When someone takes that first step to learning music, whether by a parent or teachers encouragement or you decided on your own, the immediate question becomes “what instrument do I start with?”
If you attend any major music school, they require you to learn some piano, as it is part of the core curriculum. Why is that?
In this article, I will list a few practical reasons to learn piano first and a few that are just perks, as well as addressing why the piano is the most essential tool for all musicians to learn, whether you want to learn music or already have on another instrument.
Some less practical reasons:
One of the amazing things about the piano is that you can create a clear crisp note simply by pressing a key. It’s what got me started 4-5 years ago. Because it doesn’t need to constantly be tuned, or require a bunch of training just to make it not scream at you (looking at you, clarinet) it’s the easiest instrument to just sit down and start playing when you feel that surge of inspiration. Compare to the violin, which can take 2 years before practices stop sounding like a strangled rat.
Added to that is the simple layout. Unlike a trumpet or guitar where you have to remember complicated finger positions to create the desired note, on a keyboard, everything is laid out before you; lower notes on the left, higher notes on the right and sharp and flat keys are clearly distinguishable.
The piano is one of the widest ranged instruments, second only to the pipe organ. Organs can have a larger range than pianos, but their range is not nearly as practical. For example, the lowest instrument in an orchestra is the contrabassoon, its lowest note usually the lowest Bb on the piano, although some instruments can reach A, which is the actual lowest note on the piano. The highest instrument in an orchestra is the piccolo flute, which can go up to a C or D , and that C is the highest note on the keyboard.
So the range of a piano is basically an exact match to the range of an orchestra. Because of this range, you can play anything written for any single instrument, or even multiple parts. More on that later.
More practical reasons:
A well-tuned piano will create a perfect note every time without fail. This will help develop the ears to recognize what a note should sound like, where on a violin, there is no guidance whatsoever. To start piano first would give you a large advantage over someone who started violin first, because of the ear training.
Math N Stuff:
There are lists of famous people who play (or did play) an instrument. This is because, as studies show, children who begin learning piano during grade school have better general and spatial cognitive development than their peers, which can and does help with mathematics skills, and also helps with concentration and thus improve students’ performance in multiple categories outside of music.
Harmony, or, The Manipulation of Multiple Voices :
This is one of the biggest reasons that every famous classical composer you can think of started on piano (Bach, a cellist; Vivaldi, a violinist, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Rossini, Mozart, and Beethoven, to name a few). As a music student, you will be confronted with the concepts of counterpoint and harmony.
This will require you to know how melodies move around each other, the types of intervals formed when two melodies happen simultaneously, how three or more melodies form chords, and how chords work together to form larger structures in music. Most instruments can only play one single note at a time, and because of that, most musical students have no experience in playing harmonies.
If you play the flute, clarinet, trumpet, oboe, French horn, saxophone, bassoon, etc. you will have spent your entire musical experience only playing one note at a time.
If you play a string instrument, you will be able to perform “double stops” (two notes at once), but chords are composed of three or more simultaneous notes.
As such, most music students will be starting from scratch as far as harmony goes. They would be able to grasp the concepts better if they have the experience of building harmonies themselves, something piano music does all the time.
Of course, there are guitars which are capable of chords, but for the reasons listed before (more complicated finger position, constant tuning, fewer notes able to be played at once), they don’t deliver.
The piano is as beautiful as it is versatile. It’s straightforward enough, but also challenges your mind and strengthens your ability to handle multiple tasks at once.
To be clear, this isn’t a bash on other instruments. I do encourage all to learn what you can, but I think it would be beneficial to everyone to start on the right foot.
Mutsic students who begin with piano can easily go on to play any other instrument they want, already knowing how to read musical notation and understand both bass and treble clefs, as well as important concepts of music theory.
Best of luck