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Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master?

Posted By: MrHazelton

Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 01:32 PM

I often thought that piano is one of the easiest instruments for a beginner, because of its linear layout, but one of the most difficult to master. Most instrument come with their challenges, like learning the fingering, how to blow throw the reeds/mouthpiece, ect. But most instruments are also only capable of playing one or two notes at a time. This is why I think that piano is more difficult to master. You play melody and bass all at once. Often times the melody and the bass are doing completely different things and both can get very complex. I used to play the trombone in school and I never practiced because I found it quite easy. Granted I would have been even better had I practiced regularly but considering most of my practice was done while playing with the band, I didn't do so bad. I certainly could not do the same with the piano. I have to practice the piano a lot just to be an okay player. Of course I know that there are very difficult instruments out there that are probably more difficult than the piano. I hear the harp is very difficult amd I imagine stringed instuments are very difficult to learn as well. This is why I say piano is one of the most difficult, not the most difficult What are your thoughts on this? Am I wrong?
Posted By: Tubbie0075

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 02:02 PM

Piano has its challenges. It is not terribly hard to learn but when you say "master", any instrument is difficult if not impossible for many to master.
Posted By: Alan T.

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 02:11 PM

Of course it is. Any good pianist can tell you this is the truth. smile Now when I was an all-state french horn player in high school, the french horn was the most difficult instrument. smile
Posted By: MrHazelton

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 02:27 PM

Originally Posted by Alan T.
Of course it is. Any good pianist can tell you this is the truth. smile Now when I was an all-state french horn player in high school, the french horn was the most difficult instrument. smile


LOL. Since you have experience with both instruments, which do you think is more difficult, the french horn or the piano?
Posted By: MrHazelton

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 02:32 PM

Originally Posted by Tubbie0075
Piano has its challenges. It is not terribly hard to learn but when you say "master", any instrument is difficult if not impossible for many to master.


Good point. I'll put it another way, is the learning curve for piano greater than most instruments or not?
Posted By: Dave Horne

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 02:40 PM

That reminds me of the line from Victor Borge, Three pedals! Who do they think I am?

Playing the piano can't be that difficult, there are so many who do it and do it very well.
Posted By: david_a

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 03:07 PM

My most important comment: This is all speculation. Nobody can prove anything, including me.

The majority of the bad pianists one hears are IMO musically incompetent or musically un-trained; most of them are fine at actually playing the piano.

If by "master" you mean "overcome the technical difficulties", then I think piano is a fairly easy instrument.

If you mean "become regarded as one of The Masters", usually that's for musical reasons.

Strings and brass I think are generally more difficult technically than piano. Saxophone in particular among the woodwinds I think is quite easy to master; flute probably less so.
Posted By: david_a

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 03:13 PM

The "learning curve" for piano is extremely gentle.

Get a group of nine five-year-olds who have never touched any musical instrument but know how to sing "Twinkle Twinkle". Give violins to three of them, trumpets to another three, and pianos to the last three. Ask each child to learn to play Twinkle Twinkle (successfully!) on their new instrument, then they may go home. Who will go home first?
Posted By: KurtZ

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 04:31 PM

I have taken at least a semi-serious stab at learning: the drums, both acoustic and electric guitar, the bass, the piano, 'cello (mind the apostrophe) and recorder. I won't try to order them but the cello is the hardest of the group to get even to mediocrity on. Conventional wisdom among accomplished cellists is that 5 years of dedicated study is necessary just to achieve something approaching proficiency. The bow hold, the bow and string interface, the fact that you get NO help from the instrument for intonation and the fact that its layout is only semi-linear are all big challenges to overcome and manipulate to make a musical sound.

While I won't say it's harder or easier than the piano, the recorder, when played somewhat seriously is a much harder instrument than many people suppose. Because it's somewhat primitive compared to modern woodwinds, proper intonation (as most of us have heard) is challenging. On piano, intonation is not an issue if our tuners have done their jobs. Also a piano responds to a very wide range of dynamic touches. It's easy to discern how much touch is need to get loud, get soft or something in-between. On a recorder, or many other woodwinds, the difference between a musical line and brutishness is found in a very small range of tongue moves and pressure. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to gain control of these fine motor skills. While we recorder players rely on playing with others to hear polyphony, the notes are not in a straight line and many notes have second fingerings to create slurs or trills and those must be memorized as well.

If any instrument was easy to master, there would be a master on every block. I have never found that to be true.

Kurt
Posted By: apple*

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 04:46 PM

there is an extraordinary body of work composed for the piano, by composers of varying degrees of difficulty. You can't really say that about any other instrument... (contributing to it's difficulty to master).
Posted By: MrHazelton

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 05:33 PM

Originally Posted by david_a
The "learning curve" for piano is extremely gentle.

Get a group of nine five-year-olds who have never touched any musical instrument but know how to sing "Twinkle Twinkle". Give violins to three of them, trumpets to another three, and pianos to the last three. Ask each child to learn to play Twinkle Twinkle (successfully!) on their new instrument, then they may go home. Who will go home first?


I agree that piano is easier to play during the beginning stages. I did mention that in my OP. One thing I found easier about playing trombone as a teenager was that the sheet music was only one staff and one note played at a time. That's all you can do with an instrument like the trombone, one note at a time. It was easy enough that I could play the music the first time I saw it. I wish I could do that (well) with the piano. I think the trumpet might be kind of like the trombone in that it is a one note at a time instrument. You do need to learn how to properly blow into the instrument and which valves to push for a given note but I had to learn the same for the trombone. Once I had that down, it was a piece of cake. Granted there was room for improvement in my trombone playing but I've been playing piano longer than I played trombone and there is a lot more room for improvement with my piano skills. So perhaps the learning curve for a brass instrument is steeper than the piano during the beginning stages but I think the piano becomes more difficult with time...assuming your trying to advance with more complicated music. Perhaps I’m wrong, which is why I brought the topic up in the first place. I'm sure string instruments such as the violin (one of my favorite instruments, besides the piano of course) are significantly more difficult and must have a steep learning curve.
Posted By: Rank Piano Amateur

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 06:43 PM

I think that the piano is relatively easy to play in such a way that the audience will be able to bear, primarily because when you play an "a" that is what you get. But I think that any instrument is difficult to master, if mastery is defined as being close to a professional standard.
Posted By: Victor25

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 06:55 PM

I totally disagree with it actually. Before a beginner can play something that sounds decent on a piano they are most of the time at least 6-12 months away (and I say something decent, not twinkle little star). But if I teach beginners guitar, I can get them to sound decent within a month!
Posted By: nitekatt2008z

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/25/10 11:54 PM

Although it can be debated as to how to determine if a musical instrument can be "mastered" by a student who has the talent, passion and energy to spend long hours of practice, I would say the piano would be an easier instrument for a beginner to pursue. The design of the keyboard has stayed the same for several hundred years, so the 12 notes between each octave on an 88 note keyboard only change by pitch and frequency.

We have heard numerous kids crank out Chopsticks or Heart and Soul by ear on the piano, but it is rare for someone to pick up a violin, guitar or sax and just play the same tune. Of course one reason for this is that you can "see" and hear the notes in tune, if the piano is in fact tuned to 440 or near in relative pitch.

But on the other hand, as mentioned here, the piano is designed for the left and right hand to play treble and bass clef, sometimes separately or simultaneously. Other instruments like guitar deal with treble clef. Reading and sight reading piano music is a skill that takes a lot of work and many good pianists are not necessarily good sight readers. Some learn to play piano just by ear and cannot read notation. But I think that a student misses out on playing a variety of music and developing a good repertoire if they don't learn how to read music.

If we asked a great pianist like Horowitz, Rubinstein, Van Cliburn, Richter, Glenn Gould, if they have "mastered" the piano, they would probably say they haven't, because there is always some difficult new piece to practice and learn. Even as talented as these pianists were, they still had to put in the unlimited hours of practice it took to read through, memorize and perform each selection of music in order to play it at the highest performance level.

Getting a pleasing tone on violin or sax or even trumpet can take awhile, but developing good touch and technique on piano may not take as long because the notes played are heard instantly and can be modified by the three pedals.

Most all of the music of the world that has ever been composed and played is stored in the piano, plus all the music that will be coming forth in the future.

But I could say if someone could say they mastered the piano, they could play and sightread about any piece instantly, play for instance any fugue or prelude from Bach's WTC Bk 1 instantly in all 12 keys, play pieces with independent time signatures such as left hand in 7/4 and right hand in 5/4 in perfect time and tempo, play any standard tune in any of the 12 keys transposed instantly, improvise on any chord progression and numerous other techniques that could go on into eternity. Having absolute pitch would be an asset, but good ears with relative pitch is fine too. BTW, I certainly cannot perform any of these "mastered" techniques, so I am no master of the piano or keyboard, although I have been playing professionally for over 25 years and went to music school.

The goal of reaching virtuosity on any instrument is attainable and can be achieved by students with the motivation and talent to work at it. And the many musicians that inspire and motivate us all to keep practicing and learning proves it as a fact of influence.

katt
Posted By: sportsdude2060

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 12:43 AM

The answer to this question is different for everyone, depending on that person's strengths and weaknesses. I personally was a natural at the piano; however, guitar was a complete train wreck (after 4 months, I could barely play time of your life) Whereas, one of my friends was able to play van halen, dream theater, and buckethead after only 2 years on guitar, but piano lessons got him nowhere (and yes, we had the same teachers for each).
Each instrument exercises slightly disparate faculties and involves different talents.
That being said, most people find french horn to be the hardest.
Posted By: MrHazelton

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 01:02 AM

Originally Posted by sportsdude2060
The answer to this question is different for everyone, depending on that person's strengths and weaknesses. I personally was a natural at the piano; however, guitar was a complete train wreck (after 4 months, I could barely play time of your life) Whereas, one of my friends was able to play van halen, dream theater, and buckethead after only 2 years on guitar, but piano lessons got him nowhere (and yes, we had the same teachers for each).
Each instrument exercises slightly disparate faculties and involves different talents.
That being said, most people find french horn to be the hardest.


Funny you should say that. When I first started playing the piano, I also dabbled with the guitar, because that's what my friends where doing. I'm like your friend, I was picking up the guitar faster than the piano. In the end I wanted to play the piano more and decided I didn't have the time to learn both instruments well. I barely have the time to learn one. So I choose the piano and haven't looked back. One of the things I envy most about the guitar, and a lot of other instruments, is there portability. I wish I could carry my piano around and play it at any opportunity I had.
Posted By: MonticelloDreams

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 03:19 AM

I think each person has a different aptitude. I played Clarinet, Alto sax & oboe in High School. Not very hard to learn. I do think the one staff has a lot to do with it-just one note at a time. smile I have been trying to play the piano on and off my entire life. Want to learn Cello, too (someday when I have time) But then I think, so many people can play piano, is it that hard? It all goes back to each persons individual ability as well as perseverance. For me, it is hard to play well for my son's it comes easy...go figure
Posted By: Jeff Clef

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 03:30 AM

One of the most difficult instruments to master? Yeah--- for me. Maybe not so much for someone else. My problem is, I love it and I can't help myself.

If it ended with "Twinkle Twinkle" that would be one thing. Matter of fact, that was in one of my primers as a young piano student. But these great composers keep lowering the limbo bar. I have, basically, no hope of ever being a fraction as good.

However, I was never able to get so much as a sound out of a flute... so maybe that is a harder instrument.
Posted By: danz

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 12:58 PM

What is 'difficult' and what is 'mastery'. I played the flute in youth orchestras, but don't think I ever 'mastered' it, dabbled with strings, and now play the tenor trombone a bit. I learned trombone playing concert band music, bass clef at concert pitch. I recently tried playing with an English style brass band... their trombone music is written in the treble clef and the trom is treated as a B flat transposing instrument. Any note I played right was a complete fluke! I felt like a total beginner again.

Glad I have a piano, I can make the black dots sound like music, but don't really think I have ever 'mastered' a piece, but I do so much enjoy playing.

Danz
Posted By: Mark...

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 04:42 PM

I could got of got a Phd in something during the time I've put in to be a grade 3 hack...for me it is truly difficult.
Posted By: Aliwally

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/26/10 09:13 PM

I think all instruments are difficult to master, but some styles are more difficult than others. Piano there are so many ways to play it, classical, jazz, ragtime, boogie-woogie (the left hand alone is crazy in boogie-woogie). Then the art of improvisation, which could be anything. But Jazz seems the most difficult to improvise, a whole different way of playing chords, etc....but then you have the original classical pieces for piano that was I would assume written/improvised by the Greats, and we play what they created or least try to.

With those you have many different interpretations on how they should be played, how do we really know how they should be played. That can drive the most advanced pianist crazy too, so to sum it up. It's 88 keys and 10 fingers, it's harmony, melody, chords, intricate phrasing, etc....and for that you need a lot of time, energy, some natural ability, to truly master any instrument.

If we all had 12 hours a day to practice it does not mean we can master it, you have to have the discipline, will, and serious dedication to practice one hour a day, so 12 hours is not a walk in the park whether you want to or not.

Most masters knew they wanted to be a Master at a very young age, I remember the story of why Herbie Hancock switched to jazz. He was playing a talent show and playing classical pieces, but the piano was his thing in school and everyone knew it but one of the contestants played jazz and shined. That upset Herbie because the piano was his thing and nobody was to outshine him, so he liked what he saw and changed totally to jazz. The story goes something like that, of course he could tell you better.

So if you have to ask that question, just enjoy what you are doing because Master is a serious word.
Posted By: gryphon

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/27/10 06:38 AM

Joe Jackson says the violin is hardest. I believe he calls it a torture instrument.
Posted By: Victor25

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/27/10 07:01 AM

Originally Posted by MrHazelton
Originally Posted by sportsdude2060
The answer to this question is different for everyone, depending on that person's strengths and weaknesses. I personally was a natural at the piano; however, guitar was a complete train wreck (after 4 months, I could barely play time of your life) Whereas, one of my friends was able to play van halen, dream theater, and buckethead after only 2 years on guitar, but piano lessons got him nowhere (and yes, we had the same teachers for each).
Each instrument exercises slightly disparate faculties and involves different talents.
That being said, most people find french horn to be the hardest.


Funny you should say that. When I first started playing the piano, I also dabbled with the guitar, because that's what my friends where doing. I'm like your friend, I was picking up the guitar faster than the piano. In the end I wanted to play the piano more and decided I didn't have the time to learn both instruments well. I barely have the time to learn one. So I choose the piano and haven't looked back. One of the things I envy most about the guitar, and a lot of other instruments, is there portability. I wish I could carry my piano around and play it at any opportunity I had.


I also picked up the guitar very easily, was able to play most pop/rock songs just after a year, then went to pursue blues, and am now also learning jazz. Already playing in a band, and also teaching the guitar. For me it was incomparable much easier than the piano. I can learn most people to play most of Oasis's Wonderwall in just 2 lessons, but to learn somebody to play a pop song as it should (not an easier version) would require me much more lessons.
Posted By: BDB

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/27/10 07:07 AM

This is just one more thing for which it can be said that there is no problem so difficult that you cannot look at it in the right way and make it much more difficult.
Posted By: mric

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/27/10 01:10 PM

Mastery is a relative concept - what we consider mastery in an instrument is whatever a player achieves with a strong musical sense, better-than-average physical coordination, at least 15 years of solid musical education (including a fine music college) and hard work. That is true of the harp, percussion, the recorder, the piano or the violin. As such, achieving 'mastery' in each is equally difficult.

Of course some people achieve it faster or slower, with or without the formal education component etc., but the benchmark is plausible.

Given the large numbers who try to achieve mastery in the violin or piano, say, you could argue that 'mastery' in those instruments is likely to be a higher musical level in absolute terms than for the harp or the bagpipes, just because of the competitive challenge, but I am not sure that argument would hold between the various main instruments.

Posted By: Stanza

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/27/10 03:31 PM

What other instrument do you play up to 10 notes simultaneously?
How about crossing hands? (ok,drums....)
How about covering a range of 88 notes?
Or taking your hands off the instrument to make wide leaps?
Using both hands and both feet? (ok, drums again)
Frequently having to use an instrument that is "not your own"?

Posted By: Ordo

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/28/10 08:10 PM

Originally Posted by Stanza
What other instrument do you play up to 10 notes simultaneously?
How about crossing hands? (ok,drums....)
How about covering a range of 88 notes?
Or taking your hands off the instrument to make wide leaps?
Using both hands and both feet? (ok, drums again)
Frequently having to use an instrument that is "not your own"?



Organ. Several keyboards, registers, both legs, arms, hands, the whole body.
Posted By: Brandon_W_T

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/28/10 09:19 PM

Organ is far more difficult than piano. Requires much more thinking.

Organ music is generally written in 3 parts. PIano is generally in 1-2.


Just look up Bach organ trios.


Me miss the organ....

Im currently listening to a piece by Heinrich Scheidemann, a great early organ player, of the 17th century.
Posted By: Dave Horne

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/28/10 09:30 PM

I started out on organ (classical organ major in college) and then switched over to piano. While you have to use both hands and both feet to play the organ, you have no control over the dynamics from your touch.

To play the piano requires more control if you're playing with any dynamic variation.

Virtuosic piano playing makes more demands on the performer than virtuosic organ playing.
Posted By: MrHazelton

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/29/10 01:47 AM

Why have organs fallen out of style? I think they're pretty cool. When I was a kid a lot of people had Lowrey's in their house. We had a Lowrey in our house when I grew up. I thought it was fun. At the time (I was a little boy, so don't slam me :o) I thought the piano was "stupid" because the notes didn't hold for long (sustain). Of course these day's I know better and love the piano. But I still think organs are cool.
Posted By: Victor25

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/29/10 09:26 AM

Because most of the time they sound horrible, just like Harpsichords laugh
Posted By: Stanza

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/29/10 01:26 PM

I didn't think we were comparing difficulty of organ/harpisichord/clavichord/synth, etc. to piano as they are keyboard instruments that have more similarities than differences. I think the op was talking flute, oboe, violin, trumpet, guitar....

Posted By: the nosy ape

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/29/10 02:28 PM

All instruments are more or less equally difficult to master. This is because if there were an instrument that was easier to master than others then virtuosos of that instrument would create music that requires that much more technique/musical development to play. This is analogous to the concept that computer programs will grow to fill available memory.
Posted By: Dave Horne

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/29/10 02:35 PM

I think the following video says it all ...

(the good stuff starts at 1:10)

Posted By: Roy123

Re: Is piano one of the most difficult instruments to master? - 09/29/10 04:00 PM

Originally Posted by the nosy ape
All instruments are more or less equally difficult to master. This is because if there were an instrument that was easier to master than others then virtuosos of that instrument would create music that requires that much more technique/musical development to play. This is analogous to the concept that computer programs will grow to fill available memory.


Mr. Ape has it right--the best musicians play their instruments to the limit of human capability. To put it another way, composers want the maximum capability out of all instruments so they can express their musical ideas. That which limits what composers write for any particular instrument is the ability of the best musicians to play it.
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