Mastering the piano

Weekender

By THOMAS HUKAHU
HAVE you ever wished to play the piano – or the electronic keyboard?
If you do, then you are just like me when I was 12 years old back in the 1980s and listening to some of the best contemporary ballads sung by artists, accompanied by the piano – or its electronic form.
I must warn you that if you start playing the piano (or try to play it using the correct setting on the electronic keyboard), the journey can be tough, but is very rewarding.
In this follow-up article on hobbies, let me share with you my experiences in playing the keyboard.
Let me also state here that for most of you, playing the piano will be done on the electronic keyboard (set to the piano mode or voice). The basic skills of running your fingers up and down the black and white keys on the electronic keyboard will, more-or-less, be the same as playing the acoustic piano – whose sounds are made by strings in the instrument, not electronically-generated sounds.
This article is about playing solo – as opposed to playing in a band, or with an accompaniment. This is usually done without singing – just playing chords and melodies.
For me, 2018 will be a year of working on polishing up on my very rudimentary skills, something I first worked on 10 years ago when I bought my first electronic keyboard.
I am not an accomplished musician, but I think I know enough to take me towards the direction I want my journey to go.

My interest in the piano
My first interest in the piano was in Grade 8, although I never had the chance to learn to play the instrument until I was 17, in national high school. The school had an acoustic piano in the music room, and a digital one in the drama room.
In those two years, we were fortunate to have had a music teacher who was an accomplished violinist, who introduced us to that four-stringed instrument, apart from giving us the basics in piano, classical guitar and trumpet.
Our Filipino teacher also taught us music theory to enable us to read and play sheet music (like the one in the diagram) – music that was produced by the best musicians from all over the world, over the centuries.
For some of my peers, music theory was a new concept. For me though, it was a step up as I already knew the basics.
I had a small accomplishment in working with those basics too. When I was in second year at university, I bought myself a descant recorder (flute) and taught myself to play it by studying the fingering positions from the small paper that came with the instrument, starting with church hymns. That experience taught me something: to never underestimate yourself when learning something new.

My first keyboard
The dream to start work on the piano came a bit later, when I was 35 years old and bought my first keyboard. That may sound a bit late, but whether it is or not is irrelevant.
If you are a bit old and your wish is to learn the piano(or any other musical instrument) start working on the plan right after you complete reading this article.
When I turned 36, another interesting thing happened. Teacher colleagues in the school I was teaching at urged me to back them up with the school’s electronic keyboard, while they sang a gospel song to farewell a graduating class of Grade 10s.
That performance was well received by parents and students on that special day. That re-iterated to me the lesson that you must never underestimate yourself.

Why learn to play the piano?
You may be asking: Why learn to play the piano?
Firstly, like me, it is something you just want to do because you want to reproduce sounds that you hear pianists make in an audio recording, or in a YouTube video.
Secondly, you already know how to play the guitar and can sing and want to add more interesting sounds to the kind of music your produce.
Singer, Susan Boyle, at 47, stunned the music world in April 2009 when she sang I Dreamed a Dream (from Les Misérables) in the show Britain’s Got Talent. It was said that after being signed on to produce an album in that same year, Boyle made a resolution to take piano lessons to increase her musical skills.
Thirdly, there might a piano sitting idle in your church that hasn’t been played in years because no-one knows how. You can contribute to music in your church.
Fourthly, you may be working on a short musical play for some time now and want to add music of different types to the performance. Your knowing to play the piano will add something special to a song or songs.
Fifthly, like me, you may want to learn the piano to help you relax – a kind of healthy and cheap pastime and one that you don’t need to spend hundreds of kina on, as long as you have the instrument and music books at home.

What are the tips?
Here are some tips on learning to play the piano.
Firstly, buy an electronic keyboard. You can find cheap ones if you shop around.
Secondly, get someone to teach you basic music theory. You may get yourself an instruction book (like mine), but you still need to already know the notes on the lines and spaces (the staff), to even start. Another positive of instruction books is that they have CDs that make learning much more, easier.
Thirdly, watch piano teachers on YouTube and learn from them. This is a great resource that some of us did not have back in the 1980s and 1990s but is now available. You can watch tutorials for free online (as on YouTube) and work on pieces that are being taught. The great advantage of piano tutorial videos is you don’t need to read music to learn.
Fourthly, mark a time in a day to practice. Typically, it must be for one hour or more for three or more days in a week – but you can start with 30 minutes or so daily. Serious students of classical piano (those studying music by Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Chopin or Rachmaninoff) spend up to three hours daily to master their pieces. The key is: The more you practice, the faster you will raise your level of skills.
Fifthly, if you do not have a book from which you can play music, go online and check for free piano music sheets. Copy or print them, and start with those.

Learning the piano is challenging  
Playing the piano is challenging because you are using two hands to play different notes at the same time, unlike what you do with the flute or violin where you generally play one note at a time.
With piano, your left hand will generally play the chords of the song while the right hand concentrates on the melody.
I suggest that you try to learn some good classical piano pieces (as by Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Pachelbel) before you attempt other contemporary songs. Classical music teaches you the very best techniques of playing the piano as well as styles of playing. (Brahms’ Lullaby and a traditional English tune Greensleeves are good pieces to start with.)

And remember, be committed, be consistent, and be patient.
Some people who have played the instrument for years say that learning to play the piano is a journey that does not end. But, the more time you spend on it, the better you get. It is a journey that will continue until the day you die.
Do remember, that the very best pianists are also on the same road that you are starting on. The only difference is, they are further up the track than you.

  • Next week: Learning a foreign language.
  • Thomas Hukahu is a freelance correspondent

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