Piano Lessons
July 17, 2005 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I would like to learn to play the piano. Is there any PC software out there worthwhile? Also which keyboard would you recommend?
posted by darkmatter to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know about software, but how much do you want to spend on a keyboard?
posted by cosmonaught at 7:51 AM on July 17, 2005


I'm not sure. What I want is an entry level keyboard while I learn to play.
posted by darkmatter at 8:25 AM on July 17, 2005


If you want to learn to play the piano rather than just keyboard, get a digital piano with weighted keys that simulate the action of a piano. I have a Yamaha P120 that I love. You can get one for around $1200 new.
posted by AstroGuy at 8:39 AM on July 17, 2005


No, there isn't.
posted by cribcage at 8:52 AM on July 17, 2005


If you want to learn to play the piano rather than just keyboard, get a digital piano with weighted keys that simulate the action of a piano. I have a Yamaha P120 that I love. You can get one for around $1200 new.

Is there a major difference between playing a keyboard and playing a piano? I was hoping to spend a few hundred dollars. Maybe up to two hundred for a good entry level keyboard and fifty for some Mavis Beacon type piano or keyboard lessons.
posted by darkmatter at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2005


Yes. Piano keys take a significant amount of force to move. Keyboard keys don't. If you learn on a "keyboard" it will be difficult to move to a real piano because you will not have built up the strength necessary to play. If you really get the bug and want to take lessons after experimenting with learning some basics on your own (what I did) you will (most likely) be using a real piano (or at the very least a digital piano but not a keyboard) during your lessons. If all you want to do is dabble with a keyboard, then a $200 keyboard will be OK for you, but don't expect to "learn piano" on it.
posted by AstroGuy at 9:23 AM on July 17, 2005


The whole point of the piano (hence the name) is the ability to control the volume of what you're playing by using more or less force on the keys you're playing. If you learn on a keyboard where the keys have virtually no weight, even though they may be velocity-sensitive, you'll have a very hard time using a real piano. Learn on something with weighted keys, whether it's a crappy $500 piano you found in the paper, or something like the P120 mentioned above. (I went the P120 route myself, and I love it.)
posted by knave at 9:43 AM on July 17, 2005


Years of lessons (I'm 31 now and started playing when I was six) followed by even more years of relying on and developing my musical ear. I have a Baldwin upright, plus a Korg digital piano with weighted keys and several decent piano samples onboard. And I have an M-Audio MIDI controller with semi-weighted keys (i.e. probably springs or something, rather than an actual piano action similar to what's in my Korg digital.) I'm going to echo what's already said and add that if you want to learn how to play the piano, you'll be at a disadvantage later on if you don't learn on a real piano or at least something with full-size, weighted keys.
posted by emelenjr at 10:17 AM on July 17, 2005


Thanks for all your posts. Very informative. Unfortunately, it appears the software I seek doesn't exist. Maybe in a few years.
posted by darkmatter at 11:09 AM on July 17, 2005


There is software out there, just no one that has posted on this thread so far has any to recommend to you. Nothing beats having a real living human teacher that can correct you on matters of technique before you learn bad habits that are difficult to unlearn. Don't get discouraged though. There are some skills that transfer over from keyboard to piano. After all, the keys and the notes are the same. What we're all talking about is piano technique, which due to the force required to depress the keys and control the dynamics, etc., is very different from "keyboard" aka "synthesizer" technique. Watch a concert pianist playing some heavy Chopin on a concert grand and you'll see they get quite a physical workout. Watching someone like Lang Lang perform will give you an idea of what I'm talking about. (Not that I am impying that you or I will every play like that--I can only dream.)
posted by AstroGuy at 12:16 PM on July 17, 2005


Here's a piggyback question that's probably even more insane: I can't read music or play an instrument. Could I learn to compose? In other words, could I learn to read music, learn some theory (i.e. harmonics) and then start composing using software? I realize that following this route will never turn me into a Mozart or John Lennon, but is it totally unreasonable? Could I learn to write fun little songs and output them as MIDI files or something similar?
posted by grumblebee at 1:28 PM on July 17, 2005


What you want is a Yamaha DGX-505. I just got one and I love it. It also has some programmed features which would aid in learning to play (I don't need em so cannot really comment on their usefulness.)

Retail, about 650 bucks but I got mine (barely) used for 500 (Owner decided he really wanted a more expensive keyboard and traded it in.)

This thing has weighted keys and also a lot of fun bells and whistles...

Anyhow, no matter which route you go make sure to get fullsize keys. And do try your local music store for used instruments-you might be surprised at what you can get.

Also there is a book called The Complete Idiot's Guide To Playing the Piano which is the best book I have ever seen for an introduction to piano playing..
posted by konolia at 2:21 PM on July 17, 2005


Absolutely, grumblebee. Try using a tracker program. (I asked about this sort of thing here).
posted by tomble at 2:25 PM on July 17, 2005


Here's a piggyback question that's probably even more insane: I can't read music or play an instrument. Could I learn to compose? In other words, could I learn to read music, learn some theory (i.e. harmonics) and then start composing using software?

Yes, you certainly could, though learning to play an instrument will probably help a whole lot. Taking up the guitar is pretty inexpensive. I'm a music composition student right now, at 20. I didn't know anything about music and didn't play an instrument until I was 16. Music theory came pretty easily to me; everything you learn builds on everything you already know, and it gradually becomes easier and more second-nature if you stick with it. You're not going to get much out of studying harmonics, though I think you probably meant something else, like harmony.

I'd recommend taking some introductory theory at a university or just studying it on your own in books or online. There are lots of good resources online. Then find music that you like and study the scores. Having someone walk you through it will be a huge help, but it wouldn't be impossible to do on your own if you were determined. And develop your ears. Learning an instrument will help with that, but you always have your voice.

Also, John Lennon had no formal training, and most of his music wasn't really "sophisticated" per se. The barrier to entry for what passes as songwriting is extremely low. You said composition, so what I've recommended is a bit more rigorous. You also wouldn't necessarily need software, but that is the way to go if you want to hear your music and have no access to an instrument or musicians.

Good luck, and don't be intimidated. It really doesn't require superhuman abilities, you just have to really love it.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:39 PM on July 17, 2005


And I didn't mean that as a dig at Lennon - I'm a huge Beatles fan. I just mean that you don't really have to study for years to do what he did; although most of us can't, and so studying is what I'd recommend. If you're into the Beatles, reading through these articles as you study and gradually coming to understand everything he's writing about can be hugely instructive.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:42 PM on July 17, 2005


Wow. Big questions...

darkmatter: In answer to your main question, yes, there are some packages that will help you learn - PG Music and Berklee produce some. But there is nothing to compare with learning from a teacher, or even playing yourself if you've got some sort of ear. Which leads us on to...

...a keyboard. What's been said before, about the difference between a weighted piano keyboard and a "synthesiser" keyboard is very true - if you want to learn to play Piano you need to learn on a weighted keyboard. The question is, do you want a standalone keyboard, or a MIDI controller to drive, say, the PG Music training software? If the latter - look at M-Audio's Pro-88 - an 88-Key (piano keyboard sized) weighted controller for about $700. There are cheaper, but believe me, they feel cheaper. If you don't think that's going to be an issue at the moment (and maybe it isn't - though it soon enough will be) then look at a StudioLogic TMK-88 - feels like plastic crap (it is), but there's one going on ebay at the moment for $200...

If you're after a standalone keyboard, the Yamaha's are pretty good (I use an S90 myself). There are a couple of P90sfew on ebay at the moment for less that $500 which might be worth the look. They have MIDI, which means they'll connect up to your PC (with a MIDI interface) if you require.

grumblebee: It depends on what you want to compose. No, actually - it doesn't. Of course you can compose without any musical training. The question is, can you get it down in such a way that someone else (man or machine) can play what you hear? Can you translate the music in your head into something that can be understood by others? Without musical training, I'd say the answer is "Yes" only for electronica, and then only with a lot of fiddling - ie: placing notes, playing it, trying to work out what's wrong and changing it until you get what you want - and the effort you put into that trial and error might be better spent getting the musical grounding that will make it all a lot easier.

For more complex "emotional" kinds of music, you'll have a lot of trouble communicating what you want if you can't play it yourself. Of course, that's only an opinion, and you might find a technique using modern technology that just works perfectly for you. As a professional composer myself I wish a pox on you and all your kind...

Now, write something that kicks ass and knocks me off my perch!
posted by benzo8 at 3:03 PM on July 17, 2005 [2 favorites]


For more complex "emotional" kinds of music, you'll have a lot of trouble communicating what you want if you can't play it yourself.

I'm not sure why you'd say that. If you know how to write music on a staff, there are plenty of programs (Finale, Sibelius, etc.) that will take your notation and play it back. Then you can always print it/write it on paper and have someone perform it for you. I've written lots of things that I couldn't play myself, and so have most composers, I'd imagine. Maybe I'm misinterpreting you?
posted by ludwig_van at 3:08 PM on July 17, 2005


Here's a piggyback question that's probably even more insane

Insane? What is even remotely insane about my question? You, Sir, will not be invited to my first Carnegie Concert. Second is right out. Third we'll see.
posted by darkmatter at 3:09 PM on July 17, 2005


ludwig_van writes "For more complex 'emotional' kinds of music, you'll have a lot of trouble communicating what you want if you can't play it yourself.

"I'm not sure why you'd say that. If you know how to write music on a staff, there are plenty of programs (Finale, Sibelius, etc.) that will take your notation and play it back. Then you can always print it/write it on paper and have someone perform it for you. I've written lots of things that I couldn't play myself, and so have most composers, I'd imagine. Maybe I'm misinterpreting you?"


No, I don't think you're misinterpreting me. Finale/Sibelius/et al do a very good job these days. Finale's "human feel" playback can be impressive at times, but like all of these things, it has a certain number of discrete modes and no soul. If what you heard in your head happens to exactly fit, for instance, Finale's "rubato" playback, then wonderful. But if it doesn't then you suddenly end up in a land full of nebulous terms trying to describe what it's "not quite right", until the person who is playing it understands. It's much easier to say "it should be like this", and play it...

Of course, there are degrees - if what's important to you is the right notes, in the right order then you're absolutely right - you can put them on a stave in Sibelius and it will play them. But if you want music, real emotional music, the music you heard in your head that made you get up at 3am and go to the studio to get it down before you lost it - well, I firmly believe that if you can't play it yourself, it's gonna be a matter of luck whether you can ever hear anyone else do so...
posted by benzo8 at 3:23 PM on July 17, 2005


Well, then I disagree completely. It's not a question of how accurate Finale's playback is; that's a modern convience that lets you get a rough sonic idea as you make changes. But if it's notated correctly, it makes no difference how well Finale plays it back, unless you're writing compositions for Finale. Like I said, I think it's pretty safe to say that most composers, past or present, can't or don't perform most of what they write. No one expects a composer to be able to play every instrument in an orchestra in order to write for one.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:29 PM on July 17, 2005


No, but in the days of old most composers conducted the orchestras which played the music they wrote and today I would be very suprised if anyone who called themselves a composer couldn't play at least one instrument and were able to demonstrate to another musician what they had in mind when they wrote the piece, albeit perhaps on a different instrument. Anything else becomes an intepretation, which isn't necessarily what the composer envisaged, but might still be decent music.

I don't disagree that anyone today is able to user scoring software, or a tracker or similar and create music, but I suppose for me it's the difference between composing and sequencing, in the same way as I don't consider writing to be picking words from a dictionary until Word's 'Grammar Checker' tells me there aren't any mistakes...

Anyhow, it's kind of a moot point - the question was whether grumblebee could learn some basic theory and compose music - I said he could and I hope he does. Once he gets to that stage, it stands to be seen whether he's happy with that or whether he feels that in order to really do justice to his music vision, he needs to be able to play the pieces himself...
posted by benzo8 at 3:45 PM on July 17, 2005


No, but in the days of old most composers conducted the orchestras which played the music they wrote and today I would be very suprised if anyone who called themselves a composer couldn't play at least one instrument and were able to demonstrate to another musician what they had in mind when they wrote the piece, albeit perhaps on a different instrument.

Everyone with a reasonably healthy voice can play at least one instrument. And if the performer is competent, the notes on the page and written performance instructions from the composer should be adequate. That's nearly always how it's done, in any case.

I don't disagree that anyone today is able to user scoring software, or a tracker or similar and create music, but I suppose for me it's the difference between composing and sequencing, in the same way as I don't consider writing to be picking words from a dictionary until Word's 'Grammar Checker' tells me there aren't any mistakes...

That's crazy. Notating music in Finale is no different from writing it down on paper, which is how everyone did it before we had such convenient software. I'm not sure where you're coming from here.

I agree that it's largely a moot point, but I still think you're grossly overstating the importance of being able to perform your music yourself. I just sing and play guitar, but I've written for saxophone ensemble, big band, symphony orchestra, etc.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:53 PM on July 17, 2005


[I've replied to ludwig_van off Ask.Me as, interesting as this is, it's effectively just noise in terms of the questioners' requirements...]
posted by benzo8 at 4:46 PM on July 17, 2005


[I've replied to ludwig_van off Ask.Me as, interesting as this is, it's effectively just noise in terms of the questioners' requirements...]

No sweat. No offence taken. I enjoyed the exchange of views.
posted by darkmatter at 4:59 PM on July 17, 2005


Pity you took it off Askme, as it was interesting, potentially enlightening to those others of us following the thread for any crumbs which might prove useful.

Keyboard vs. Piano:
Yes, indeed, there is a difference. If you want specifically to play a real piano, especially a good one, then yes, learning with weighted keys is Important. I was originally trained on organ. I can't stand a good piano. However, I have no trouble playing the average upright, which requires less force than a fancy concert grand.

Yet, that's not that relevant to me, as I don't own a piano, I own synths. I can play a piano sound when I wish. Yes, yes, I love having a real upright that's ready when I sit down, rather than having to turn on several pieces of gear etc etc, and the real sounds nicer. But I don't have one and I'm not likely to get one, I move to often to have such a heavy item.
posted by Goofyy at 11:39 PM on July 17, 2005


Playing your own stuff isn't a necessity if you have the ability to communicate it correctly to someone who can. My main thing's arrangement and orchestration, rather than composition, but I can definitely say that what's helped me most isn't playback from the software I use (currently Sibelius, but I've been through a few others), or even being able to play it myself (handy for general musical feel, less handy for working out what an orchestra would sound like playing it) - it's the ability to hear the music in my head. For that (certainly for the purposes of getting it onto paper/screen/whatever) the most important thing to develop is aural skill. The actual limitations of the instrument you can get from any decent textbook (I keep a couple handy while I'm working, and refer regularly, otherwise I seem to annoy wind players inordinately).

Piano, organ and synth are all different instruments, and while the basic input method's the same, the skills required are actually very different. I'm organ trained, and now teach piano for a living. I find that pianists as a whole learn a lot less about articulation, but a lot more dynamic control, than I did when I was learning. Keyboards are a whole different thing again, although the weighted EP isn't a bad substitute for piano. Learn the instrument you want to end up playing. If you want to convert later, it's not too bad.
posted by monkey closet at 3:49 AM on July 18, 2005


Yeah - the functional point of my comment is purely for the case of grumblebee's question who said "i can't read music or play an instrument". In those circumstances, while I still believe you can compose using a tracker/sequencer/notation program, I don't think you can ever reproduce exactly the naunces of the music you hear in your head, either in the software, or by demonstrating the end to another musician.

If you can play an instrument, any instrument, (and I concede ludwig_van's point that the voice is an instrument) you ought to be able to get across to another musician what it is you want played.

But, and I'll reiterate once more: in the specific case of the question, where the "composer" cannot play an instrument I believe that will have trouble communicating some of the more subtle nuances of their composition to anyone else. Trackers and notation software will get you a long way but they won't get you all the way - IMHO.
posted by benzo8 at 3:58 AM on July 18, 2005


it's the ability to hear the music in my head. For that (certainly for the purposes of getting it onto paper/screen/whatever) the most important thing to develop is aural skill. The actual limitations of the instrument you can get from any decent textbook.

Yes indeed.

And benzo and I have been having this out (good-naturedly) over e-mail, but I'll sum up my point again here for the benefit of the others:

in the specific case of the question, where the "composer" cannot play an instrument I believe that will have trouble communicating some of the more subtle nuances of their composition to anyone else.

In my view, the music notation and performance instructions should take care of that. That's what they're there for, anyway. I realize that every performance of a piece sounds different, and that the notes on the page can't dictate exactly how something should sound, but that's just how it goes when you're a composer. When you never even meet the people who are going to perform your piece, as is often the case, you need to let your notation and performance instructions do the communicating.

As composers our job is not to play the music but to write it down for other people to play, and being able to play it doesn't necessarily make it easier to write it down. If you have the idea in your head, all you need to do as a composer is transcribe it accurately, which is a completely separate skill from actually performing it.

But of course I agree with benzo that being able to play an instrument will probably make it easier for the composer to develop and communicate his ideas. Learning to play an instrument also will most likely improve one's ears, but as monkey closet alludes to, this is also a fairly separate skill from being able to technically perform something.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:21 AM on July 18, 2005


And while we're on the topic of writing for unfamiliar instruments, I've found The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler to be an invaluable asset.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:23 AM on July 18, 2005


« Older Linux & SATA   |   get the ink moving Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.