One subject that frequently comes up in the singer community is piano skills. Piano skills are often a cause of confusion and frustration for singers. This article provides The Complete Guide to Piano for Singers. I will share my top tips and tutorials to help singers of all styles and levels build the piano foundation they need to succeed in their work.
Why do singers need to play piano?
There are many reasons that singers need to play piano. Here are some of them:
- Musical literacy
Piano skills ensure that you are musically literate, which means you understand the mechanics of music. Learning piano provides what I call “living theory”. Rather than learning theory from a boring book, you can experience theory sitting at the piano. It’s much more effective to learn this way and a heckuva lot more fun too.
Rather than relying on other people to help you learn your music and develop your skills, you can learn on your own at the piano.
- Self accompaniment
Being able to accompany yourself is not only a lucrative skill, but
- Learn your music faster
Basic piano skills will allow you to learn your music on your own without relying so heavily on recordings or on other people playing your music for you. (You'll also save a ton of money this way!)
- Work with other musicians with confidence
If you have ever felt like you're "just a singer" and don't feel confident working with instrumentalists, assembling musical skills by learning piano with be a huge help. You'll definitely feel like you're speaking the language of instrumentalists!
- Teach lessons
Piano skills are extremely important for teaching voice lessons, singing classes and conducting choirs. Yes, you can technically get around them, but I can tell you first-hand that your lack of piano prowess will hold you back. At the very least, you'll need to play voice exercises, play chords and read chord charts and lead sheets. (Keep reading and I teach you how!)
There is nothing more fun than writing your own songs! With a strong sense of piano skills, you'll spend less time relying on Garageband beats and spend more time writing like the best: sitting at the piano! If it's good enough for Elton John, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Billy Joel - it's good enough for me!
Or perhaps the most compelling argument of them all....
Because Taylor Swift can do it. ('Nuff said)
...seriously - this woman KNOWS, y'all.
Why do singers struggle to play piano?
First off: because you haven’t had a chance to work on it yet! Being a singer is its own thing - there is a lot to learn! If you haven’t had the time, energy or resources to tackle your piano skills until now - THAT IS OK. You are here now and I’m going to help you do it more easily. Let’s move past the shame and the“shoulds” and roll up our sleeves!
If you have taken lessons or piano courses before and it hasn’t stuck, don’t blame yourself. Here is what I have learned:
- Piano and theory courses are designed as a one-size-fits-all mentality.
- In reality, singers have different learning objectives at the piano then an actual pianist does.
- Old guard: method books, hands together scales, classical piano pieces, Hanon exercises and the dreaded Bartok Mikrokosmos books. (Did you get stuck with those?)
- Many of these courses aren’t designed or taught by singers, so they don’t really understand what actual skills singers will need to support their work. Instead, singers are lead through a Magical Mystery Tour of all of the whistles and bells that pianists have to learn to become, well...pianists.
If you have ever felt shame around your lack of piano proficiency, read this blog post and you'll understand that you are not alone. This is a HUGE issue for a lot of singers - even ones with decades of professional experience and advanced degrees!
When I started teaching my singer friends to play piano, I started teaching them the way I was taught. After a while, I started wondering if there was a more efficient way to teach them. I wanted them to start using the piano for their gigs and teaching as soon as possible.
How could I get them to play well in months instead of in years? How could I get them to be comfortable accompanying them in only a couple of lessons? The biggest question is What Piano Skills do Singers Need?
What piano skills do singers actually need?
Here is a complete list that all singers should strive for. If you are curious about what piano skills singers in different genres need, check out this blog post.
1. How to play chords on piano
Learning to play chords in all the keys is a HUGE step to being able to accompany yourself on piano. I cannot stress how important learning chords are for singers who are learning piano. You'll skip over years of hands-together sight reading and create your own accompaniments on the spot.
To get started, here is an easy way to learn your major chords in all 12 keys. You won't have to struggle with key signatures in this Piano for Singers tutorial. I have a MUCH simpler approach that will make mastering chords a snap.
Next up, you want to master your major and minor triads. In this Piano for Singers tutorial, I teach you how to play major and minor chords in all 12 keys in a very user friendly manner. No more guesswork or complicated theory - this is a really easy place to start!
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2. How to read different styles of sheet music on piano
You DO NOT have to know how to read music to be able to sing and play piano! Instead, I recommend that every singer learn to "FAKE".
What is faking? Faking is an easy way to accompany your singing on piano that doesn’t require strong sight reading skills.
First off, you’ll want to learn how to play a chord chart. This type of music is often called “Lyrics and Chords” and there are thousands of free sites where you can access your favorite songs. It will take you a minute to learn how to play a chord chart, but once you do you can pretty much play every song out there.
Once you are confident with how to play a chord chart, you will want to learn how to read a lead sheet. A lead sheet is a simplified style of sheet music that consists of the melody (written in notation), the chords and the lyrics. Once you get comfortable reading lead sheets, you can easily learn songs and create your own fake accompaniments. In this tutorial I teach you How to Read a Lead Sheet on Piano. It's not as hard as it sounds!
3. How to accompany yourself on piano using different grooves
Once you are able to play from a chord chart and/or a lead sheet, then you are ready to dive in and accompany yourself. In this tutorial, I show you four accompaniment strategies that work great for almost any song. Pick an easy favorite and you'll have four great strategies that will get you started. So fun!
4. How to set up an effective Piano for Singers practice routine
If all of this material feels daunting, I want to encourage you to just START. You don’t need to spend hours every day practicing in order to start developing your piano skills. Believe it or not, you can actually get a ton done with as little as 20 minutes a day. In this video I show you a 20 Minute Piano Practice Routine for Singers that has a proven track record. It has worked brilliantly with my private students and the students in my membership The Versatile Musician.
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Learning piano as a singer doesn't have to be hard!
I hope this article has helped you realize that piano skills don't have to be a difficult ordeal. I have taught hundreds of singers all over the world to play the piano. My method is much easier and more effective than the traditional methods. We skip a lot of the extraneous stuff and get right into what you need to learn: how to play chords, how to read non-traditional music and how to create your own arrangements.
Ready for the next step? Have I got something for you!
Crash Course in Piano Skills for Singers is a gentle, no-fluff, let's-get-this-done 45-day piano course that is based on the principals of my bestselling Piano Skills for Singers courses. For a few more weeks, it's only $49 - a crazy good deal for all that you're getting.
This is a perfect starting point for anyone who needs to build their basic piano skills or wants to incorporate basic piano into their voice lessons. Learn:
- 5 note finger exercises that double as voice exercises
- How to play chords
- How to fake accompaniments from a lead sheet for play for yourself and your students.
- How to build a practice routine that WORKS
🎹 7 video modules with a close up of the piano keyboard.
🎹 23 page course book with meticulously notated EVERYTHING.
🎹 A brilliantly organized practice checklist
🎹 Weekly emails to inspire, motivate, offer practice tips and give bonus material
"Thanks Brenda. This was a fantastic workshop and I’m excited to use your approach to improve my playing for my students."