By: Konner Scott
So, you’ve been taking piano lessons for a couple years. You’ve developed the basic techniques, you can sightread effectively, you have a rudimentary understanding of music theory, and maybe you can even push through a few tricky classical pieces. However, despite your increase in proficiency, you’re starting to feel stuck with your musical journey, and you’re craving some variety to shake things up. What should you do?
In a situation like this, one thing that budding musicians often do is pick up a new instrument. Frequently, piano students will add guitar to their roster, so I’ll use that specific example here.
Learning a second instrument has a lot of advantages – especially if you’ve already put enough time into your primary instrument to climb up to a mid-to-late-intermediate level. Since music is a pattern-seeking medium, learning a new instrument can help you see patterns and concepts from a novel perspective, and can help reinforce knowledge attained from learning a primary instrument. For example, learning the pentatonic scale on guitar can help you internalize different riffs & licks, which you can then take and apply to piano.
On a broader level, adding a second instrument can help you understand music more broadly. A pianist (particularly a solo pianist) generally needs to be able to play a rhythm/harmony part and a melody part at the same time. This is a worthwhile skill, and helps make piano the incredibly versatile instrument that it is. At the same time, however, students often don’t spend enough time understanding each component (rhythm/harmony vs. lead/melody) because they’re so focused on pairing their hands together and playing both at once.
Since guitar has a more natural division between the two concepts (many rock bands actually have TWO guitarists- a rhythm guitarist and a lead guitarist), focusing on one at a time can help strengthen a musician’s intuition for what each component is bringing to the table, and how to effectively employ rhythm & harmony vs. melody upon their return to piano.
What are the disadvantages to learning a new instrument? Well, naturally, limited time seems to be the biggest factor. Learning a secondary instrument can take your focus and attention away from your first. For the investment to truly pay off, it’s important to have a foundation that you’re content with on your primary instrument, and a little extra time and energy to ensure you’re giving both instruments the care and attention they need.
Sometimes, musicians are burnt out on their primary instrument and need to step away for a while, and a secondary instrument can feel the musical void. That’s okay too! As long as a musician understands the benefits and drawbacks of taking on a new instrument, it can be an incredibly worthwhile endeavor.