How ‘Easy’ Is Piano Playing?

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Emily Sigers

Has anyone ever told you how easy a thing it is to play the piano? Have you ever had people convey to you the idea that piano playing involves little skill, and therefore, does not stand very high, in their estimation, as an art – that it cannot be classed with the art of say, painting or sculpture, as an indication of the possession of brains?

Such opinions only show that anyone holding them has given the subject little, if any thought. Until we begin to think, very few people realize what a really complicated thing it is to play even simple piano music.

We have, first of all, to read notes on two staffs – bass and treble. The same sign, placed in the same way is, for example, G on the bass staff and E on the treble staff. We must, therefore, always know whether we are reading bass or treble notes.

Various signs of different shapes denote various time lengths which must be exactly correct when played. Other signs denote periods of silence (rests) between the tones, also of exact duration. We must be able to place the right finger upon the key which each particular note represents, with the right kind of touch, at the right moment.

We must read not only one note, but chords of three, four and even ten notes at a time. We must use the right kind of finger, hand, wrist and arm actions and play, at the same time, with movements which are totally different in each hand. We must always keep in mind the proper key signature and be prepared for all accidents, and for changing from treble to bass in either hand or vice versa.

Now added to all this, we must observe all marks of expression,shading, phrasing and tempo, use the pedals properly, and finally interpret the style and spirit of the piece in such a manner that the composer’s ideas will be carried out.

When we consider this outline of what a player really has to do,we can readily see that it is not so easy a matter to play, even simple music, correctly.

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The writer has among his acquaintances a violinist, a man about thirty years of age, a fine player on his instrument, who had held a position in a first class orchestra for some time, who decided that he would learn piano playing. After a trial of over a year he came to the conclusion that he could not learn, because he could not conquer the difficulty of reading two different staffs at the same time.

Had he begun the study in early life he, no doubt, would have compassed his desire like many another has done. This illustration emphasizes the contention that every musician, be he violinist, vocalist, or what not, should begin his musical studies with a certain amount of piano work. While we may not admire the violinist’s lack of perseverance, it nevertheless shows that reading from two staffs, at the same time, is a difficulty.

It is only through constant and plentiful practice that we finally can conquer all these difficulties. Were it not that through doing these various acts, one at a time, over and over again, until they become fixed habits, we would never succeed in playing at all, but could only stumble through, making a most unpleasant and unintelligible jumble of the music.

Even as it is, it takes practically all of our senses ever on the alert – sight, touch, hearing, feeling, and we might almost say taste – to play the piano acceptably.

When we realize all these difficulties it will help teachers and parents to be a little more patient with those who are trying to master the difficult but at the same time most delightful art of piano playing.

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About the author: This article, written by Conrad Wirtz, was taken from the May 1923 issue of magazine “Etude Musical Magazine.” This article is featured at, along with free piano lessons, sheet music, products, and lots more.

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