Written by & under performance, Policies and Procedures, Program Development, teacher resourses, teaching.

NFMC Piano FestivalWhen students start private lessons, it would be reasonable to expect that his/her lesson would be focused on the instrument they’re most excited about. Voice lessons are no exception – after all, singers want to sing! As far as instruments go, the barrier to entry for singing lessons is as low as it gets: you already own the instrument, and you already know how to use it proficiently.

Get a little more serious about honing your craft, however; and you’ll quickly learn that good singing is harder than it first appears. More importantly, good musicianship for singers is more difficult to achieve because of the amount of work that goes into fully understanding written music. Singers are accustomed to hearing and imitating the sounds they make – it’s the same intuitive learning that allowed them to learn language as babies. Rote learning is often faster, singers can find it frustrating to slow down to master note-reading, and besides: isn’t there a YouTube video of this song out there somewhere they can use instead of trying to read it?

Students who don’t play a tactile instrument need to support their singing by learning to play one. For the singer who is already proficient at singing, this is where the piano comes in. Every singer should be running pre-practice warmups daily – usually consisting of 5 note patterns moving through their range. By learning to play scales on the piano, a vocal student now has the knowledge and ability to accompany their daily warmups, create new warmups, and track their progress as they become more confident singing through their full range.

Because the voice is an instrument that cannot be seen or touched – it is very difficult to visualize the way it creates sound in real time. The piano keyboard is organized in an easy-to-understand arrangement, and allows the singer to touch a key, hear a sound, and see it’s written representation all at the same time. For vocalists that struggle with accurate pitch production, great improvements can be made when there is concept reinforcement over a wide range of learning styles – visual, auditory, and tactile learning are neatly combined while playing and matching pitch to an established tone.

Piano is a more straightforward way to learn music theory/reading skills. Very often singers who learn by listening inadvertently learn the wrong melody – their ear picks up on a note that is part of the accompaniment, instead of the vocal line. They practice singing the song a capella and their brain fills in notes that they can’t 100% remember with notes that feel like they fit. When looking at a piece of sheet music, most singers focus in on the lyrics before anything else. By learning the piano, the music itself is given first priority – leading to a better and more accurate interpretation. Furthermore, the singer becomes more aware of the role the vocal line plays in the composition as a whole – how the line fits into the chords that are being played, which allows them to make intelligent interpretation choices.

Arguably, taking the time to learn a second instrument does require an investment, and these skills can be learned without the piano – they just take more patience, more discipline, and more time. Piano proficiency is a requirement for an overwhelming amount of music degree programs, so rounding out their studies with piano allows a singer to get the ball rolling early on college preparation.

 

There is a boost of confidence that comes from sitting down and being able to pick out the vocal line of a new, unheard song. The independence that it gives an individual means efficient preparation between lessons, fewer panic-filled lessons scheduled the night before an audition because reading the sheet music is too hard, and a more informed musician whose primary instrument just happens to be voice.