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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Take Piano More Seriously (2 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

If any of my fellow NU alums who were in Keyboard Skills class with me are reading this they are probably laughing right now. That is because it wouldn’t be hard for me to take piano more seriously if I did it over again! I had all the answers back then (back then?) and I did not see how the piano was going to help me become the next Sam Pilafian or Warren Deck. If only I could have known how helpful having piano skills would be in many different aspects of my career.

At the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference this summer in Tucson I attended a fantastic master class by the great Jim Self. He has had one of the most diverse, and in my opinion coolest, careers of any tuba player I know. His master class was the inspiration for this series of posts. He spoke of three things that he wished he could do over again in his career. One of them was to learn how to play the piano.

Learning the piano is a great way for many musicians to become proficient at a second clef like I did. I could identify notes written in treble clef but my ability to make music, especially on my primary instrument, written in a clef other than bass went up exponentially. This opened up an enormous amount of music for me to be able to play on the tuba.  This includes the possibility of borrowing music from treble clef colleagues on a regular basis to practice sight reading which I will talk about next week.

Using a keyboard is also a great way to input music into Finale or Sibelius. The ability to play a chord progression on the piano is incredibly helpful when either arranging or composing music. You don’t need to sound like Glenn Gould or Vladimir Horowitz to make this a very useable skill.

Finally, having a basic ability level on the piano is invaluable to learning how to improvise. Whether playing a chord progression or playing along with a solo you are learning by ear the piano will be involved somehow in almost every aspect of becoming proficient in the language of jazz or any other form of improvisation.

Just about any music degree requires you to take some piano classes. You might as well utilize the time you are required to set aside rather than simply creating extra work down the road. I would know!

Tomorrow: Take Notes at Every Master Class