4 Ways Learning Piano Can Further Develop Your Singing and Musicianship
Beyond daily vocal gym, singing, and performing, a fantastic way to further develop and refine one’s singing and overall musicianship is learning to play piano. Some will say that a guitar works just fine, and for some, it does. Singers will find, however, the piano’s user-friendly nature makes it the ultimate companion instrument to the voice. As I like to say, “The piano is your musical best friend!”
Singers can benefit greatly from at least a modified study of piano to gain basic piano skills (if not a full study) to round out their musicianship.
TIP: Learn both approaches to playing the piano in tandem:
- Learn to read music and play the piano musically with good basic piano technique
- Learn how to self-accompany as you sing using your ear and basic chord piano skills
Both of the above approaches are gateways to deeper musical knowledge and creative expression. While it’s true, learning to read and play piano from the written page takes longer, it is well worth devoting the time. It’s never too late to start. Both approaches are valuable and fulfilling.
Here are 4 ways to use the piano to further develop your singing and become a well-rounded musician:
Practice Tip: Make sure the following 4 aspects are engaged and in sync at all times at the piano for best progress:
As you improve on the piano while using your voice, creativity is expanded because you’re strengthening your skills on both instruments simultaneously.
1. Warmup and workout your voice.
Of course you can use an mp3 track or go it a cappella, however when a piano is available, use it to play your exercises and vocalize. The piano is a very useful tool when it comes to warming up and exercising the voice at home and backstage. Knowing your way around the piano also facilitates on-the-spot customization of any exercise.
2. Efficiently learn the notes and rhythms of a vocal part:
- The piano serves as a visual layout of the voice.
- Sing and play the melody of a song (with the correct rhythm) from a recording by ear and/or from reading written music. This also strengthens the ear and lays a good foundation to vary melodic choices, including working on embellishments like riffs and runs.
- The piano can help with figuring out vocal parts using ear and chord knowledge.
3. Learn basic chord piano skills for self-accompanying.
You can create musical magic with melody (voice), harmony & rhythm (piano) all on your own, whenever inspiration strikes. Accompanying yourself singing is a great experience and develops synergy, coordinating the hands, voice, ear, brain, and heart!
- As a start, learn to play and sing all 12 major scales. Understand, see, hear, play, and sing the following pattern of whole steps (W) and half steps (H) for major scales: W-W-H-W-W-W-H
(see this pattern easily on the white keys from C to C)
- The major scales provide a foundation upon which to understand, sing, and play intervals (distance between two notes) and further train your ear.
- Understand chord symbols and play and identify different chord qualities by ear; sing & play the broken chords (arpeggios) that are formed from each scale degree: First in root position and then eventually the inversions.
- Use a combination of recordings and lyric/chord sheets to learn to play the songs of your choice.
- Add rhythm to your chords, creating accompaniment patterns in both hands and use scale knowledge to add simple fills in the spaces of the music
New to self-accompanying? Tip: Record your chord piano accompaniment first. Practice singing to it, then eventually combine singing while accompanying yourself.
Rhythmic Tip: Add in a drum groove as you sing and play to further help your timing, rhythm, and phrasing. I love using the Drum Genius app. Explore different drum grooves. Adjust the tempo as needed.
Self-accompanying also sparks creativity for exploring the nuances of your voice, and for working on songwriting!
4. Learn to read music (and sing or hum everything you play) to deepen and expand your musical skills and opportunities.Reading music is language you can continue to learn over time that can open many musical doors for you!
Here are just a few of the many benefits:
- Musical literacy in basic reading and sight singing skills
- Greatly aids in understanding song structure and developing songwriting due to seeing in linear fashion on the keyboard how the elements of music theory work together
- The ability to notate your own songs
- Understand key signatures and how to transpose to another key as needed to find the best ‘key’ to fit your voice per song
- Understand tempo vs. meter (time signature)
- When you learn to play piano something happens to your entire creative process as a singer. It makes you think and hear differently musically, and will positively impact your skill and creative expression in your singing.
- Communicate and collaborate more fully and effectively with other musicians, including fellow singers
Whether you are brand new, restarting from years ago, or want to deepen your current skill level on piano, begin now and find the method of learning that works best for you. Get creative! Combine online learning with in-person lessons, for example. Once you lay a good foundation and develop consistent and enjoyable habits for practicing and playing/singing, you’ll be amazed how you can ultimately become your own teacher (just like with voice). 🙂
Be committed to the patience and consistent practice needed in working towards your goals. This will support you in feeling empowered and accomplished as you continue your musical journey.