piano if it wouldn't be easier to learn another instrument for a year or two and then piano since you only have to concentrate on one line of music with other instruments. Some kids really struggle more than others to read and play two lines of music and maybe it would be easier for them to transition to piano after having only had to read one line of music to start. It seemed to work well for me. I skipped primer books at least. Instruments are offered in school and may be a good way to get the groundwork in reading music before investing in private lessons and a piano.

I think it would be advantageous to play as many different instruments as possible even if just a little. I always wish I would have learned more than one. I heard of a guy who kept switching instruments all the time and he eventually became a sound engineer. :)
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Postby minorkey » Fri Apr 13, 2007 7:47 pm

My experience was similar to yours, Stretto- I had had 3 years of guitar lessons before starting piano, and I found piano easy to pick up as I already knew how to read music (G clef, anyway). It's hard to say, obviously, how the reverse situation would have worked.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Apr 14, 2007 1:30 pm

Most schools do not offer instuments until 4th grade - some offer the recorder in 3rd. and a guitar might be difficult for some young ones to play. Whereas I have taught 4 and 5 year olds beginning piano.

I still believe that the piano is the best beginning instrument. There it is in front of you for you to see and hear what you see! You don't have to hold it, blow into it, bow it, learn where to put your fingers without seeing them, have to stop when wearing braces or other, get sore fingers from strumming...all kidding aside, I really feel the piano is the best and easiest instrument for young children to begin their music - outside of singing, which is always first.
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Postby Tranquillo » Sat Oct 13, 2007 5:54 pm

I tried guitar for a bit (3 months) and attempted drums. Then I went back to piano... Guitar absoulutely made me build on callaces (is that how you spell it?) ... At first acfter practicing for hours I got blisters and blisters and my fingers almost bled.
Drums I had no intention of countiuing the teacher just told me to do a beat ... I found when I made a mistake everyone would stare and stuff up ... however with piano I know pianists get away with making mistakes on piano.

... the thing is learning piano does help with other instruments but I hate it when parents get their kids to learn piano when they want to learn another instrument because they think that to play anything that their kids are to learn piano first!
Also the common myth "if I can play piano I can play anything".
Piano helps with other instruments however I think that just as learning any other instrument it can help with piano or other instruments.
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