Why Aspiring All Staters Should Be Taking Piano Lessons This Summer
I started my music studies as a pianist at age 7, so I do not really know what it’s like to NOT have this tool when practicing singing at home. Without a piano background I can only imagine, and I’ve seen in my students, the painstaking practice it takes to rehearse a melisma, verifying solfege when modulating, or checking that you have sight read accurately. It’s such a huge advantage to have piano skills that I would bet that if you surveyed the All State Choir, upwards of 90% have at least some.
The biggest connection this makes to All State is that students with no piano skills rely exclusively on the practice tracks to learn music. This is a haphazard and dangerous way to try to learn this tricky music. As we’ve mentioned before, the tracks are a great resource, but there are always mistakes… all unintentional, but easy mistakes to internalize and difficult to reverse.
I started teaching piano to some of my voice students a few years ago, and it has truly made a huge difference in their ability to learn music accurately and quickly. It does not take a long time to get piano basics down, especially if you have a choral background, but I suggest taking weekly lessons for 2-3 months to see the most success. I have even had voice students who have taken for just one summer and were able to play their vocal line accurately on the Poulenc Gloria. And remember, every note and rhythm that you can solidify in your own practice frees you up to work on beautiful, musical, healthy singing in your voice lesson.
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Start out with a conversation with your parents about your desire to take piano lessons. They cost money – but it’s a great investment, possibly as valuable as another financial investment, such as voice lessons or a camp. Talk out a budget with them and then go searching. Then think of a place where you can practice. If you don’t have a piano or keyboard, try asking a friend or family member who does, or even a nearby church or school. Purchasing a cheap, used keyboard might be a worthwhile investment. You can even sometimes find old upright pianos for free or cheap online!
Asking your friends for a referral is the best way to find a teacher. When you find one or two you’d like to try out, be clear about what you are looking for: if you only have time in the summer, if you only want to be able to play with one hand, if you don’t care about scales, etc. Bring your sight reading and sheet music and help them understand the process. One of the great advantages I feel I provide to my students is that I know exactly what skills singers need on the piano. Maybe you can find a voice teacher in your area who also teaches piano!
If you want to see the most progress in piano and be able to apply your new skills to All State in the fall, then devote at least an hour of time weekly. Your time is best spent in smaller segments or 20-30 minutes at a time, so you don’t have to practice for an hour straight. It can be mind-numbing- believe me. Weekly lessons are ideal because you want to be held accountable for the amount of practicing you are doing and you want your teacher to correct any wrong notes you might have made a habit. Your background in choral music will help you to fly through theory concepts and pick up skills quickly. BUT only if you practice!
Use your All-State Music
Even if you are in your first few weeks of lessons, supplement any method book (Alfred/Bastien) with your All State music. Beginning to get used to playing your vocal line with one hand is all you need (also is a great quality for a potential section leader in your choir)! I recommend starting with the easier pieces when you begin lessons and eventually focus your attention on the harder passages in songs as you become more comfortable.
Eventually and ideally, you may be able to play other vocal lines or even accompaniment against your singing. This gives you the ability to practice with so many other factors other than the piano practice track. Although you do audition with that track, your ear will be trained to approach your vocal line with such nuance and confidence that it will show through in your audition.
• Piano Lessons improve accuracy and ability to learn music and correct mistakes efficiently
• Take 3 months of weekly lessons to ensure the most progress
• Practice a minimum of an hour weekly (3 sessions of 20 minutes)
• Supplement your method book with your All-State music.
With all of your free time, summer is a great time to challenge yourself with piano lessons. I know it will make your vocal practice that much more efficient.