Does Playing Guitar Hurt Your Piano Playing?

 

I have received many questions about whether or not playing other instruments or different styles of music can negatively affect your piano playing. Many people have asked whether playing jazz will hurt your Classical music skills. Many people want to know how playing the guitar impacts your piano playing. So here are some points worth considering.

 

It is my personal feeling that the more you assimilate musically, the richer musical experience you will have to offer. I majored in both piano and French horn in music conservatory. I always felt that the breakthroughs I had with one instrument always seemed to translate to epiphanies for the other instrument!

 

Guitar and piano are very different instruments. They do share the ability (that few instruments have) to play many notes at the same time (playing polyphonically). The piano offers a very easy way to understand the basics of music theory because of the half-step arrangement of the keys. Guitar has frets which are half-steps apart, but the strings are tuned at different intervals from one-another which isn’t as intuitive as the piano. So, piano can be beneficial to understanding music theory which can help your guitar playing. Does this work the other way around though? Can playing the guitar help the development of your piano playing?

 

One aspect you can draw on immediately is the ability of the guitar to alter the tone of held notes while the piano has limited ability in this regard (with the exception of the pedals). For example, you can bend notes on the guitar and create different tones and expressiveness very easily. On the piano, without the use of the pedals, the notes you play will always produce the same basic tone. The thing you can impart on your piano playing is the ability to think about creating expression and tonal differences like you can with the guitar even with a more limited tool set. With practice and proper techniques, you can begin to create new and interesting sounds in your music much like you can working with the strings on the guitar.

 

You will also find that certain chord voicings are more easily accomplished on one instrument or another opening avenues of creativity when exploring the same music on both instruments.

 

But does playing guitar hurt your piano playing in any way? Absolutely not! Play what you want and expand your horizons however you can. Learning new music and instruments will only enrich your musical experience. I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Please feel free to email me directly with your comments or questions, Robert@LivingPianos.com

  I have received many questions about whether or not playing other instruments or different styles of music can negatively affect your piano playing. Many people have asked whether playing jazz will hurt your Classical music skills. Many people want to know how playing the guitar impacts your piano playing. So here are some points worth considering.   It is […]

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How Loud is Fortissississimo FFFF? How Quiet is Pianissississimo PPPP?

 

There are occasions you will encounter four “F’s” or four “P’s” in your musical score and you might wonder how loud or soft can things possibly get?

 

You will never see markings like this in early period music. In Baroque music there are rarely any dynamics at all and in the few occasions they exist, they are typically just forte (F) and piano (P). Does this mean that early period music was less expressive? There is some truth to that, but there are notable exceptions like George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, certainly later Beethoven Symphonies, and even pipe organ music from the Baroque era since the organ was a fully developed instrument at that time.

 

The reason for the change in dynamic markings relates partly to the evolution of the instruments. In the Baroque era the piano didn’t even exist. The Harpsichord was the primary keyboard instrument at that time. The harpsichord has a very limited range of expression because there is no touch sensitivity for dynamics. The only way to alter the dynamics on a harpsichord is with a series of stops that engage different sets of strings. Consequently, dynamic markings were severely limited.

 

Other instruments in the Baroque era had similar limitations to their dynamics. The French horn at that time had no valves. So, the only way to change the pitch of certain notes was by sticking the hand in the bell “stopping” the notes. This too limited dynamic range.

 

Another element to this is that during the Baroque and Classical eras the orchestras were much smaller. There might only be a couple dozen members in an orchestra during the Baroque era and the early Classical orchestra was only slightly larger.

 

When you get to the late Romantic period there were huge orchestras sometimes over a hundred musicians. You can only imagine the dynamic range possible in this expanded ensemble. This is where markings like FFFF and PPPP were born as there were substantial capabilities in the dynamic range of the instruments and the orchestra as a whole.

 

In general, you must consider the style of the specific piece beyond just the era of the work using your judgement on what is appropriate and how the dynamic markings effect the sound of the piece.

 

Thanks again for joining me, I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  There are occasions you will encounter four “F’s” or four “P’s” in your musical score and you might wonder how loud or soft can things possibly get?   You will never see markings like this in early period music. In Baroque music there are rarely any dynamics at all and in the few occasions they exist, they are typically […]

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What is a Square Grand Piano?

 

You may have heard of a square grand piano, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t. Square grand pianos are an interesting side note in the development of the piano. They have a unique design that looks like a coffin when closed. But are they good instruments?

 

The piano has had a long development from the harpsichord to the early forte pianos from the Classical era. In the 19th century there was massive development of the piano bringing about the modern piano we know and love today. I have more information about this in my show, Living Piano: Journey Through Time – Historic Concert Experience.

 

In the mid to late 19th century we got an iteration of the piano that would soon become only an interesting footnote in its eventual development; the square grand piano. They are sometimes referred to as “coffin pianos” because when they are closed they look like a coffin. These pianos are certainly distinct in their appearance but technically they are inferior instruments.

 

Instead of aligning the strings with the keys – like a traditional piano – they are perpendicular. This means that the keys on one end of the keyboard are much longer than the keys on the other end of the keyboard. The part of the keys that are longer and shorter are behind the fallboard, not the part you see unless you remove the action – otherwise it appears as a normal keyboard to the player.

 

Here is an example of an action from a square grand piano:

 

 

Image from Worthpoint.com

 

Notice how the keys get shorter and shorter.

 

Because of this design choice, these actions were notoriously difficult to regulate with any kind of consistency. Only a skilled technician who is used to working with these type of actions can get them regulated properly. Yet, even then they don’t respond as well as modern piano actions.

 

These instruments fell out of favor and the design was abandoned. They were not known to be particularly good instruments and they had problematic actions. However, the designs of the cases are particularly elegant and many of them have ornate carvings. These instruments are much better suited to a museum than in the home of a serious pianist.

 

I welcome everyone’s comments and would love to hear your opinion of square grand pianos. Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  You may have heard of a square grand piano, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t. Square grand pianos are an interesting side note in the development of the piano. They have a unique design that looks like a coffin when closed. But are they good instruments?   The piano has had a long development from the harpsichord […]

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How to Use the Pedal in Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd”

 

Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd” from his Children’s Corner Suite is one of my favorite pieces. It is simple but very poetic. This question comes from a viewer who wants to know the best way to use the pedal in this piece.

 

The challenge of the piano is that it doesn’t have the expressiveness on a single note that other instruments have. Or does it? Achieving expressiveness on single notes on the piano is certainly possible if you use the pedals correctly. In this article I’m going to share some secrets on how to achieve this.

 

The way that a pedal effects the note all depends on when you depress it.

 

If you depress the pedal before you play the note you will get an echoey sound with a boominess after the initial attack.

 

If you are striving for a more sustained tone you will want to depress the pedal after the initial attack. This will create a more linear sound which is rounder than pedaling before playing the note as described above.

 

You can complement this effect with the use of the una corda pedal (soft pedal) which offers a more sustained sound since only 2 of 3 strings are initially hit directly making the attach quieter.

 

The effects really are subtle and might be hard to hear over your computer unless you have good speakers or headphones. But it truly makes the difference in bringing expressiveness to the music. Try these techniques on your piano and let us know the differences you notice.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd” from his Children’s Corner Suite is one of my favorite pieces. It is simple but very poetic. This question comes from a viewer who wants to know the best way to use the pedal in this piece.   The challenge of the piano is that it doesn’t have the expressiveness on a single note that […]

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Is it Ever Too Late to Switch Musical Instruments?

 

I have known many people who have started with one instrument and then for one reason or another decided to switch instruments. At some point these people came to the realisation that they were destined to play something else and they made the transition. The question is, is it ever too late to switch instruments?

 

This really depends upon your situation, your expectations and the nature of the switch. For example, I’ve known a number of fine violinists who switched to the Viola with great success. In some cases it was because there was a greater market for viola. Others might have simply fallen in love with the rich sound of the viola. This transition is not that radical as the foundations for the violin and viola are very similar.

 

If you are thinking about making a radical change from one instrument to the next – such as trombone to guitar – it could be a much harder switch and something you should consider carefully. Your fit with the instrument is important, but you should have realistic expectations about what is possible when making such a big change in the instrument you play.

 

I’ve seen cases where some musicians will have gone to conservatory for one instrument but always played another instrument as a secondary instrument. They may come to the realisation that their true love is their secondary instrument! Switching could be the best decision as long as they are realistic.

 

I have known people who have decided to switch instruments to something they are not familiar with at all and it has presented great challenges. For example, if you played the clarinet for most of your life and find that there aren’t bands or orchestras you want to play with, it could be incredibly difficult to switch to an instrument like the piano in your twenties and develop serious repertoire and fluid technique. But if that’s where your passions lie, you must follow your dream. You can certainly become an accomplished player but it is unlikely you would develop a career as a concert pianist.

 

As long you are realistic with your goals you should follow your heart and pursue whatever instrument you are interested in. The good news is that anything you learn in music translates to other things. If you have a background in singing you will have a foundation for music already in place so learning another instrument will not be nearly as difficult as it would be for someone who has had no music training.

 

Thanks again for the wonderful questions, please contact me if you have any ideas for future videos. Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  I have known many people who have started with one instrument and then for one reason or another decided to switch instruments. At some point these people came to the realisation that they were destined to play something else and they made the transition. The question is, is it ever too late to switch instruments?   This really depends […]

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How to Measure Your Piano – Part 2 – Upright Pianos

 

Welcome back to our series on How to Measure Your Piano. Last time we covered How to Measure Grand Pianos, this time we will be covering How to Measure Upright Pianos.

 

Measuring an upright piano is a bit different from measuring a grand. Upright pianos are classified by height. The length and depth don’t differ much when it comes to vertical pianos, but the small differences may be important to you.

 

To measure the height of your upright piano you simply place a tape measure on one end of the piano on the floor and the other at the highest point on the case of the piano.

 

Upright pianos come in many different heights. Spinet pianos are the smallest and start around 36 inches. Console pianos are slightly taller, studio pianos are taller than consoles and professional upright pianos can be 52 inches or taller.

 

Upright pianos take up a certain amount of wallspace unlike grand pianos which can be placed at any angle and can even be tucked into a corner of a room. Typically you will want to place the piano with it’s back to the wall because it is unattractive since it is unfinished. This means that the length of the piano is important to many people. Like a grand piano, the width of all pianos are around 5 feet because of the 88 keys. You can measure the lid of the piano to get a good idea of it’s width and find the right place in your home to place it.

 

The depth of an upright piano might be important to you as well because it will be the distance that the piano sticks out from the wall. This measurement is not typically standard as some upright pianos have legs that protrude past the keys while others won’t extend much past the keys. To get this measurement you will want to measure from the back of the piano to the furthest point that the piano sticks out from the wall which is typically around 2 feet.

 

So, remember that the standard measurement of upright pianos is the height. If the depth and length are of concern to you, bring a tape measure to make sure that it will fit comfortably in your home. Upright pianos are designed to be placed in smaller rooms so you should be able to fit one in nearly any home.

 

Thanks for joining us for our ongoing series on measuring your piano. If you have any more questions please contact us directly: Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

  Welcome back to our series on How to Measure Your Piano. Last time we covered How to Measure Grand Pianos, this time we will be covering How to Measure Upright Pianos.   Measuring an upright piano is a bit different from measuring a grand. Upright pianos are classified by height. The length and depth don’t differ much when it […]

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