There is something instantly appealing about playing the piano. We are immediately drawn to its familiar sounds, and people are quick to gather round the piano at parties and sing-alongs. In schools, churches and millions of homes across our country, the piano is part of the story of our lives.
In addition to the emotional and social income gained by making music, playing the piano offers educational and wellness benefits. Recent research supports findings that music study may be linked to higher brain function in learning. Learning to play the piano can help your child be more successful in school and develop skills that they can use their entire life:
In a study at McGill University in Montreal, children who took piano lessons for three years scored higher than their peers on tests of general and spatial cognitive development – the very faculties needed for performance in math and engineering and other pursuits.
A University of California at Irvine study showed that students who took piano lessons along with computer puzzle-solving did better in math.
Among older Americans, research at Michigan State University showed that keyboard lessons significantly reduced anxiety, depression and loneliness.
Playing the piano strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
Kids who take piano lessons learn a lot about discipline and the rewards of hard work.
There is something instantly appealing about playing the piano. We are immediately
drawn to its familiar sounds, and people are quick to gather round the piano at parties
and sing-alongs. In schools, churches and millions of homes across our country, the
piano is part of the story of our lives.
In addition to the emotional and social income gained by making music, playing the
piano offers educational and wellness benefits. Recent research supports findings that
music study may be linked to higher brain function in learning. Learning to play the
piano can help your child be more successful in school and develop skills that they can
use their entire life:
•In a study at McGill University in Montreal, children who took piano lessons for
three years scored higher than their peers on tests of general and spatial cognitive
development – the very faculties needed for performance in math and engineering
and other pursuits.
•A University of California at Irvine study showed that students who took piano
lessons along with computer puzzle-solving did better in math.
•Among older Americans, research at Michigan State University showed that
keyboard lessons significantly reduced anxiety, depression and loneliness.
•Playing the piano strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
•Kids who take piano lessons learn a lot about discipline and the rewards of hard
[LINK HERE] Please click on the following links for additional information on the
benefits of making music: Your Child’s Lifetime of Music
Please click on the following links for additional information on the benefits of making music:
A fan recently wrote asking for advice on learning to play the piano. I thought our conversation might be of interest to fans as well as other piano players who are just learning.
Before reading this, realize that I am not a ‘classically trained’ pianist. I’m self-taught, so my observations come from a completely different perspective than your piano instructor might have. There is no right or wrong way to go about playing the piano. Just take this advice for what it is, one pianist sharing his thoughts with another.
Any advice for someone my age just starting out on the piano?
First of all, learn your music theory. It’s the least fun part of learning to play the piano by far, but gaining an understanding theory, even to a modest degree, is what made the ‘light’ go on for me when I first started playing the piano as a serious hobby. Without an understanding of basic music theory I would have never gotten anywhere as a pianist or recording artist.
Secondly, listen to a lot of piano music. Buy some George Winston CDs, or even my own or David Lanz’s. Then pick out some of the slow songs, sit at the piano with your CD player beside you, and figure out, by ear, what notes are being played. This helps train your hearing so you can, over time, recognize notes, intervals, and chord patterns. It sounds difficult, and it is at first, but you’ll find that over time you’ll get better at it. When I first started getting serious about the piano, it wasn’t uncommon for me to do this very thing using Winston’s music.
Also, as you listen to the CDs, you’ll begin to see that pianists tend to repeat similar patterns from song to song in their music. In my own songs for example, the bass (left hand) is fairly simple – My tendency is just to play octaves and fifths with small embellishments. Even something that sounds complicated, like my song ‘Ascending with Angels‘ from my CD The The Last Waking Moment, is actually very easy if you sit down and work it out.
The point is, you don’t have to try and learn the whole song at once. Once you learn the ‘main’ thing that’s going on, in many cases that theme is repeated throughout with very small changes. That’s definitely the case with my compositions, which have a very song-like structure. My songs are often A-B-A-B-C-A-like in their composition. The differences in similar sections are small, involving octave changes and small embellishments to keep it interesting.
What would you say my practice sessions should focus on. Should I learn scales, practice chord progressions or….? It’s just that I want to use my time effectively in order to better my playing skills and understanding of music theory.
It depends on what your end-goal is. Scales really improve your dexterity and help your fingers ‘get to know’ the piano. Scales also go hand-in-hand with theory, because if you know what key you’re in when you start out a song, your fingers will ‘know’ the sharps and flats you’ll be playing automatically without your having to think about it so much.
My advice is to work on your scales, but don’t obsess over them. In other words, don’t make mastering scales your goal. Just work on them as part of your ‘warm up’. If you mess them up, so what! Play them a couple times and move on. Over time you will improve, and your scales will become more accurate as you develop your overall skill as a pianist. Also, as one of my beginning piano teachers wisely told me, play your scales slowly at first. You don’t need to play them at light speed to get the benefit.
For me personally, as a writer and composer, developing the ear’s ability to recognize intervals between notes was the most important thing. But like everything else, that just comes from practice (see answer above).
Ask yourself this: What is your goal as a piano player? Do you want to play sheet music by sight, or are you wanting to write, compose, and improvise?
I’m totally ‘ear’ oriented, and as a result of that I don’t sight-read sheet music well. On the other hand, I can improvise, pretty much making up a song or a theme on the spot.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of pianists: those that improvise really well (playing by ear), and those that sight read sheet music very well (playing by sight). It’s rare to find a pianist who doesboth very well. Those that do are *exceptionally* talented! My wife, for example, can sight-read well, playing almost any sheet music you put in front of her (she’s classically trained). However, she can’t sit down and the piano and just make something up. Her brain doesn’t work that way.
Whichever approach you take, theory is important. My mind is very mathmatical, so understanding theory helped me to ‘see’ chord patterns in the keyboard. For those that are sight-readers, theory helps you to ‘see’ the patterns in the sheet music and convey that to your fingers.
The two different approaches to playing the piano can create an interesting conundrum. When I have new sheet music made for my songs, before I make them public I have my wife play them for me to make sure they are correct. I can’t sit down and play the sheet music myself, even though they are my own songs! If I try to do it, it totally freaks my brain out! Weird, huh? But once I take the sheet music away and just focus on the playing, I’m fine.
Finally, a reminder to pianists of all levels. Playing the piano isn’t just about hitting the right notes, it’s about expression. It’s a tool to express emotion, thought, and longing. If you play it that way, even imperfectly, you’ll sound better than the best player in the world who plays correctly but with no feeling.
Which would be a better buy? An acoustic or a digital piano?
Before anything else, let me give you my definition of what a digital piano really is. Although some electronic musical instruments can also reproduce the sound of a piano (examples are music workstations, sound modules, sample-based synthesizers, software and hardware samplers), this article refers to a digital piano as an instrument that integrates a keyboard controller with a sample playback device that specializes in piano sounds. Digital pianos vary in shapes and sizes. Some (like the ones designed for home use) may resemble the look of an upright acoustic piano. But others may resemble the look of modern synthesizers or music workstations. These are called stage pianos. They are generally lighter since they dont usually include internal loudspeakers and amplification.
If you were to ask me the above question 20 years ago (when our home piano was still brand new and digital pianos sounded crappy), I may have answered acoustic piano. But today, with the advent of modern and state-of-the-art sampling technologies I may have changed my mind. Especially now that our home piano started to show some signs of wear, such as broken strings, worn out keys, and detuning (my brother somehow got tired of constantly doing tuning jobs). Furthermore, the modern digital piano has become more and more similar to its acoustic counterpart both in sound and feel. Most of them utilize multi-sampled piano sounds. This means that samples are recorded from a real piano at different levels of loudness, so that if you lightly press a key in a digital piano, the soft recording is sounded. If you pound on the keys, the loud sample is used instead. This is necessary because in a real piano, the timbre and not just the loudness changes with the pressure applied to the keys. Some newer models even have different sets of samples for each key in the piano. And still others produce even the most intricate sounds of the pianos internal machinery such as a hint of a hammer striking the string, the delicate sound produce by the keys as you release them, and even the discrete sound of the damper pedal being depressed or released. All these combine to produce an amazingly realistic piano sound. Most models may also likely to incorporate graded hammer action. This simply means that the keys progressively become heavier as you go down the lower pitched keys – much like in the real acoustic piano – for more expressive playing.
Some experts may argue that acoustic pianos sound better than their digital counterpart. But for the untrained ear (and admit it, most of us are) the difference is not at all noticeable, especially in recorded music. Some newer and more expensive models of digital piano such as Rolands KR series even went to the extent of sampling string harmonics, and even include an actual soundboard to faithfully capture the vibrance of a real concert grand. With these recent developments, a question arises: What set these two types of pianos apart? This article tries to point out the advantages and downsides of using each type of model which may guide newbie piano buyers what model to choose.
Let me point out that the extreme digital piano features explained above may only be present in newer and more expensive models. If you are an amateur digital piano buyer and looking for an entry level model (or a used one), chances are, these may fall short of the genuine article. Nevertheless, most digital pianos have certain advantages over the real one. These include the following:
Digital pianos are generally less expensive. So if your on a budget, a digital piano may be the right one for you.
They are generally lighter and more compact. If room space is your concern, then you may choose to have a digital piano. Also, if you are a gigging musician, it is easier to transport a digital stage piano. It fits nicely at the backseat or even the trunk of most cars.
They do not require tuning. As with most string instruments, an acoustic piano lacks the ability to stay in tune. Tuning the piano yourself is a painstaking process and hiring somebody to do it means additional expense for you. On this aspect, a digital piano is a better choice.
They may include many more instrument sounds. You are not limited with only one piano sound. These may include different types of piano sounds such as modern pianos, electric pianos such as Rhodes, as well as organ, guitar, and string sounds. It may also be possible to layer two or more sounds together to produce some interesting effects. Some newer models even include hundreds more sounds and act as music workstations.
They may incorporate a MIDI implementation. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a technology that was created in the 1980s that provides various digital musical instruments and computers a standard way to communicate with each other. What this does is that it allows you to expand the capabilities of your digital piano by connecting it to external sound modules, sequencers, and computers. It also lets you playback standard MIDI files – available from various locations – on your piano making it act as a pianolla without the bulky and ungainly roll of punched paper.
They may provide a way to record and store your performances. Most models of digital pianos have built in sequencers with at least two tracks. So that if you have a sudden surge of inspiration, you can instantly record your music and store it (on disk, smart media, or to your computer) and play it back at a later time.
They may include a interactive learning assist feature. This is useful for those beginning to learn how to play piano. Eliminating the need for a piano teacher. (Bad news for them.) If you are a beginner, try asking your piano dealer what models have this feature.
They usually include headphone output. If you suddenly feel a surge of inspiration in the middle of the night, you need not worry that you might wake up other members of your household or even your neighbors.
They often have a transposition feature. Now this is what I like about digital musical instruments because I always hated having to manually transpose a tune. With this feature, you could play a tune in a convenient key but actually heard in another.
They almost always include an audio output. This eliminates the use of microphones when recording your music and the problems associated with them like feedbacks and noises. This greatly simplifies the recording process.
Some of the features may or may not be included in some models. Just ask your music dealer about them.
I can not say much about acoustic pianos. But this does not mean that I am bias about digital pianos. Acoustic pianos also have advantages over the digital piano. Foremost of them is the sound quality. Experts will definitely argue that the acoustic piano sounds infinitely better than its digital counterpart. The reason for this is that there are crucial physical and mathematical aspects of an acoustic piano that are difficult if not impossible to accurately duplicate in digital format.
An example is when the damper pedals are depressed, the keys that are not struck vibrate sympathetically when other keys are struck. This have the effect of having a fuller more resonant sound in acoustic pianos. (Although, as mentioned earlier in this article, progress is being made in digital music to emulate sympathetic vibrations and string harmonics.)
Another aspect where acoustic pianos are better than digital ones is its unlimited polyphony. Polyphony refers to the number of notes that can sound simultaneously. Digital pianos have limited polyphony which tend to become a problem when executing complex and thick passages especially if the damper pedals are depressed. (Digital piano polyphony ranges from 32 to 120 notes. But of course, progress is also being made to extend this limit.
Furthermore, acoustic pianos doesn’t need electric power to function. So you can still enjoy playing your instrument even when there is no available electrical power. In our village in the Philippines where power outages often occur, this aspect proved to be a great advantage.
Lastly, acoustic pianos generally last longer. (Although some may argue otherwise.) I once came across a hundred-year-old piano and it is still playable. The reason is that even old and worn out pianos can be reconditioned by replacing a number of parts, and may be made to sound as good as new pianos. Although older pianos tend to sound warmer. I dont know if the same can be said about digital pianos. Technology progresses at a fast pace and this sometimes becomes a disadvantage. To accommodate the manufacture of newer chips, they may stop making the older models. For example, if you bought a synth 20 years ago, chances are it would be difficult for you to find spare parts now, or even a technician who knows the technology. You end up buying a newer model.
I hope this article will help you in deciding what instrument you would choose – digital or acoustic piano. Whatever choice you make, I hope you enjoy making music with your preferred instrument.