Welcome to our ongoing series on Artist Development. This post explains the value of learning both piano and guitar for artists interested in recording, performing and songwriting.
To us at Van Tuyl Music Academy in Huntington Beach, Artist Development means going beyond standard music lessons for Voice, Guitar, Piano, Bass Guitar or Drums, it means exploring the skills and challenges that are presented to professional musicians on an every day basis, and it means finding your unique voice in a crowded music world. We care so much about artist development, that we’ve created an entire program for developing the artist inside you. A quick note, many of our music education blogs are objective, question and answer style posts that allow the reader to make determinations on their own. These posts, are not! They’re our opinions, but opinions backed by years of experience and thousands of musicians trained. For more information on our program for musicians ages 11-adult, click here!
In general, most artists must have a basic ability to play guitar, piano or both instruments. However, singers almost always gravitate more towards one instrument than the other, which allows them to focus on both performing and writing in a style that makes sense for the instrument and the artist. If an artist gravitates more towards piano, we develop his or her understanding of not only how to play the piano, but where on the piano they can play that highlights and supports his or her voice. If an artist gravitates more towards guitar, we develop his or her understanding of not only how to play the guitar, but of how to use tools and tricks to perform songs in a key that suits his or her voice and is also easy to play. No matter which instrument a singer gravitates toward, he or she should possess a basic level of skill and understanding of both the guitar and the piano.
Writing a song on the piano verses writing a song on the guitar requires different skill sets, different understanding, and produces completely different sounding songs. In pop music – which covers pop, rock, blues, jazz, folk, R&B – the piano and the guitar have vastly different roles both rhythmically and harmonically. A well-versed knowledge of piano theory and technique allows a songwriter to more easily access unique chord progressions and sounds, because of the patterns one can learn on piano. Whereas, some very talented guitar players can struggle to creatively access alternate chords when writing, either due to their difficulty to play physically, or due to the open chord structure’s ability to keep one inside a box. This certainly doesn’t mean that piano is better than guitar for writing songs, most of the greatest pop songs of all time have been written on guitar. What it does mean, is that the challenge to write a song with outside-the-box chords on guitar requires a little more patience and practice from a guitar player.
This can also have major advantages to a guitar playing songwriter. Sometimes the best songs have the simplest progressions. Take one of my absolute favorite pop songs, Learning To Fly by Tom Petty. The chord progression is F-C-Am-G, and it never changes, never variates. The discipline it requires to stay inside the pocket of something perfect when writing is just as high as the creativity to throw in a chord that may excite a listener’s ear. What instrument will you choose as you’re, learning to fly. (that was corny, sorry.)