By: Konner Scott
As a parent looking to enroll your child in music lessons, it’s difficult to know where to start. With the vast array of musical instruments, teaching styles, and types of music available, how can anyone who’s new to music education know what the right path forward is?
As opposed to a pros & cons list of different instruments and styles, this blog is an attempt to make the case that for all students- but particularly young children – piano is a strong foundation for music education that’s hard to beat.
Ease of Access
As far as simplicity, the piano is about as basic as it gets. All one has to do is press down a key, and sound comes out. Contrast this with string instruments (hold down strings with one hand and pluck/strum/bow with another) or brass and woodwind instruments (establish correct embouchure and posture, then develop lip strength and learn valve positions), and the ease of access is immediately apparent. This allows a student to jump right into the music making process without having to spend time and energy on all of the necessary prerequisites- and risk getting bored and giving up before the music making even begins.
Mapped Out Notes
Visually, it’s hard to beat the piano. Not only are the notes oriented from left (low notes) to right (high notes), they’re grouped in convenient patterns of white & black keys that make it easy to orient yourself no matter what octave or key you’re playing in. The cherry on top is that to play a C major scale – one of the foundational concepts in all of Western music – one need only drag their hand across the white keys, starting on C and ending on another C.
This visual clarity is paramount when it comes to learning music theory, particularly early on. Having the notes in an easy “grid” allows a student to create visual mental maps of different chord shapes, scales, and motifs. Instruments with valves, slides, or multiple strings do not offer the same level of clarity, and can serve to obfuscate the simplicity of many music theory concepts.
Melody & Harmony
Few instruments offer the opportunity to create both a melody and the supplementing harmony at the great time. While this is possible at advanced levels on certain string instruments (guitar in particular), piano makes it unbelievably accessible!
The concept is simple: typically, especially at beginner levels, the right hand will take care of a song’s melody, while the left hand acts as the accompanying harmony. This allows beginner musicians to immediately develop a strong understanding of and intuition for the ways in which melody and harmony complement each other.
See if you can come up with a style of music where it’s unheard of to incorporate piano. It’s tricky, right? Heavy metal? On the more melodic and progressive side of the genre, you’ll often find piano in the background or even as a main instrument (Dream Theater is a phenomenal example). Bluegrass? You’d be surprised at how much piano exists in the genre- particularly in a ragtime or blues style. Hip-hop? Listen to “Still D.R.E” by Dr. Dre or “Changes” by Tupac and tell me that piano isn’t (pun intended) instrumental to the history of the genre. Learning piano allows you the chance to quickly adapt to nearly any style of music you want to play.
Keyboard-based instruments date nearly 2500 years. The harpsichord or clavier was the predecessor to the modern piano (or pianoforte, as it’s technically called), and came to popularity in the 14th century. During the 1600s and early 1700s, it became a centerpiece in compositions by the Western classical masters.
Throughout the mid-to-late 1800s, the piano as we know it today became an even more ubiquitous fixture in popular music. Since then, we can’t seem to get away from it in our culture. It’s deeply embedded in our musical roots, and learning how to play it allows you to access the annals of musical history. Practice enough, and you have a tremendously large repertoire of music – from Bach to Billy Joel – at your fingertips.