The Most Important Instrument To Learn – The Piano

As a musician, the most important instrument that you can learn is the piano. Discussion on how piano and guitar theory are related.

Steinway Concert Grand

My first step into my music career was learning to play the trumpet when I was 10 years old. It came naturally for me and I enjoyed the instrument. When I turned 11 years old my sister began taking piano lessons. One day I sat down at the piano and my sisters beginning piano book was on the piano. I opened it up and proceeded to play the entire book in one afternoon. That book was John Thompson’s – Teaching Little Fingers To Play. It was easy to read and learn from and my soul as a musician drank it all in. Naturally my parents had been listening to me working on that book and suggested that I may want to take piano lessons along with my sister. I did and from that point on the piano became the musical root of everything I have done musically since.

There are so many benefits to having a working knowledge of the piano. For one thing it is laid out in a very logical manner. Think of the keys all in a row from left to right, low note to high note in a 12-note western scale repeating pattern. It’s easy to learn and memorize. Contrast that with a guitar whose strings are tuned in 4ths, except for the 2nd string which is tuned to a 3rd from the G-string. The guitar has the lowest string at the top and the highest at the bottom. You have to learn the guitar vertically as well as horizontally. It adds up to mass confusion especially for begginers. I always struggle teaching beginning students their way around the guitar. Not so with the piano. I know I have some good talent and that contributed to how easily I learned the piano. But a large part of why the piano came so easily to me is because it’s theory is so logical.

When I taught myself guitar I had been playing piano for about 2 years. I initially taught myself how to play melodies on the guitar using piano music and finding the corresponding notes on the guitar. The translation wasn’t easy at all. Finally in frustration I got a guitar chord book and a Beatles songbook and began to learn the chords to Beatles songs on the guitar. I did as every guitarist does and memorized chord positions and moved them around the neck of the guitar to find the right chords for the songs and I sang along with my guitar chords. I did very well but I didn’t grasp how all the chords related in a musical theory sort of way.

Again, the piano came to my rescue. I started to figure out how to play the individual guitar chords on the piano and that’s when the musical revelations started to happen. I saw how when I played the C, F and G chords how I only used white keys on the piano. I finally figured out this was the I-IV-V chord progression for the key of C. From there, the chordal world opened up to me as I could see how the chords fit in with each each Key having learned all the major scales during my piano studies. Once I began to use the piano and guitar together the world of both instruments opened up to me. The revelations always seemed to come from the piano.

I’ve applied my piano skills to all aspects of playing in a rock band. From understanding how the bass, drums and guitar interact in the same way as the keys of the piano. I also use my piano skills when I’m sequencing backing tracks that my band uses when we play live. I’ve recorded several songs where every instrument has been played on the keyboard including the drums. The piano has served me in songwriting as well as performance. Over the years as I’ve learned to play various instruments I always have the piano close at hand to see how things line up with the keyboard.

I’m not a master on the piano like I am on the guitar and when people ask me what instrument I play I say The Guitar. But I have to admit that a lot of the time when I’m playing the guitar, I’m thinking piano. The piano is an old and trusted friend. It’s also the most important instrument I’ve ever learned. -Matt-

Addendum: Please read Dr. Christopher Foley’s follow up article “Piano as a Second Language” on The Collaborative Piano Blog.

Author: Live Musician Central

My name is Matt Rushton. I have been playing in bands for 27 years. I've been playing professionally for 21 years. I have opened for Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Little River Band, and Quiet Riot.

7 thoughts on “The Most Important Instrument To Learn – The Piano”

  1. Hmm…I’m sure someone’s noticed this by now, but I just wanted to point out that a guitar’s strings are tuned in fourths, except for the 2nd and 3rd strings which are tuned a major third apart.

  2. You’re absolutely right, I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote the post. I’ve changed it so the tuning example is correct and thanks for pointing that out. -Matt-

  3. A very interesting article. I’ve been playing guitar for several years, but have not been fully satisfied musically and so I’m learning piano now. I feel this would make me a ‘musician’ and not just a player.

  4. Yes I feel like the Piano is the foundation for learning music theory. Learning piano in addition to guitar will definitely make you a more complete musician.

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