During the 1600s, there were two very popular musical instruments that were taking Europe by storm. Back then, if you wanted to be a “rock star”, you either played the clavichord or the harpsichord. These two instruments had a lot in common with the pianos we know today, but they had a few problems that put a limit on just how far one could go with them. People who played the clavichord had excellent control over the tones and notes they could get out of it, but it just couldn’t play very loudly. If you wanted to play to a crowded house, you’d have a lot of trouble being heard. People who played the harpsichord found themselves facing the exact opposite problem. They could play loud, but the sound was a little sloppy and they couldn’t control the sound of the notes they played very well. An Italian musician named Bartolomeo Cristofori decided that he would build a new kind of musical instrument that would give musicians the best of both worlds – clear and controlled tone along with the ability to play loudly enough for anyone to hear. In 16983, he accomplished this goal and that is when the modern piano was born. Ever since then, the piano has become more and more popular throughout the world and is now the most widely played instrument on Earth.
Part of what has made the piano so popular is that it is much more easy to learn than most other instruments. It is a great first instrument for children to learn as it provides them with a way of learning music theory and learning to read music without giving them a challenge they can’t handle. When you’re 6 or 7 years old, you might not be quite big or strong enough yet to hold an instrument like a saxophone, clarinet, or trumpet and your hands likely won’t be big enough for you to be able to hold a guitar or be able to reach far enough with your fingers to be able to play chords very easily. Also, in a child’s earliest years, motor skills may not be developed enough to make the complex finger movements and key coordinations needed to play more advanced instruments possible. Even if a child wants to master these instruments, these challenges can very well stand in their way and lead to frustration and anger. If they aren’t having fun, most young children will get tired of an activity pretty quickly and this could cause them to develop a lifelong negative outlook toward music that could someday rob them of a chance to make the most of their natural talents.
This whole problem can usually be avoided though if a child starts out playing the piano. Piano keys are ¾ of an inch wide, so being able to hit the right one won’t be a challenge, even for the youngest of musicians.5 As mentioned earlier, playing the piano gives an opportunity for people to learn music theory and to learn how to read music at a very early age. However, this isn’t the only way in which learning to play the piano will help you to learn other instruments more easily. The most important thing to know when playing a guitar is how to play chords, as they provide the melody for any song. The same thing is true when it comes to playing the piano. Chords are a combination of notes that when played together, transform into one extra powerful kind of note. The piano is the only instrument on which the chords are actually visible, as you can plainly see them being produced when you press the combination of 2-3 keys needed to play them.5 Learning these chord patterns and sounds translates directly to what you’ll need to learn when starting to play the guitar. Honing your skills on the piano will help you to develop the motor skills and finger coordination needed to branch out into other instruments whether it be playing chords on a guitar or mastering fingering on band instruments like the flute, trumpet, bassoon, or any other instrument you set your sights on. Many famous musicians started out playing the piano and have credited it for helping them to learn more complex instruments such as the guitar and others. Just a few of the famous musicians who started out on piano include Prince, Elton John, Phil Collins, Randy Jackson, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney of the Beatles, and even punk rock stars such as Mike Ness of Social Distortion. Learning to play the piano is also helpful for anyone who wants to eventually try their hand at singing, as it teaches pitch and rhythm in a concrete, methodical, and understandable more than other instruments can.
One of the ways in which starting with piano helps people to branch out into other instruments later on is due to the piano’s overall approachability. It is an instrument that almost everyone knows about and can begin to play even if they do not have any prior musical experience or fully developed motor skills. With most other instruments, something as basic as just making a sound can be difficult to learn. With woodwind and brass instruments, you need to learn how to position your lips just right and with string instruments such as the violin, your wrist actions need to be extremely precise or you’ll be in for some unpleasant sounds. When it comes to playing the piano, you just have to press down a key and that’s it. It’s pure and simple and not overwhelming in the least. Because of the ease of beginning at playing the piano, most students will have early success and this is key in building confidence and a general enjoyment of the instrument. When children make progress, they feel good about themselves and when they feel good about themselves, they’ll want to keep going and make even more progress.
One thing that is important to consider however is the right age at which to start piano lessons. You’ll want to wait until your child is at least 6 to 7 years old, as an ability to read words is very beneficial when beginning to read music.2 Also, younger children may not have the ability to concentrate and sit still for long enough periods to make learning the piano anything more than an exercise in futility and frustration. However, once your child is old enough, learning to play the piano will help them not just in their musical futures, but has also been proven to help children perform better academically in math, as playing the piano teaches valuable pattern recognition, counting, and timing skills.1 It will also help children to develop self discipline and self esteem when they set a practicing schedule, stick to it, and get results. Playing the piano has also been shown to work wonders in developing and fine tuning the senses, especially sight, sound, and touch, as well as eye-hand coordination. This has been proven to be especially true for children.4
The piano is also a great instrument to start out on because sheet music is so widely available. You can get the sheet music to almost any of your favorite songs and learn how to play it on the piano. Because of this, piano playing doesn’t have to be all Mozart and Beethoven. Kids can have fun playing all of their favorite modern music as well. While the piano is not an instrument that is always integrated into bands or played in school concerts, duets and ensemble performances can be arranged by most instructors if desired, and this can help to not only build musical skills, but social skills as well.
The world of music is a wonderful and exciting one and it is a world where almost anybody can discover hidden talents they never knew they had. Playing an instrument can be fun and can build confidence, discipline, motor skills, and even help with academics. Getting a head start early in life can be the first step in finding something that can be a lifelong friend and asset, and there’s no better way to get your feet wet than by taking some piano lessons and unleashing the star you’ve always wanted to be.
- Crowder, C. O. “Why the Piano is the Perfect First Instrument”. Associated Content, August 9, 2007. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/337761/why_the_piano_is_the_perfect_first.html?cat=33
- Tara, Mary. “First and Foremost Piano – Start ‘Em Young”. July 15, 2002. http://www.epinions.com/content_2754977924
- Erlich, Cyril. “The Piano: A History”. Oxford University Press, 1990. Hargis, Kathyrn
- “What Instrument Should Johnny Play?”. Homeschooling Today. http://www.homeschooltoday.com/news/65/30/What-Instrument-Should-Johnny-Play.htm
- Aschenbrenner, John. Why The Piano is the Best Children’s Musical Instrument. Walden Pond Press. http://www.pianoiseasy2.com/childlike.html