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.

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