Should all musicians learn how to play the piano?

July 25, 2017, 1:48 PM · Seems to be a controversial subject, curious to hear your opinions!

Replies (55)

July 25, 2017, 2:50 PM · My thoughts:

In a word, no. Did Heifetz play piano? Did Milstein or Kreisler? Does Perlman? I could be wrong, but I do not think so. And certainly there are wonderful musicians on other instruments who do not play piano.

But having taking a year of piano lessons on top of 5-6 years of violin studies, I can say it helps tremendously. If you have the opportunity and can manage practicing two instruments (albeit one less than the other most likely), learn piano. I did not find piano hard, either. Especially since I already knew how to read music, about many different composers, etc. from violin. Piano helped me understand harmony and hear basslines better: the violin is almost always playing one line of music but the piano is almost always playing two or more. It also does help to be able to play piano reductions of orchestra parts to concertos and piano parts of sonatas, although many of those are too hard for me, having only taken piano for one year.

Good question.

July 25, 2017, 3:09 PM · Certainly all pianists should learn a second instrument.
July 25, 2017, 3:10 PM · My take on this, based on my childhood experience: There are benefits from it, but I wouldn't call it absolutely essential.

Piano was my first instrument. I started at 7 y/o but didn't get very far before the violin muse grabbed me. Once I'd made the switch, I first played by ear on a half-sized fiddle. But I could read music by then; so when I got hold of my first violin instruction book, I could play basic scales and simple tunes from the book on my own -- before I had my first lessons. Without basic piano instruction -- or, at least, some means of learning to read music before violin -- I don't know how I could have pulled this off.

Edited: July 25, 2017, 3:15 PM · Heifetz, Kreisler and Milstein were all able to play piano - I don't know at what skill levels. I cannot, although I have been able to transfer music from a page to piano keys since I was 5 or so. I wish I could really play it. I did spend a year in my late 60s learning to read "2-hands" but was never able to just sit down and do it and sight-read at useful tempos. I think there is an age at which people can learn to do this fairly readily - my wife learned to play and improvise and to read music at home as a little girl because there was a piano in the house and lots of music. She took lessons as a young teen but the male teacher was not to be trusted - so that ended fast. We have always had a piano at home, since the year after we married and could first afford it.

I think it would be a great idea for budding string players to also learn to play and read music for keyboard instruments at useful levels. So I agree with Helen's ideas.

I wonder if there are people who know how to select the ideal age for specific string players to add piano to their curriculum.

I don't think pianists need to learn to play another instrument unless they want to play in an orchestra or string quartet/serenade.

July 25, 2017, 3:16 PM · I agree with Helen that piano is a universally useful skill for musicians (and basic piano proficiency is typically a requirement for just about any college-level music degree).

However, she's incorrect on the violinists.

Heifetz played the piano -- there are YouTube videos, in fact. He even accompanied his students in classes.

Milstein played the piano -- indeed, at the very end of his life, when injury prevented him playing the violin, he would still play the piano.

Kreisler wrote his own piano accompaniments to his violin works, which suggests that he must have been a reasonably competent pianist.

I don't know if Perlman has basic piano proficiency -- since he's a conservatory graduate I'm guessing he does, although I imagine he would not be able to pedal.

July 25, 2017, 5:46 PM · This reflects in the increasing specialization across academic fields...if we examine the training of musicians in the 17th century and onwards until recent times, musicians were fluent on multiple instruments in the same family, would sing, compose, write counterpoint, etc. Even in conservatories nowadays we still have to pass some kind of basic keyboard competency or take a freshman class on keyboard. Of course you can play your Don Juan excerpt and win a job without playing piano...but having basic keyboard skills at the least is really valuable.
Edited: July 25, 2017, 6:07 PM · One of my fellow pupils at school got an organ scholarship to Cambridge University. When he arrived there he discovered he was required to learn a second instrument. He chose the viola, but as far as I know he never played it after he graduated.

Most professional musicians (and many amateurs) are multi-instrumentalists. To the names of the eminent violinists listed in the last few posts I'd like to add that of the cellist Rostropovitch, who played a Mozart piano concerto in public.

July 25, 2017, 6:46 PM · Everyone should play some piano simply because it is the ultimate theory instrument and every musician should also have at least a working understanding of theory.

It doesn't get any simpler than the notes literally laid out in order - push button make noise. You don't need to become a master pianist or even play at a reasonable level, but you should be able to play scales and chords at the very least.

July 25, 2017, 6:52 PM · It depends on the goal of individual musician. If arrangement and composition are on the horizon, the piano proficiency is a must.

I guess most, if not all, the top string players are at least competent at piano. If I remember correctly, the renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich earned extra cash by playing piano in his student days, and his piano skill was clearly evident in video clips included in the DVD set of the Bach Cello Suites.

July 25, 2017, 7:19 PM · Yes, and pianissimo, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, forte and fortissimo!
July 25, 2017, 7:22 PM · Heifetz, Milstein, and Kreisler all played the piano.
July 25, 2017, 8:25 PM · I don't know. I imagine that this fascination with the instrument is largely a cultural accident ( it is a large and expensive instrument after all...). Basically, we hold it up on a pedestal, because it's traditional, and we all know that the masses of humans generally aren't very good at scrutinizing these kinds of things.

I think any benefit of playing piano as a second instrument could be obtained by picking any second instrument. One might say that it's benefit is in the polyphony that it is capable of, and if that is the case, then why wouldn't instruments like accordion, guitar, harpsichord, and organ work just as well for this purpose? Composers now have software which certainly competes with what composers did on the keyboard prior. I think most of the benefit at this point has to do with how institutionally ingrained the instrument is, and how slow institutions are to update dated curricular requirements.

I also must say that I find the instrument incredibly overrated for the purposes of music theory study, but maybe that is just me. I know that simply playing any instrument at all was sufficient enough for me to learn to hear and analyze things from a theoretical standpoint. Maybe it is good for singers and players of unpitched instruments, as something they can touch and quickly make a palatable sound on to aid their studies, but for, say, a cellist, I don't see how the cello isn't just as helpful, as it still provides visual and tactile input alongside a large range of pitches. I guess you could say it is a bonus if you can accompany your Suzuki book 1 students, but it is certainly not a necessity.

July 25, 2017, 8:33 PM · Lieschen,

Teaching intervals, chord theory, voice leading, etc, on a instrument such as a cello is inefficient. On a piano you can physically show someone a triad and they can easily see the distance of a third between each note. Can you show a triad on a string instrument? Yes, you can show intervals too. But it isn't set up in the way the human brain likes things to be set up - cleanly, in a line, with very clear divisions between each tone, semitone, etc. The relationship to the staff isn't as obvious either - we take this for granted as people who play this instruments with any level of proficiency, but someone new to theory who has never read music before? It's much too abstract when there is an easer and better option.

It doesn't -have- to be a piano. But it does need a keyboard. Many modern composers who use computer software (myself included) use midi keyboard input devices for the simple reason that having all the notes arranged in octaves in a row is simply a superior presentation. It's like how a computer keyboard is better to use for typing than clicking each letter on an onscreen keyboard with a mouse.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 8:52 AM · Well, no one has explained the benefits of playing the piano for a violinist; not convincingly anyway. The fact that JH played the piano is NOT convincing--perhaps he was so good on the violin that he had time to play a second instrument. And frankly, one can pick up all the music theory one needs by playing solo Bach.

There are only 24 hours a day and for an average person it takes a life time of meticulous practice to learn the major repertoire to the point of being performance worthy.

July 25, 2017, 9:15 PM · I agree with David. I honestly think these kinds of things just kind of scratch the right kinds of emotional itches, for whatever irrational reason. Kind of like how most of the security measures implemented by the TSA do more to make people feel nice than to prevent terror attacks, or how sham surgeries often provide relief for chronic pain.
Edited: July 25, 2017, 10:24 PM · David,

Unfortunately music theory has evolved considerably since Bach's death. To say otherwise is, frankly, a gross injustice to music. Bach was the master of his age, and his music will likely forever stand the test of time, but progress did not halt in the baroque.

I don't think everyone should be able to play the piano to a high level, but I do believe everyone should have enough proficiency to work out theory on it. A keyboard based instrument is instrumental to the efficient teaching of music theory. This is the reason the RCM requires candidates for the teachers ARCT, even in instruments without accompanists such as guitar, to have intermediate piano skills. The keyboard is too important of a skill to simply dismiss as 'I don't need this because Bach.' or 'I don't have time to master an instrument'.

Comparing keyboard and theory proficiency to sham surgeries is a little on the offensive side. Will playing piano make you a better violinist? Maybe not - I don't think anyone has said that it is required to be great. But it is certainly an extremely helpful aid to theory, and by relation, musicianship.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 9:00 AM · I happen to think Lieschen is spot on.

Most violinists don't teach music theory. If they do within the context of violin playing, they do it on the violin. I recall Prof. Bruce Berg mentioned that there are now performances degrees where one can concentrate on ones instrument without having to take a load of theory courses. That is good news!

Playing in ensembles is a far more effective and optimal way to develop one's musicianship.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 1:47 AM · Julia Fischer is both a virtuoso violinist and pianist. I think that the ability to play the piano is immeasurably helpful in music as it teaches up how to read more than one clef, and listen and experience harmonies, bass themes and finger dexterity. I don't think it is essential though.
July 26, 2017, 1:53 AM · I suppose then I ought to remove myself from the conversation.

You've offered no real supporting evidence that piano is a pointless activity and are unwilling to even consider the option that it is in fact a useful tool. There is no point in continuing to post debating the topic. As a multi-instrumentalist I have found that every additional instrument I have touched has added insight into the others, as well as theory being perhaps the largest thing to deepen my understanding.

July 26, 2017, 2:12 AM · Oh dear, that's a very narrow mindset to me...

I always find colleagues who are more aware of harmony and theory to be more intelligent musicians. There's a good reason why all major conservatories have basic theory and musicianship requirements for their degrees, including keyboard skills.

Not asking you do play Liszt or do Schekenarian analysis...

Edited: July 26, 2017, 4:14 AM · Lieschen,
If you are an aural learner it's easy to hear internals amd chords to learn theory.

But not all learners are good at this. Even though violin etc. learning frequently weeds out aurally-challenged kids, there are plenty of us who need the simple logical layout of a keyboard to make sense of what we're hearing (to give you a context - it took me years of flute piano amd choir to hear semitones apart and pick the higher/lower note in any interval smaller than a major third).

A guitar or mandolin has frets, so there's a visual element but you still have to mentally cut amd paste each string to "see" the full range of the instrument. Piano makes sense for visual learners.

Also, noone's mentioned the range available on a full-sized keyboard - learning about basslines that are really bass and descants that float above the tune don't make much sense on an instrument with a small range (unless you have a 7 string violin!) So piano's useful for the conposition aspects of theory too.

As far as pianists learning another instrument - unless they're doing lots of chamber music - yes please. Otherwise they don't learn to accompany, which is their bread amd butter, jobwise. I'd love to see major piano syllabuses have an accompaniment requirement, not just the usual study/baroque/classical/romamtic/modern sections. This would teach the skills other instrumemts learn in ensembles.

July 26, 2017, 4:33 AM · Oops - I WAS wrong about the violinists I mentioned in my first post. I'm very sorry. My point was, as some others have mentioned, that you can become a great musician without knowing piano. But, knowing piano has great advantages.
July 26, 2017, 6:29 AM · It seems the piano is fast becoming the second most controversial topic after the shoulder rest. Amusing!
July 26, 2017, 6:44 AM · Though it's already been pointed out, I will also get on board by saying that Heifetz and Kreisler were very accomplished pianists. I don't know if Milstein was a pianist on that level but he played it well enough to help makes his arrangements. Grumiaux was so good on both instruments that as a young man he had trouble for a while deciding which to specialize in. And Julia Fischer's dual career is just amazing to me!

I'd agree with the word, "Should"; I wouldn't go so far as "must". It's part of being a complete musician and some basic piano classes are required for non-pianists at most conservatoires. It does lend itself more to illustrating theory, for score-reading etc. And for teachers, it's good to be able to accompany your students. You don't need to become a virtuoso for any of the above - an intermediate level, somewhat well kept up would do. And I regret that I never achieved that level.

BTW, I do teach some basic theory as needed to my violin students. And Rocky - good one! ;-)

July 26, 2017, 6:58 AM · I think learning the piano would be helpful in developing a strong sense of rhythm (polyrhythms in particular).
Edited: July 26, 2017, 9:26 AM · Mike, I can't prove a negative; i.e. I can not offer evidence that piano playing is NOT helpful. The burden is on those who think piano playing is helpful to violin playing to show that it is.

So far the the major argument for the piano is that it is helpful for learning theory. As it has bee mentioned, one can learn theory from playing the violin AND from many well developed software!

Another argument for the piano is for developing musicianship. That can be developed much more optimally by playing chamber music and in orchestras.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 9:28 AM · No.

Having said that, I always felt my piano lessons were more "formal" than violin lessons, meaning that piano teachers usually teach far more music theory than violin teachers, although this may be necessary due to the fact that piano is a much more versatile instrument than violin, maybe requiring a more abstract kind of knowledge because of that.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 9:38 AM · Mike, I never said that it is entirely pointless to learn piano. If it speaks to you and you want to play two instruments, or have it as your first, then go ahead. My point is that it isn't somehow better than other instruments. I think a violinist would benefit just as much by adding the clarinet, or the hurdy gurdy. There are quite a few curricular practices that are either outdated or only work for a very specific kind of student, and this is one of them ( solfege is another example ).

Now the idea of piano catering to a specific learning style when it comes to theory and aural skills is quite a slippery slope. There is much debate as to what it even means to have a learning style and to support it, and to whether they even exist as we speak of them at all. There certainly is no empirical evidence that those with piano skills have superior theory knowledge or aural skills, but hey, how often do schools implement evidence based practices? And even if it were as simple and clear cut as you describe it, it certainly isn't fair to subject all students to the exact same method for learning information, a practice that education seems to unfortunately continue to follow out of convenience and dogma.

July 26, 2017, 10:38 AM · David,

Piano is not just useful for music theory; it is an essential tool for music arrangement and composition. The vast majority of MIDI input devices are keyboards, not miniature versions of violin/viola/cello/guitar. Keyboard instruments have the immediate appeal of natural visual cue. Also double-, triple- stops do not pose any problems on the piano.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 11:04 AM · I play the piano about as well as I do the violin. I have found what I have learned through piano to be immeasurably valuable to my study of the violin. First of all, as has been mentioned already, music theory on the piano is "visual." All the scales, intervals, chords, etc. are laid out right in front of you. I agree also that piano training improves your grasp of rhythm. Piano instruction has always emphasized sight-reading so that aspect of my violin playing is very strong. Second, I can accompany string players especially my own kids, that's just a really great experience. If the accompaniments are too hard I either get simplified editions like "Frustrated Accompanist" or I ask a pro to sit in for that one. And when studying a new violin piece it's very useful to be able to read -- and play -- what is going on in the piano score; even if it's a reduction that's helpful.

These days one can get started with a digital piano like the Yamaha P-255 for around $1200 complete with a stand and a seat. In our area that's the cost of 20 1-hour violin lessons. I've paid for all my gear (digital piano, PA, etc.) playing jazz gigs, several times over. One thing -- if you do get a digital piano it is nice if it has built-in speakers even if they're not great, and you MUST try it yourself to make sure it has a realistic keyboard feel. You won't get that for under $1000. If I were starting now I'd get the Yamaha CP4. Check out kraftmusic.com for good prices, and if you need advice call them and ask for Adam.

July 26, 2017, 11:02 AM · Sung,

You don't need an external MIDI input device to compose and arrange. You simply need a computer with its own working keyboard in order to use the software. Using the external keyboard to compose really isn't any faster, because you still have to clean up whatever goes in, as the software often spells things strangely or gives you a rhythm you didn't play.

I have taken three semesters of orchestration and counterpoint, and not once did I need to touch a piano in order to receive a good grade in those classes. Most of our assignments involved either arranging, composing short pieces in the style of various composers, and doing species and modal counterpoint exercises. We also had readings of things we arranged for orchestra or choir each semester as part of our final exam.

Also. you can find examples of both easy and difficult chords on both piano and stringed instruments. I would reckon that a violinist who wants to compose using an instrument is going to have a much easier time using their violin to do this than a piano if they have never played before.

July 26, 2017, 11:09 AM · Well, I would say that the usefulness of the external keyboard for composition depends on the extent to which the player has become "one" with the piano keyboard. If ideas flow out of you into the piano faster than they do into a computer mouse, then you're better off with the external MIDI input. It's a bit like using voice-recognition software to take dictation ... you learn to speak a little more clearly...
Edited: July 26, 2017, 11:48 AM · Paul,

I have been taking my 5 year-old daughter to piano lessons for a year. I don't know if "i am one with the keyboard", but i know the keyboard to the extend that I can play all the tunes my daughter has learned and is learning, and I can play chords in different keys and so on.

But I rather be practicing my violin because the only way I can play the Bruch g minor better, it seems to me, is to practice the Bruch g minor and g minor scales in thirds,octaves, tenths and so on.

Edited: July 26, 2017, 9:00 PM · Here is an example of a violinist playing piano and how it could come in handy.

Stephane Grappelli, piano and Ivry Gitlis, violin

July 27, 2017, 4:20 PM · Yes.
Because it would help my business as a piano tuner.
July 28, 2017, 5:11 PM · That reminds me I need to have my piano tuned. It's pretty good considering it's been three years.

Funny side-note. Last time my piano tuner was here he *proved* to me that my Yamaha digital piano is not actually in tune. We counted beats together on a few thirds and he explained that those were not the correct beat frequencies for those intervals. I bet they randomize it slightly to make it sound more realistic.

July 29, 2017, 7:31 AM · "I think any benefit of playing piano as a second instrument could be obtained by picking any second instrument. One might say that it's benefit is in the polyphony that it is capable of, and if that is the case, then why wouldn't instruments like accordion, guitar, harpsichord, and organ work just as well for this purpose? Composers now have software which certainly competes with what composers did on the keyboard prior. I think most of the benefit at this point has to do with how institutionally ingrained the instrument is, and how slow institutions are to update dated curricular requirements."

Lieschen, have you played a keyboard instrument to any significant degree? If so, do you remember what was hard about it? The argument contrasting piano with harpsichord and organ is rather weak, as it's like arguing against learning violin because violas exist or against alto sax because tenors exist -- you would generally learn on one member of the family before moving on to another, and one need not be ignored because of another.

The piano is simply an easier instrument to write and perform polyphony and counterpoint on, and while you can develop some of those skills in advanced violin playing with great difficulty, for piano they're basics.

And just as a solo piano performance is a more complete musical experience than a solo violin, clarinet, or horn, etc., being able to play a piano makes one a more complete musician and musical performer than only being able to play an ensemble instrument.

July 29, 2017, 12:08 PM · J Ray, to answer your question. I don't know. It depends on what you mean by significant. I fulfilled my school's requirement of secondary piano, and also took some lessons along with that. I reached probably an early intermediate level. I have also tried several other instruments. I have tried clarinet, viola, singing, and a smidgen of guitar, and recorder. And I can say that they were all equally hard, but in their own ways, but that none in particular made me a better musician than the other just by sheer virtue of its status as whatever instrument it was.

For piano in particular, the hardest things for me were being able to reach certain chords due to my small hand size, and hand independence. My teachers even said that I had really really small hands, and that it probably would have hindered me in huge parts of the repertoire had it been my main instrument. At least I can play whatever someone with huge hands can play on violin or viola, as long as something with 10ths in half position doesn't become standard repertoire any time soon. When it came time to do piano, I could already read music, and had tested out of theory and aural skills, so that wasn't an issue. I learned theory and aural skills prior to this via textbooks, a little bit of exercises online, and classes involving lots of dictation and voice leading exercises.

Likewise, on clarinet, the hardest part was building the lung capacity and air distribution to get through long phrases without having to breathe in the middle and play at a decent volume, which certainly is a non-issue for piano. I found diction and placement tough when it came to singing. I could go on about each instrument I have tried, they all have their own challenges, and are equally hard to master. I just didn't see what the big deal was with piano, and felt like the school requirement was rather superfluous and from a time before software for ear training, theory, and composition existed, which is fairly recent. It's a great instrument for sure, and I have nothing against pianists, but I think we really put it up on a strange pedestal.

Now I am not saying you should only pick one instrument out of a family and ignore the others, but I do think that the choice of which one to start on within a particular family is rather arbitrary to an extent. I don't think there is any good reason ( maybe someone who has tried multiple keyboard instruments could fill us in ) other than tradition that piano became the preferred starter instrument in the keyboard family, and that composers flocked to it. Harpsichords existed before then, and organs way before either harpsichord or piano. It's kind of like how most violists start on violin, but starting on viola without violin can be just fine as well.

One could say that one reason piano is favored over harpsichord is for its much bigger dynamic range, but harpsichords also have attributes pianos do not, such as more than one manual, and a plucked string mechanism.
As for piano being the easiest to write polyphony and counterpoint on, I am sure Bach would have disagreed with you as an organist, as I think this could be accomplished in a similar way with any keyboard instrument, and perhaps even guitar.

As for your last point. I don't even know where to begin. Saying that piano is a "more complete musical experience", sounds somewhat insulting, and trivializes the equal amount of work put in by those playing other instruments. Are you basically saying that, say, Sarah Willis, principal horn of the Berlin philharmonic is inferior and has a less complete musical experience than Evgeny Kissin? How does this even compute in your mind?

And, have you ever heard of a piano trio? A piano quartet? Piano four hands? Those are standard ensembles in which piano is a staple, and to claim that piano is not an ensemble instrument sounds quite ignorant. It is an ensemble instrument just like everything else. You even see it written into some orchestral works. Did you make that statement just because you don't see a piano section with 10 pianos in an orchestra?

I unfortunately somehow wouldn't be surprised if some dean or donor somewhere calling the shots at schools had the same mentality.

Edited: July 29, 2017, 5:41 PM · > it is an essential tool for music arrangement and composition.

I disagree. Modern software uses input methods that are equally as fast (or faster) for non-keyboard players to write music. I've arranged hundreds of works for string quartet and orchestras using Sibelius and MuseScore, and can input rhythms/notes much faster than trying to play it in real-time using a MIDI device.

July 30, 2017, 9:27 AM · Gene, I completely agree. Our 10 fingers are no match for the computer when it comes to efficiency in notation. An orchestration teacher of mine once told us how lucky we were to be able to have notation software instead of having to bang on the piano and write it all out by hand like he did, and he predicted that most of us would have quit composing early on if we had to go through all of the labor that he did in the writing process.
July 30, 2017, 10:43 AM · I agree that as an "input device" the MIDI keyboard is overrated -- unless one wants to capture very complicated, spontaneous polyphonic improvisations.

Lieschen wrote, "Are you basically saying that, say, Sarah Willis, principal horn of the Berlin philharmonic is inferior and has a less complete musical experience than Evgeny Kissin? How does this even compute in your mind?"

I respectfully suggest that you refrain from twisting people's words in an effort to amplify your righteous indignation. Your willful misrepresentation of J's remarks is exactly what is wrong with modern public discourse. J said that a piano *performance* is a more complete musical experience than a performance by a monophonic instrument. J didn't say or imply that playing the horn is "inferior." And he didn't say that piano isn't ever an ensemble instrument; only that the piano isn't confined to ensemble musical roles, unlike (to use your example) the horn.

How many solo horn recitals (without accompaniment) have you attended? Have you ever heard of a hornist performing a solo recital in a sold-out hall that seats 1000+ people? Kissin could do that at least weekly, probably even more, if he really wanted to.

Here's another interesting fact to ponder: Why has most of the greatest western music been composed by people who are principally keyboard players ... including violin concertos? Is that mere happenstance? Or is there something about studying the piano that develops one's musical cortex differently?

July 30, 2017, 3:12 PM · "Here's another interesting fact to ponder: Why has most of the greatest western music been composed by people who are principally keyboard players ... including violin concertos? Is that mere happenstance? Or is there something about studying the piano that develops one's musical cortex differently?"

I wrote in my first post that playing piano helped me to hear basslines and understand harmony better. That could have something to do with it.

"How many solo horn recitals (without accompaniment) have you attended? Have you ever heard of a hornist performing a solo recital in a sold-out hall that seats 1000+ people? Kissin could do that at least weekly, probably even more, if he really wanted to."

"J said that a piano *performance* is a more complete musical experience than a performance by a monophonic instrument."

So, my reaction to J's remark was similar to Lieschen's, and I certainly do not mean to misrepresent what he said. I do not understand how piano, or even just a piano performance, is a "more complete musical experience" than playing any other instrument. But what exactly do we mean by "a complete musical experience?" Paul, I hope I am misunderstanding your remarks that I copied because it seems like you said that a "more complete musical experience" means a solo recital with a ton of people in the hall. I myself can not really give a concrete definition to "complete musical experience" but if that is what you mean, I disagree quite strongly.

July 30, 2017, 4:49 PM · Why has most of the greatest western music been composed by people who are principally keyboard players?

This is a very broad question. I am sure you would get many different answers depending on who you asked. I will assume you mean western classical music, and not western music such as jazz, or rock, because those genres have non-keyboard figures abound, and that you are talking about music ( Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc. ) that most classical musicians would agree is in some sort of masterpiece cannon.
I think it is partially happenstance, since piano became a huge cultural icon in Europe for no particular reason, but also, before there were good ways of playing music back, that was the cheapest and most convenient method for representing large textures. These days, if we open our minds just enough to allow a great contemporary composer into the cannon, there is absolutely no longer any reason that they would need to have piano skills, or that this would be a huge advantage.
It has been shown so far that the brains of instrumentalists do undergo some changes which have to do specifically with their instrument. A pianist or drummer would show for instance a different activity pattern when trying to tap separate rhythms in each hand, than would a flutist, but we are not nearly ready to jump to any sort of theories about which types of instrumentalists would make better composers and which brain activity is responsible, and I don't know if we will ever be able to make such a generalization.

I haven't seen any unaccompanied horn recitals, nor have I heard of any selling out to huge crowds like those of great pianists have done, but I think that the reasons for this are complex and multifaceted. I don't think it can be boiled down to a solo piano performance providing some sort of enhanced experience over all other instruments. Any instrument played well enough provides quite a fine musical experience. And I have to say that if you make this statement, you are implying that somehow no matter what a non-pianist does, the experience the audience has from hearing them play will never measure up to what a pianist can provide.

On one hand, the composers who just happened to be entered into the cannon wrote huge amounts of solo piano repertoire, and notably wrote very little solo repertoire for almost every other instrument. This is probably in part because they were sitting at a keyboard anyway due to the earlier convenience factors mentioned above, and because of the cultural popularity.
And because these days classical music doesn't readily welcome many new works into the "greats", much of the new music written for a more diverse set of instruments that highly accomplished players of other instruments could be playing in Carnegie Hall to sold out crowds gets essentially ignored by both audiences and players alike in favor of established warhorse affair such as Beethoven, in which of course, the horn parts stay in the orchestra.
Then you have the cultural obsession with youth and precocity. A person can physically access a piano as soon as they can sit on the bench, making the instrument lend itself to more prodigies, and thus more attention from the public. The average tubist gets to start around when the average piano prodigy ceases to be a cute circus act. For whatever twisted evolutionary reason, lots of people don't like to see their favorite star soloists start to emerge only once most car companies will rent to them. Then there are some questions. Do true soloists only gravitate to instruments like piano, violin, and cello? Does the pedagogy of "solo" instrument differ in some fundamental way to that of instruments that are not "solo"?
On top of all this, the media drives the idea of the piano soloist home even harder with movies, news stories, and documentaries, and all this creates the comfort zone of the public.
And most people lack the autonomy and curiosity to want to go hear someone play some obscure music written for some instrument they have never even heard of in its own solo recital. It's quite sad really, and it will be quite difficult to remedy the situation, but it all starts with the ability to recognize what we are dealing with. And, to get back to the initial question, it's understandable with all of this implicit bias being hammered into us about the piano, that we would think it has some sort of benefit to other instrumentalists by its sole virtue of being a piano.

Edited: July 30, 2017, 7:48 PM · If I have "implicit bias" regarding the piano, it comes from having studied both violin and piano throughout my childhood and sporadically in later years. The piano is in many ways an incredibly limited instrument. Once you play a note, you cannot control how it decays, and it cannot grow. And there is no vibrato, and you have to accept whatever temperament has been set by the tuner. And yet I probably owe at least 80% of my overall musicality to the study of the piano, even though I enjoy playing the violin more.

It is just really hard to shake the notion that the reason so little is written for solo monophonic instrumentation is because, in general, people don't listen to it -- that is what my remark about the dearth of truly "solo" instrumental recitals was meant to convey. And if they don't listen to it, why don't they? Surely there must be more to that than blaming popular media. The dominance of the piano (keyboard instruments more generally) as a solo instrument predates the advent of documentary movies. The guitar ranks second.

At least with the violin one can play double stops and chords. This is totally impossible on orchestral wind instruments. A "complete musical experience" includes melody, rhythm (including polyrhythm), harmony, dynamics, ornamentation, and compositional structure. A single line can imply its underlying harmony, but as anyone who has studied the Bach S&P can tell you, conveying that harmonic sense to the listener is not a trivial task, especially from the Romantic era onward where harmony became more complex and nuanced, and less "predictable."

I would argue that if you want your child a good chance to become a professional hornist, start them on the piano at a young age. (You mentioned Sarah Willis? Her bio includes this statement: "I’d played the piano from a young age and so was used to doing practice. My parents were quite strict about it, something I’m very grateful for.")

July 31, 2017, 4:52 AM · I'm a beginner with the violin in his mid 20s who has played the piano since childhood (I've just finished Suzuki 3, and I'm learning vibrato and 3rd position).

I don't think every musician should learn the piano, but, in my own personal experience, playing it is helping me inmensely to learn the violin. Both are wonderful and hard intruments. The piano can become very difficult to coordinate when you are playing multiple voices at the same time (Bach's fugues, for instance). And in other kind of pieces, you still need to decide which subtle voice goes in "2nd or 3rd position". With the violin you must be careful with the intonation, but you just have one melodic line, which makes scores easier to study.

The violin has affected the way I play the piano, and the piano is helping me to learn the violin. Since I started with the violin, I play the piano in a more lyric and beautiful way... that was a non-expected side effect!

July 31, 2017, 5:33 AM · I think with the possibility of piano excerps of the whole orchestra it is a must for every musician that seriously tries to understand classical compositions.
Before I play a violin concerto it is quite usefull to me to play the orchestra part on the piano, and I know the same about a lot of important violinists.
As it is the most polyphonic Instrument with easy access, I think yes, every musician should.
Edited: July 31, 2017, 6:30 AM · as a Violinist learning Piano helped me a lot.(Aural skills and Solfege/better realization and understanding of what i wrote when i solve a Harmony problem and....
however i had a hard time finding a suitable instructor.
i'm already Dealing with a lot of Sevcik,Schradieck etc. so i can't and i don't want to practice alloys schmidt and endless Czerny studies one after another all day long like i don't have anything else to do.my first Piano instructor didn't understand that i can't spend my whole day on technical exercises such as Hanon and Schmidt so i switched but the next one didn't have the scientific approach and the skill of the first instructor.finally i found someone who understand that i'm serious about learning Piano but i also dedicated myself to another instrument.
i think it's harder for People who learn Piano as a secondary instrument to find a good teacher compared to those who want to become a Pianist.
July 31, 2017, 7:00 AM · Absolutely, yes. It's simply the easiest way to conceptualize scales, chords and harmonies. I wish my own keyboard skills were much better than they are.

In some countries, a year of piano is required *before* the student is allowed to play another instrument. While I can understand why this might be frustrating if the student is not interested in piano, I think it's pedagogically sound in terms of training good musicians.

July 31, 2017, 7:17 AM · I dont know if this forced year is really helping. It may built up frustration and what is a year of learning an instrument? At least I needed more than a year on the piano to get to the "usefull" stuff (and I wish I would play better).
Edited: July 31, 2017, 8:03 AM · Mohammad, it really depends what you mean by "learning piano." If you just want to get the point where you can read the grand staff and use that to understand harmonies and polyrhythms, then you can skip the Czerny and the Hanon and be satisfied with the low level of reading technique that you will get from slopping through the Suzuki or John Thompson books. But if you actually want to learn to *play* the piano at a reasonable level of skill, then you already know from your violin work that studies are indispensable. Your "skillful / scientific" teacher understood this. Of course we all know about hindsight, but one thing I wish I had done as a youngster is more Czerny.
July 31, 2017, 9:57 AM · Kudos to whoever mentioned Julia Fischer. She is awesome. I can't think of any other musician that has performed the Grieg piano concerto and Saint Saens 3 in one concert setting.
July 31, 2017, 11:28 AM · Marc, I think the idea is less to learn piano technique and more to use the piano as a tool to learn basic music theory. It is much easier to conceptualize what a major chord is when you can just press three keys and get it as opposed to trying to use a string or wind instrument to build that understanding. It's likely not a perfect system, but I can at least understand the philosophy behind it.
July 31, 2017, 12:17 PM · I had music theory lessons as a child and of course the piano was always part of it, but I never needed to play it myself for this. What I think of is on a higher level.
As I child I had to learn the flute forst before I could choose my own instrument, it was very common in my region.
I dont think there is any perfect system. I hate to build up pressure on children and I give my son all free space he needs, but I know this way he will propably not become a professional musician (not that he mentioned he wants to).
Edited: July 31, 2017, 11:34 PM · "i think it's harder for People who learn Piano as a secondary instrument to find a good teacher compared to those who want to become a Pianist."

Not necessarily. Finding a good teacher is both a challenge for any instrument and also quite feasible at an amateur level, as the vast majority of students of any instrument will not become professionals.

Piano teachers, just like teachers of other instruments, are also divided on the emphasis on technique and technical exercises in particular. I've worked with both kinds, one who would emphasize scales and exercises daily, and another who would do that annually. It would be wrong however to rank one better than the other on that basis, as both have produced fine players. It would also be wrong to assume that the teacher who doesn't require daily exercises doesn't value them -- it's largely a matter of time allocation, and that teacher happened to spend a lot of time instead on theory and sight reading.

Good teachers are also interested in achieving results with their students, so obviously if you go to them saying that you're going put their instrument second and focus on another one primarily, you're not going to be motivating them to take you on.

I think time and energy are the main limiting factors here. Obviously if they weren't limited there would be no harm and only gain in learning additional instruments.

August 2, 2017, 7:45 AM · I personally think they should. Learning the piano will never hurt you and will only help.

Learning the piano will show you just how much more difficult it is to play the violin. If you can't learn at least basic piano, you probably shouldn't attempt violin.

The piano is basically a big harp layed sideways. I always looked at it like that to remind myself it is a stringed instrument instead of a big box that makes sound.The intervals are the same repeated all the way up. If you can discover one octave you can play the rest. The piano is one of the simplest instruments to learn in my opinion.

Piano instruction is especially helpful in discovering the interplay between notes and chord structures. I can't think of anything else that will allow a person to find and play a complex musical idea as fast. You can play the bass part, the cello part and the violin part all at the same time.

The violin is mostly a monophonic instrument. Some will disagree because it can be chorded to some extent. I view it as mostly monophonic and this is a limitation to extensive musical exploration.



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