The piano is considered a polyphonic instrument. “Polyphonic” means “producing multiple sounds at the same time”. It also belongs to several musical groups of instruments. It is, of course, a keyboard instrument. However, it is also considered a percussion instrument because when one presses the keys, hammers strike the strings to produce sound. Thus, it is also considered a string instrument. Every one of these classifications is correct. The piano is truly an extraordinary instrument with several aspects that make it rather special.
One uniqueness of the piano is that it is actually used to teach harmony to students, an area known as “keyboard harmony”. This is the knowledge of chords and their progression. Harmony is a core part of music theory. It is comparable to knowing grammar to becoming proficient in English; it is the basic structure of music. To understand it, one is taught harmony in music theory, but since music is also an applied subject, it must be taught practically as well. Since the piano possess 88 keys, it makes it suitable for this purpose.
Just about every school of music actually has mandatory piano proficiency courses for all instrumentalists and singers. These are usually a two year minimum curriculum. Pianists, interestingly, however, are not required to learn other instruments. Even on an amateur level, most people, especially children, who wish to learn a certain musical instrument often start with piano, believe it or not, as a foundational step. Good music instructors will usually recommend this, by the way.
Though it is mostly a solo instrument, the piano is considered the most ideal instrument for accompaniment. Almost every classical and jazz singer and instrumentalist is usually accompanied by a pianist. In fact, the piano, by itself, can substitute for an entire orchestra for a musician rehearsing a concerto.
Playing piano requires a great deal of coordination. Thus, in learning it, one’s sense of coordination is greatly improved. For one thing, each hand actually works independently, accomplishing a different task from the other. All ten fingers are constantly being used. Notes feature a set of two staffs, one for each hand, called a “grand staff”. The player has to read both at the same time and coordinate what is written to the keyboard, meanwhile hearing it and ensuring it is being done properly. Technically speaking, a pianist has to coordinate his/her eyes, hands, fingers, ears and feet (for pedaling) simultaneously.
Learning piano is, of course, possible for just about every person, no matter what age. However, in order to become an accomplished concert pianist, it is recommended to start cultivating this skill from an early age, preferably childhood. To become even accepted into a higher education school of music, one must be a relatively accomplished performer. For this reason, parents of talented children, in any of the arts, must be alert to this and encourage and cultivate their child’s penchant as much as possible, consulting the child’s willingness at all times, of course. Usually, talents in aesthetics surface during early and formative years, so should be fostered accordingly.
There is more to it as well. Pediatric research has even determined that learning piano at an early age helps develop motor skills, betters memory, improves academics and even self esteem. In adults, tests have shown that pianists are far less likely to suffer Alzheimer’s disease, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
Because of the range of technical factors associated with piano, self-teaching is not recommended. One misses out on the real benefits. Just as one doesn’t learn by themselves to become a medical doctor, one shouldn’t self-teach on learning such a complex and powerful instrument.
The piano, as you can see, is a rather special instrument. It possesses a velvety sound, is elegant and can be thunderously powerful or delicately subtle. It is a joy to learn and to play and is one of the best investments one can make for their own personal growth and enrichment.
by Evelyn Simonian
© 2011. Evelyn Simonian