Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Do you play the piano?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: August 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM [UTC]

When I first wanted to play the violin, my mother's response to the idea was, "No, you are going to play the piano!"

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?

From John Saunders
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 12:20 AM
This is the hardest for a new young student, older too. I'd like to see how many wound up staying with the piano or changed to another instrument. A student has to find his or her calling for an instrument, it can't be forced to choose. A child has to enjoy learning the instrument or just think about practicing will be eternal drudgery! lol Harder because of cuts to get children exposed to all instruments, I wish they could for their future. There are lots of flash software instruments that can expose new players to a variety and cheaply too.
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 2:38 AM
Learnt piano first, then violin. Struggled with piano, almost gave up many times, but glad did not. As a violin teacher, is really convenient that I play piano too at a decent level. Can try pieces with my students.
From Paul Deck
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 3:09 AM
When I was four years old, my parents asked me to pick two instruments, and I chose the violin and the piano, giving equal time to each and reaching an intermediate level on each by the time I finished high school (ca. Book 7).

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.

From Paul Deck
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 3:10 AM
Every single comment I put in gets posted twice. It's getting old.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 11:41 AM
I started on piano, but switched after four years, with no regrets. My mom is an accomplished amateur, and I grew up with it.

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!"

From Barry Nelson
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 12:25 PM
Ive been playing on and off my whole life, but the Piano for me is strictly in fun, I know my chords pretty well and like to sing or do simple backing tracks with it for viola/violin pieces.
From Gail Tivendale
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 12:40 PM
I began piano first but gave up after a couple of months because my teacher wanted me to practise too much! I then began violin lessons and took to it like a duck to water. I eventually went back to piano in high school and managed to gain a good proficiency, while keeping on with the violin. I now use my piano skills a fair bit in teaching as I accompany my students in concerts and competitions. I learned later, from my mother, that my violin teacher had recommended I take up piano as she didn't play herself and could see it would be an advantage. I am very thankful for her foresight despite the constant juggle between the two instruments in my teen years.
From John Pierce
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 12:59 PM
I started with violin, but then took piano lessons for a very few years. I never really got "thinking in stereo." I was always pretty lousy at piano -- to the point that I say I don't play at all.

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.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 1:26 PM
My parents enrolled me in beginning piano lessons when I was 7 y/o. They strongly suspected I had musical ability because, before this, I would sit and listen to their classical music albums for hours on weekends. They didn't insist that I stay with piano; they just wanted me to get some experience in playing an instrument. Since we already had a piano, it was a logical first instrument.

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.

From marjory lange
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 2:09 PM
We could (barely) afford violin rental and lessons when I was a child. Price of a piano was beyond my family's budget. I've regretted it (esp. after struggling w/ class piano in college) but not enough to remedy the situation now.
From Paul Deck
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 2:27 PM
Anne said she was glad she didnt have to practice THAT piano piece, but the piano and violin are similar in this respect. The literature of both the piano and the violin is vast, and for most people there is a great deal of it will never be playable, partly thanks to guys like Paganini and Liszt who deliberately wrote music that they knew very few people could play. But when N is large, the tail of the distribution is long, and few is not zero.

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.

From Emma Otto
Posted on August 9, 2014 at 9:07 PM
Piano was my first instrument, but I ended up dropping it almost completely after my 3rd year of violin. However, I'm very glad that I'm familiar with it because it helps me in music theory, and in orchestral violin playing. I often find myself bringing a difficult phrase of music to the piano, or even looking at the full score of a symphony piece and playing through other parts to see how my own part fits in.

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.

Posted on August 10, 2014 at 1:34 AM
I am a complete moron on everything except the violin, period, end of subject. I guess you could call me an idiot savant. I can make the violin sing, but other instruments, I can barely make a sqwak! I've always envied other musicians with multiple talents in music.

Posted on August 10, 2014 at 3:56 PM
I used to play piano, but I haven't picked one up in years !
Posted on August 10, 2014 at 5:06 PM
Piano lessons-mandatory. Always had a piano in my home. It's like always having a supply of paper and pencils AND having a computer or typewriter. A piano is a basic tool.

From Christina C.
Posted on August 13, 2014 at 3:51 PM
I've always thought that it is a very good idea to learn the basics of music on the piano before jumping into the very significant difficulties of playing a stringed instrument.

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