Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: August 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM [UTC]
When I pointed out that we did not actually have a piano in the house, she relented. This meant, though, that I learned the violin first, well before I learned piano.
A certain school of thought holds that a child should first learn the piano, in order to understand the basics of theory and reading. Only after having a rudimentary level of piano skill should one move on to other instruments.
This is certainly not always practical, nor is it the way things seem to happen in the world! But, having recently enjoyed a year of piano lessons, I found that the whole endeavor really did strengthen my core musicianship, and I say this as a person with a music degree, as a longtime orchestra player, as a longtime teacher, etc. etc. I took piano in college, but it was a rather hurried and practical program aimed to push every student into a decent level of proficiency. By contrast, over the last year I enjoyed taking some time to think, enjoy and explore the piano.
How about you? What is your relationship to the piano? Is it something you learned, ever? Did you do it before or after the violin? Do you have a good level of proficiency?
The piano is a joy, I play mostly jazz now, with a few local groups and jazz singers. I also accompany most of my daughter's violin recitals as well as her Suzuki violin class.
Even though they do not make small versions of the piano (or do they?), little kids adapt to it. It's a plus that they cannot reach the pedals because they are forced to learn to play true legato using their hands.
The piano has the distinct advantage that you can see all your basic theory right in front of you. Otherwise I don't really see why someone who wants to learn the violin should spend some interval of time learning the piano first. Also my opinion is that self-teaching on the piano is not nearly as perilous as it is on the violin. Yes, there are things you can get wrong, but they're easier to undo later and not as likely to cause injury. So if you only have money for lessons on one instrument, get them on the violin.
Nowadays there is the other advantage that a digital piano can actually be a pretty darned good instrument and you can practice in near-silence with headphones. People say they don't go out of tune, but one assumes that they are in tune to begin with -- which my piano tuner proved otherwise.
My piano teacher was terrific; very patient and thorough, and gave a great grounding in the basics of reading, counting, listening, etc. I'm very grateful for that.
I started piano lessons again in college with a TA to do the piano requirement in undergrad, but haven't played since. I've thought about taking it up again, purely for study and fun, but the time...
Piano recitals are such a joy to attend. The literature is wonderful, and endless. I especially appreciate listening to someone suffer through some terribly difficult piece and thinking "Thank goodness I don't have to practice THAT!"
However, that exposure was not wasted: it was a great framework for music theory, chords, and reading bass clef (which helped for dabbling in the cello, and vocal music -- after my voice changed). I can still pick out simple stuff to help with choral parts.
Having piano lessons for 5 years or so also gave me a deep appreciation for piano music and pianists, plus organ and harpsichord.
Little geek that I was, I found Hanon's 60 Exercises more engaging than the familiar tunes that most kids on the block could hum along to.
Then the violin muse grabbed me. A professional orchestra played at my elementary school. Now I could see how string players actually brought to life some of the scores I'd heard at home. I told my parents I'd like to switch to violin. They consented. My piano never really advanced beyond beginner stage.
Before I had a violin teacher, I started fingering and bowing basic tunes by ear on a half-sized fiddle. Then I got hold of my first violin instruction book, watched two other kids play from the same book, and started playing from it on my own. Thanks to piano training, I could already read music -- plus I already knew a lot of theory. When I started with my first teacher soon afterward, she was very pleased. I had definitely found the right instrument for me.
My experience was that mediocrity, defined by when people other than my parents could listen without wincing, was more easily reached on the piano simply because of the intonation issue, Dont enter your child into a mixed-instrument competition unless at least one of the judges is a violinist, because pianists, they just dont get it. They dont understand how hard it is just to play in tune.
I am certainly no expert on the piano, though. I can play through Suzuki book 1, and I can accompany my little sisters in their violin/cello pieces when necessary, but I certainly cannot pick up Für Elise and just play it.
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