Category Archives: Singers

Which Piano Skills for Singers course is right for me?

Now that there are FOUR courses live at Piano Skills for Singers, I have been getting a lot of questions about which course to choose.  This quick little list should help you get started choosing the perfect course to help you get secure at the keyboard.  If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at brenda(at) pianoandvoicewithbrenda (dot) com. I’m here to help!

Level 1 is for you if:

  • You have never played piano before
  • You haven’t taken piano lessons in a long time
  • You want a simple starting point
  • You want to get back into a practice routine and regain some technical fluidity

Level 2 is for you if:

  • You have completed Level 1
  • You have piano experience, but there are a lot of gaps in your ability
  • You need to learn how to play chords
  • You need to learn how to create your own accompaniments
  • You need to learn how to play voice exercises in 12 keys easily

Jazz Piano Accompaniment is for you if:

  • You have taken Level 2
  • You are a classically trained pianist and want to learn jazz
  • You want to learn how to play from a fake book
  • You can play chords and you want to play authentic jazz accompaniment

*If you can’t play chords fluidly, you can purchase the “Learn to Play Chords Symbols” course at a deep discount.

Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is for you if:

  • You are a classically trained pianist who wants to learn how to improvise
  • You are looking for a fresh new way to explore your creativity at the keyboard
  • You are a piano teacher looking for a new bag of tricks to share with your students
  • You want to develop your technical fluidity on the piano in a more creative way
  • You are a jazz player who wants to develop a deeper connection to improvisation
  • You are a circle singer or vocal improviser who is looking for a deeper toolkit
  • You are a songwriter or a composer looking for more inspiration

Do you have to be a singer to take Piano Skills for Singers?

Absolutely not!  Although these courses are geared towards singers, anyone would benefit from these well organized and easy-to-use courses.  Sign up now – all courses are 50% off through May 1st, 2020!

Level 1:  $99 NOW $49, Level 2:  $199 NOW $99, Jazz Piano Accompaniment:  $179 NOW $89

If you need help deciding which Piano Skills for Singers Course is right for you, please email me at brendaearle30@gmail.com and I’ll help you!

What Piano Skills Do Singers Need?

As a follow up to my blog post “How does piano training fail singers?”, I wanted to make a clear list of the actual skills that singers need in order to be successful.   Let’s face it:  many of us are going to need to be employed in a range of different ways in order to piece together a living.  Many of the job opportunities available to singers require strong keyboard skills.  Here is my master list of skills singers need.

All singers should be able to:

  • Play voice exercises in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play major and minor triads in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play melodies in the right hand with decent fingerings
  • Create simple accompaniments using chords (“faking”)

This basic skill set will enable a singer to practice on their own, accompany themselves, teach voice lessons, work as a section leader of a chorus, direct a community chorus and lead a singalong with children or adults.

In addition to these above skills, here are a list of piano skills that singers in different genres need.

Pop singers should be able to:

  • Play seventh chords and sus chords in 12 keys
  • Create simple accompaniments that include a bass line in the left hand
  • Play different rhythmic grooves in good time

Jazz singers should be able to:

  • Play seventh chords in 12 keys
  • Play from a lead sheet
  • Walk a bass line in the left hand, while comping rhythms in the right hand
  • Play jazz chord voicings
  • Play a Bossa Nova and other Latin grooves

Music Theatre singers should be able to:

  • Play voice exercises in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play major and minor triads in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play melodies in the right hand, while playing bass notes or chords in the left hand
  • Fake accompaniments of a variety of styles

Classical singers should be able to:

  • Play melodies in the right hand with correct articulation
  • Do simple chord analysis of scores, jotting in chord symbols
  • Play classical style accompaniments like Alberti bass and rolled adagio styles
  • Play at least 2 parts at a time of SATB choral music

Choral Conductors should be able to:

  • Play 2, 3 and 4 parts at a time of SATB choral music
  • Play a wide range of accompaniments for vocal warm-ups
  • Conduct from the piano, while playing exerpts of the score

General Music teachers should be able to:

  • Play simple accompaniments and sing at the same time
  • Play accompaniments for vocal warm-ups
  • Play interpretive music for movement and interpretation

Early Childhood Music Teachers should be able to:

  • Lead a singalong while creating simple accompaniments on the piano
  • Play and sing without looking at the keyboard (looking at student’s faces instead)
  • Play interpretive music for movement and interpretation

I have had the luxury of being employed in every single role I have listed here and these skills have been wildly helpful in my being successful in each position.

Have I overlooked any skills on this list?  Leave a reply above!

Are you missing any of these skills?  Don’t fret!  It is possible to learn each of these skills quickly, easily and inexpensively, with some work and consistency.  Check out Piano Skills for Singers – the only online piano course for singers, created by a singer.

How does piano training fail singers?

I am a singer who has the great advantage of being a pianist.  Piano is my first instrument and I was lucky enough to obtain quality instruction from the age of four.  When I entered the professional world, I realized what a huge asset my piano training was.  I was frequently being chosen for job opportunities as a voice teacher, choral director and general music educator over highly qualified singers, simply because I was able to play piano.

Thanks to my piano training, I have had the great pleasure to teach a great many singers to play piano.  What surprised me is that many of these singers had received extensive piano training, both privately and in college piano classes and yet they were still unable to function in a basic level in a vocation setting.  What went wrong?

Many of these singers blamed themselves, saying that they hadn’t practiced enough, or they were just “bad at piano” or how somehow there was something wrong with their musicianship.  That seemed impossible to me, especially since several of these supposedly “bad musicians” were elite singers, performing internationally.  (A couple of them were even Grammy nominated). So, what was the problem?

What I discovered was that the singers hadn’t failed at the piano training, it was the piano training that had failed the singers.  When I examine the syllabi of many piano classes for non-majors, I am struck by what so many of those courses entail.  There is a near-universal focus on playing scales hands together, playing challenging classical pieces hands together and tackling a variety of cadences – topics that are indeed helpful for building piano skills.  However, so much time is being spent on these challenging tasks, but is this actually useful for singers?

First of all, it is important to note that many of this traditional material was developed by pianists.  That makes sense – or does it?  These traditional piano training methods were developed to assist in building the skills a classical pianist would need in order to perform classical music.  Does this serve singers, choral conductors and general music teachers?  My contention is: absolutely not.

The more singers I trained at the keyboard, it became clear that a different approach was necessary to ensure that the right material was being taught and reinforced so that they were equipped to retain skills that would have vocational impact.  In short, singers need to learn how to play piano material that they will actually use in the professional world.  Not just pass a required class.

Here are two examples of how I approach piano training for singers.

Scales

Playing scales hands together requires learning the particular fingerings required of each key.  This is a very time-consuming process that requires frequent repetition to learn and many months or years of repetition in order to actually retain this as a skill.  Instead of working on scales, I focus on learning how to play voice exercises hands separately in 12 keys with universal fingerings.  This fulfills the development of technical fluency in a work-related context.

Hands together classical music

So many piano classes require singers to play challenging classical works like Bach Inventions and Bartok Microcosmos.  While I agree that these pieces are useful for developing two handed independence, this is also time consuming and not immediately useful.

The first thing I work on is learning how to “fake”.  “Faking” means that you are creating accompaniments using chords and is commonly used in jazz and pop music.  In order to create these accompaniments, we work on playing triads and four note chords in 12 keys and then learn a variety of left- and right-hand patterns to create accompaniments.  It is much easier to fake accompaniments than it is to read exactly what is written on the page, so having this skill can drastically speed up a singer’s ability to accompany themselves and their students.  Plus, faking works just as well for classical music and music theatre as it does for pop and jazz.

By focusing the training down to these simpler topics does not mean that I think singers shouldn’t learn how to play classical music or hands together scales.  I just don’t think these are the first skills they should learn.  Instead, we should equip our voice students will real world skills that will ensure they have every opportunity available.  Empowering our singers at the piano should be a central part of their training.

Brenda Earle Stokes is the owner and creator of Piano Skills for Singers – the only online piano course for singers, created by a singer.  Her passion is empowering singers to gain the skills they need at the keyboard to increase their opportunities in the music industry.

I Had Nodules and This Is What I Learned

By: Brenda Earle Stokes, BFA, M.Mus

In 2016, after a bad bout of reflux, I noticed that my voice was getting hoarse.  Assuming that it was some combination of my allergies and fatigue from life in general, I did a little voice rest and drank extra water.  One week, two weeks, three weeks went by and it wasn’t getting better.  That’s when I panicked.  What if something was really wrong?? Continue reading

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About SLPs (but were afraid to ask)

An Interview with SLP Leanne Goldberg MS, CCC-SLP

By Brenda Earle Stokes, BFA, M.Mus.

Leanne Goldberg is a Speech and Language Pathologist at the Grabscheid Voice and Swallowing Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Back in 2016, I was diagnosed as having vocal fold nodules.  My laryngologist recommended speech therapy, but at the time his SLP on staff was on maternity leave.  When I asked around, Leanne Goldberg’s name came up, and it turns out I already knew her socially.  She provided me with excellent care, provided me with six weeks of highly effective treatment and helped me to recover and improve my speech habits.  She was so caring towards me during this highly upsetting time in my career and was quick to answer me when I reached out for additional support. Continue reading

Allergies be gone! An Interview with my allergist Dr. Michael Lewin

Required listening…Allergies by Barenaked Ladies

It’s April in NYC and just we’re getting excited to finally put away our heavy coats and observe the buds on the trees and the blooming of flowers, a great many of us allergy sufferers knows what this means.  It’s time for the sniffling, sneezing, watery eyes nightmare that is spring.  And if you’re a singer, this may be a worse time of year for you than even cold and flu season. Continue reading