My first instrument is piano. Lessons starting at age 4, Royal Conservatory training until grade 9, when I quit to take up jazz piano full time. I spent the entire four years of university transcribing Bud Powell solos and practicing in the “woodshed” for 8 hours a day. Besides a little singing in the church choir when I was a kid, I didn’t really start singing seriously until I was in my early 20s.
It’s no surprise then that a great many of my voice students end up with a piano habit. For my high school and college age voice students, I always get them to learn enough piano so that they can learn their songs and play basic accompaniments. “So you don’t have to marry a piano player!” I always paint a terrible life picture for them of what their lives will be, living in a tiny apartment where the piano takes up most of the living room and the whole place is knee deep in sheet music. That usually scares them straight, and out comes the Bastien “Older Beginner Book” volume one. I then cross my fingers and hope they don’t notice that my husband is actually happily married to a pianist…
Today one of my adult voice students came in, nearly bouncing off the walls with excitement. She sings a lot of improvised and CircleSinging, which is heavily influenced by Rhiannon and Bobby McFerrin. She has amazing ears and I told her it was just a matter of time until her ears needed more harmony. Well, this past week it happened. She had an opportunity to do some recording in a gorgeous studio in Upstate New York that had a nice piano and though “Why not?” She played me the results of that session, and she sounded so free and expressive. “I need more piano. What can you teach me?” And, she’s hooked.
Even my middle school and high school singers end up playing some piano for themselves at some point. It really is fun to be able to sit down and accompany yourself, even if you’re just padding some basic chords. Add in a bass line in your left hand and a little rhythm in your right and you’re Sara Bareilles! And it’s so exciting to hear an entire song come out of one person, rather than just the melody.
Since I’ve spent so much of my life wearing both hats, it’s especially fun for me to help my singers become more independent. So they don’t have to marry a piano player!