"You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

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Adrian Allan
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"You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Adrian Allan » Mon Feb 04, 2019 7:39 am

I was once told this by a headmaster at a school where I was teaching a bit of music.

Anyway, it doesn't really matter who said it on that occasion, as I have heard it said a few other times as well.

College majors in music are encouraged to play the piano as well as their primary instrument, and sometimes it is compulsory.

I have some ideas about the thinking behind this:

1. The piano is probably the most influential and most composed-for instrument in the classical tradition.
A lack of basic understanding of the piano carries with it a lack of understanding of the keyboard works or Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, etc, which are milestones.

2. The logic of the piano keyboard is the starting point of western harmony - you can use it to demonstrate chorales, hymns, classical harmony, etc.

3. The piano keyboard covers the entire range of the classical orchestra, so it can be used to illustrate the role of, for example, low octaves between cello and bass, up to the piccolo. It can be used as a visual starting point for the spread of instruments in an orchestral score.

4. The piano is the most obvious instrument for accompaniment for singers, choirs, instrumentalists, etc. It is expected that a musician should be able to fill such a role if needed.

so over to you - what do you think?
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Bernhard Heimann
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Bernhard Heimann » Mon Feb 04, 2019 8:50 am

There's no doubt that the piano has many advantages (some of them described above).
But you can easily see why this opinion is at least biased: There was a time before the piano existed and there were
great "proper" musicians. And I doubt that all "proper" musicians of the past played the piano (Paganini, Barrios) or all of the present do.

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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by PeteJ » Mon Feb 04, 2019 8:57 am

I'd agree with the colleges. The piano is so useful that every musician should be able to play a bit. But one needn't play it well, just enough to make good use of it. It used to be the case that a degree course would ask for Grade V even where it is second or third instrument, but I don't know if this is still the case.

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Michael.N.
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Michael.N. » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:09 am

Of course the title is nonsense. If anything it's aimed at musician teachers, not musicians per se.
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Mark Clifton-Gaultier
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Mark Clifton-Gaultier » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:09 am

You more or less covered the reasoning yourself Adrian - though it sounds as if that particular headmaster was speaking from a position of bigotry rather than common sense..

Practically speaking, keyboard skills are extremely useful in some of the situations you listed - also, I remember working through the old Cambridge aural transcription tests by playing "dummy" piano on top of the desk. The ability to play four-part harmonies at the keyboard not only simplifies the process but allows for almost real time execution.

Imagine how much more difficult and time consuming it must be to analyse a symphony if you are a flautist with little, if any, practical performance experience in harmony - not impossible of course but the keyboard is such a handy processing machine.

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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Jason » Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:29 am

Being able to "play" the piano and "understanding" the piano are two entirely different things. I had to learn piano when I studied music in university, but would hardly consider myself a piano player, I simply understand it. Piano is a useful tool, but is not necessary to understand harmony, or to be a great musician.
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Adrian Allan
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Adrian Allan » Mon Feb 04, 2019 12:22 pm

Jason wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:29 am
Being able to "play" the piano and "understanding" the piano are two entirely different things. I had to learn piano when I studied music in university, but would hardly consider myself a piano player, I simply understand it. Piano is a useful tool, but is not necessary to understand harmony, or to be a great musician.
But we would agree that having a basic competency is pretty valuable?

And perhaps invaluable if teaching music as a subject, instead of guitar as an instrument.

From a personal perspective, I can knock out a tune and do harmony, and I find it a very useful too.

I tend to think that the western tradition organises harmony along pianistic lines, and as the guitar is such an idiomatic instrument, its approach to harmony is somewhat on the margins of the western tradition.

Plus another related question is - should we all be able to read bass clef (if we are calling ourselves all-round musicians and not just hobbyists)?
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2lost2find
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by 2lost2find » Mon Feb 04, 2019 12:24 pm

Meh. It's just the theft of time that could be spent practicing on the instrument you WANT to play. As a composition major I had to take a semester of class piano. I found it easy to play but absolutely hated the damn thing... I'll never get along with an instrument incapable of vibrato. After that semester was over I dedicated my life to touching keyboard instruments as little as possible. Composition tool? I did seven more semesters taking composition lessons and never once sat down at a piano for the purpose.

The only valid reason to play the piano is because you want to.

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Cloth Ears
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Cloth Ears » Mon Feb 04, 2019 12:36 pm

Piano is so temperamental ;]

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Mollbarre
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Mollbarre » Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:24 pm

I know that seeing the keyboard helped me a great deal in "visualizing" theory. I had my daughter in piano lessons, and I played along with her until she got to RCM 4 (she kept going, I went back to focusing on violin)...

It's still helping me. Sometimes I preferentially visualize on the violin - while other times I need to figure things out on the keyboard...

The fretboard on the guitar is also useful...
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by 2lost2find » Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:04 pm

Mollbarre wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 3:24 pm
I know that seeing the keyboard helped me a great deal in "visualizing" theory. I had my daughter in piano lessons, and I played along with her until she got to RCM 4 (she kept going, I went back to focusing on violin)...

It's still helping me. Sometimes I preferentially visualize on the violin - while other times I need to figure things out on the keyboard...

The fretboard on the guitar is also useful...
Ideally you don't think in physical terms at all, but in terms of intervals and relationships. I had a weird composition professor who taught me damn little I actually have ever used, but he did have the following incredibly important bit of wisdom: write with your ears, not with your hands.

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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by RobMacKillop » Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:11 pm

I agree with the proposed question. Clearly Django was not a real musician. Likewise Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, John Dowland. :roll:

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Adrian Allan
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by Adrian Allan » Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:18 pm

RobMacKillop wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:11 pm
I agree with the proposed question. Clearly Django was not a real musician. Likewise Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, John Dowland. :roll:
Yes. When he offered that opinion, I did have such greats in mind.

It was probably only a throwaway remark, in any case.

If he had said, "you cannot be a true all round musician" or a "music teacher", then there might have been more than a grain of truth.

There was a time when UK music teachers were expected to accompany musicians in assemblies and awards evenings etc, on the piano. Not sure if that is still the case.
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by celestemcc » Mon Feb 04, 2019 5:04 pm

Hmmm. I had a functional piano requirement as an undergrad guitar major, which I passed... fast forward to grad school. Piano required to graduate; I'd forgotten almost everything about piano except basic scales. My major, in grad school, was opera. Literally had no time to practice piano, and graduation was coming up. So I went to the dean and said, "I already have a BMus in guitar performance, so I can play an instrument: will that do?" It didn't take much convincing... I was ready to play and sing something like "An Die Musik", which is scored for guitar, but luckily I didn't have to -- proof of the degree was enough. Whew! Yes, it was a small, but accredited, school.
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2lost2find
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Re: "You can't be a proper musician unless you play the piano". Discuss

Post by 2lost2find » Mon Feb 04, 2019 5:12 pm

Adrian Allan wrote:
Mon Feb 04, 2019 4:18 pm

If he had said, "you cannot be a true all round musician" or a "music teacher", then there might have been more than a grain of truth.

I still call BS. Being able to play piano is proof of nothing except that you can play piano. You can teach all the music you want without ever going near a keyboard.

Regarding the accompaniment thing: I will gladly accompany anybody, anytime. Without preparation. On the guitar. If you think that lacks legitimacy, get somebody else.

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