Okay, first off, I know many of you are saying to yourself – a pianist is a musician. While that is technically correct, I’m talking about a well-rounded musician who can sit down with a group of other musicians and just “jam”. Let me share something that might make this easier to understand…
I started piano lessons when I was six years old and by the time I was in my late teens I could play pretty much whatever you put in front of me. It didn’t matter if it was classical, pop, jazz, whatever – I could play every note on that page. Then one day a friend of mine asked me over to his house to jam with him and some friends. I took my keyboard over to his house and there was a bass player, guitar player, a drummer, and a girl with a tambourine. We got set up and they started talking about what to play. I asked if they had sheet music for my parts. They kind of laughed and said we were just going to “jam” and try to “get a groove going”. I was really uncomfortable and didn’t know what I was going to do but I didn’t let on. Well, the drummer and bass player started playing, then my friend started on guitar, the girl with the tambourine was “going to town,” and I was… lost. I had no experience playing as one part of a group. I couldn’t hear the chord changes. I failed – hard – but I learned a valuable lesson: I was a good piano player but not a good musician.
- Ear Training APPs – These allow you to train your ear so you can determine note intervals and figure out melody lines and chord changes more easily. This is a skill you need to be a well-rounded musician.
- Automatic Rhythms – This allows to play with just a drummer or with full band accompaniment so you can get used to playing with instead of fighting against the other players. It helps you figure out ways to play less but compliment “the groove”.
- Chord Chart APPs – These get you accustomed to reading simple chord charts instead of actual notes. This is important because most playing you do with groups is based on chord charts and not standard sheet music.
- Play-Along Music – You can download just about any song and play it back using Bluetooth audio or simple MIDI files. You can even take out individual parts and transpose the music into different keys. This really helps you develop a “feel” for different music styles.
- Music Exercise APPs – These allow you to practice exercises with automated backgrounds so you can get used to hearing things you aren’t playing and fitting in. There are also exercises like Jazz Hanon and Blues Hanon that not only give your fingers a great workout, but you learn runs and progressions that you can use to spice up your playing.
- Recording APPs – These let you record what you are playing and listen to it later. Many times, I’ll listen to something I think I played well, only to find it wasn’t as good as I thought. It sounds strange, but these apps have taught me to play less while contributing more musically when playing with others.
Some of these – like automatic rhythms and recording – are features that are built in to many digital pianos. However, the top two names in digital pianos (Roland and Clavinova) – also have numerous apps like the ones above that connect to your piano using an Ipad or other wireless devices. You can find a list of our most recommended APPs on our Pinterest page. We have one for Roland APPs and one for Clavinova APPs.
Today’s technology can open your eyes and ears to a wonderful new world of music and help you find the musician within yourself. You just have to be brave enough to step away from the page – and it does take bravery. If you’re reading something note-for-note and someone says they don’t like it – you’re just reading what was on the paper. If you’re playing something you made up yourself and someone says they don’t like it – it’s a bit more personal. Still, be brave and explore. Learn and grow using the tools available today. You owe it to yourself.