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Should I learn piano or guitar?


ZZ Thorn

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I want to learn more about chords and expand my theory and I'm deciding between learning the guitar and piano.

 

Here's the main thing: the piano may be the best tool for learning, but I just don't like the piano all that much. The things I like to play don't sound all that good on piano. I love the way a guitar sounds, tho.

 

So, does anyone have any tips, one way or the other? Is the piano really that important? Sure piano can play 10, but can't I learn quite a lot from the measly 6 notes of the guitar? Will what I learn on guitar translate much better to bass proficiency? Thanks.

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You can learn a lot from guitar, and it is more applicable to bass. But piano is damn cool Like you I dont like piano, but Organ rocks it like a hurricane. I'm guessing you like blues/rock from your name and let me tell ya, organ does it for me there. Also, its hard to find a good organ player.

Jonathan

 

 

 

 

 

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Piano is necessary to truly understand harmony and theory. It's required for a music degree at every college and conservatory.

 

Guitar is more fun to play in a band (and you can learn it much faster).

 

Both.

 

On piano, just learn to play chords for now, don't worry about learning pieces (the traditional way of learning). Just figure out how to play all the chords.

 

On guitar, just learn about six chords on the end of the neck and four barre chords and you'll know as much as 90% of the guitarists out there.

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

On guitar, just learn about six chords on the end of the neck and four barre chords and you'll know as much as 90% of the guitarists out there.

How true. And don't forget the guitarist's other best friend - the capo. You can do just about any song in any key and still only know how to play about 4 chords. :rolleyes:
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Piano first is the correct answer.

 

Guitar? Sure. Oboe? Why not. But starting with piano is key. Or 88 keys.

  • There is a difference between Belief and Truth.
  • Constantly searching for Truth makes your Beliefs seem believable.

 

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Just as a thought...you might want to consider some sequencing software or standard notation software. There's a few freebie sequencers available (Anvil Studio), some free/cheap standard notation packages (I use Melody Assistant). The lines kind of blur between these two from what I've seen...the sequencers usually allow input via standard notation, and the standard notation packages allow you to play what you've composed and render it as WAV or MP3 files. There's also some sequencer/accompaniment packages like Jammer and Band-in-a-Box...these are nice because you can just enter chord symbols and click play to see what certain chord progressions *sound like*. Both of these are reasonably inexpensive.

 

I especially think that a couple of the standard notation packages are really good for educational purposes. Google for these and download some of the demos and see what you think about it...

 

If your goal is to improve your bass playing by learning more about music, then I'd think this might be a good way to go. You can easily create some MP3 files or CD's with chord progressions that you can play along with/write bass lines to (then go back and notate your bass lines for an even better exercise).

 

Of course, you don't have to do this instead of learning another instrument...you could do it in addition to learning another instrument. I would just be concerned that learning another instrument might take your focus off bass. But, you know yourself better than I do :wave: so do what you think will work best for you.

 

All that said, I played drums for many years before I picked up bass, and I do believe that playing a rhythm instrument first has resulted in me being a better bassist that I would have been otherwise. (Plus, I think learning bass has made me a much more musical drummer.) Plus, I dabble in guitar and keys a bit. It all makes you better able to do what you do...you've just got to figure exactly what your goal is, and then proceed via the most direct path from there. Or not...sometimes the most direct path doesn't allow you to grow as much as a non-direct path.

 

So, I guess do what you think will work best for you! :thu:

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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BiaB is indeed a great program...however, it's very limiting and I've found it to be pretty unstable. If I were looking to buy again, I'd probably go with Jammer instead.

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Well Dave, I've found this program called Guitar Scales Method, and it's in a format that I had a lot of success with in learning the fretboard, Absolute Fretboard Trainer. I want to expand my modal and scale knowledge and start hearing some chords, and this program does just that.

 

But, it's only for guitar. I was thinking I'd buy a cheap guitar and start with this program. So I'm not really planning to become a whizbang guitarist, or join a band as a guitarist, I was thinking I'd learn some theory on it, mainly from this program, and then translate it to bass.

 

And while a hammond or wurlitzer tone is nice, I think I'd be much more excited to practice theory on a guitar than sitting at a keyboard, and you discount the importance of motivation.

 

I understand that piano is the king of all music teaching tools, but can I really not pick up that much from guitar?

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Fair enough. But another thought...can't you practice theory on bass? You can do chords on bass...it's not the easiest thing, but it might be easier than learning an instrument that's partially tuned differently. I say this because I recently watched Steve Bailey very closely at a clinic while he did chords on bass. He seemed to favor using a plucked note for the root, then artificial harmonics for the other chord intervals...and it sounded really REALLY good. If your end goal is to improve on bass, then it might be worth considering using the bass to do that. :freak:

 

Whatever you decide, I think they're all good choices in fact. And, yes, I think you can learn theory on a guitar just fine.

 

Anyway, I'm not really trying to steer you in any particular direction...just wanted to point out all the alternatives available to get you to what you've stated your end goal is.

 

HTH,

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

On piano, just learn to play chords for now, don't worry about learning pieces (the traditional way of learning). Just figure out how to play all the chords.

Good advice! IME piano study doesn't generally get heavy into chord theory until several years into it. Even after formal lessons I had to teach myself how to play a 7 chord.

 

There's always that academic element that wants you to drudge through 200 years of classical repertoire and fails to show you how much fun can be had playing both chords of A Horse With No Name.

- Matt W.
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I practice modes and scales no problem, but it seems like practicing chords on an instrument that's suited for it is more sensible. Bass chords, while I love Lemmy, are basically non-existent, and I'm no Steve Bailey. Yet.

 

One thing is, I can always pick up some theory piano, but it seems smart to get good at one melodic instrument like guitar or piano. I'd rather be decent on guitar than piano, so maybe it makes sense to begin my work on guitar.

 

I sure appreciate the input.

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I've been playing bass for 2 years this xmas, having never touched a guitar in those two years until recently, i bought an absolute bargain, a Bell, les paul copy. My bass playing has imporoved more than my guitar playing, its great. Guitar gets you fingers moving, and can build up the strength of your fretting hand too, and of course its good to play a large variety of instruments too. I do play also, i like piano over guitar tho!
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I learnt all my theory and harmony on the bass until recently. Having a piano or keyboard helps to hear things in context though. You can always find a way round things on bass, though.

I learnt some basic guitar years ago and last year I made a real effort to play it every day and get some basic fluency. I started to learn piano when I broke my wrist. I was surprised that after I learned a few basic chords I could pretty much jam along with chart music on the TV.

I think it's possible to learn both at once. I would recommend just learning some chord voicings on piano and some basic chord shapes on guitar as Jeremy said. It's worth trying to play keyboards with ten fingers rather than 2 or 3 as most non-keyboardists do.

 

Don't neglect our sister forums - both the Keyboard Corner and The Guitar Forum are good for advice and support. I learn a lot from both!

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Music theory is independent of any instrument you play. A C major triad is still C E G no matter what instrument happens to be in your hands at the moment.

 

Polyphonic instruments like piano and guitar have the advantage in that they can sound all sorts of chords and voicings all by themselves. So instead of playing chord tones sequentially, as in an arpeggio, you can play them simultaneously. (Of course we can play chords on bass, but a standard 4-string can be limiting. Another option is ERB, extended range bass.)

 

The programs Dave mention do the same thing. The difference is you don't have to learn a new musical instrument interface. Fighting with a guitar to get all the notes in a chord to sound can be frustrating. It takes a while. Same for piano. With proper software, all you need is a knowledge of standard music notation, which should be the first thing you learn if you want to seriously study theory anyway.

 

The big advantage to learning piano or guitar, IMO, is that it's easier to experiment. Or should I say "learn from your mistakes". Invariably you'll try to play a chord correctly, but it is mis-fingered, so you end up with C F G (can be interpreted as Csus4) or C E A (can be interpreted as C6) instead of the C major triad you were aiming for. Those chords have their own unique flavor, and it may be more meaningful to have discovered them on your own rather than to dryly read about them in some set of tomes on music theory.

 

As Jeremy points out, if you ever want to study music at college, you're going to have to learn basic keyboard skills anyway, so you might as well learn before hand.

 

A standard piano has 88 keys, or about 8 octaves, all within easy reach. A standard guitar has just under 4 octaves, and large intervals are harder to pull off. But probably the real reason keyboard is used at university is because it gives you a good mental image of pitches and intervals. It is also a more logical instrument interface than just about any other instrument.

 

Also, you have more flexibility in voicing a chord on piano with basic proficiency, whereas on guitar you'll probably only learn one or two voicings at the same level of proficiency.

 

Another advantage to keyboards is that they are by far the most popular MIDI controller interface. For example, if you want to add violins to your recording, but you don't know anybody that plays violin, you can enter the violin parts using a keyboard and have it (or your computer) produce the violin sounds.

 

Guitar was the first instrument I studied, although I remember plunking around on pianos as a kid whenever I got the chance. I still don't have very good keyboard skills, which I regret just about everytime I go to record a song. If I had a MIDI bass, that might be a different story. ;)

 

I'm kind of torn. I certainly enjoyed learning guitar and still play today. But for example one of the first chords you learn on guitar is C major, voiced as C E G C E, not just the simple C E G triad you'd play on piano. So you spend a lot more time getting started wrestling with guitar chords than you do plunking on a keyboard. Now go for a C7 (dominant or flatted 7th: C E G Bb) and I guarantee you'll be playing that quicker on keys than on guitar. Some guitar chords are like your fingers playing a game of Twister gone bad.

 

I dunno, so maybe get one of each? (...said the multi-instrumentalist.)

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Originally posted by RicBassGuy:

Music theory is independent of any instrument you play. A C major triad is still C E G no matter what instrument happens to be in your hands at the moment.

 

Polyphonic instruments like piano and guitar have the advantage in that they can sound all sorts of chords and voicings all by themselves. So instead of playing chord tones sequentially, as in an arpeggio, you can play them simultaneously. (Of course we can play chords on bass, but a standard 4-string can be limiting. Another option is ERB, extended range bass.)

 

The programs Dave mention do the same thing. The difference is you don't have to learn a new musical instrument interface. Fighting with a guitar to get all the notes in a chord to sound can be frustrating. It takes a while. Same for piano. With proper software, all you need is a knowledge of standard music notation, which should be the first thing you learn if you want to seriously study theory anyway.

 

The big advantage to learning piano or guitar, IMO, is that it's easier to experiment. Or should I say "learn from your mistakes". Invariably you'll try to play a chord correctly, but it is mis-fingered, so you end up with C F G (can be interpreted as Csus4) or C E A (can be interpreted as C6) instead of the C major triad you were aiming for. Those chords have their own unique flavor, and it may be more meaningful to have discovered them on your own rather than to dryly read about them in some set of tomes on music theory.

 

As Jeremy points out, if you ever want to study music at college, you're going to have to learn basic keyboard skills anyway, so you might as well learn before hand.

 

A standard piano has 88 keys, or about 8 octaves, all within easy reach. A standard guitar has just under 4 octaves, and large intervals are harder to pull off. But probably the real reason keyboard is used at university is because it gives you a good mental image of pitches and intervals. It is also a more logical instrument interface than just about any other instrument.

 

Also, you have more flexibility in voicing a chord on piano with basic proficiency, whereas on guitar you'll probably only learn one or two voicings at the same level of proficiency.

 

Another advantage to keyboards is that they are by far the most popular MIDI controller interface. For example, if you want to add violins to your recording, but you don't know anybody that plays violin, you can enter the violin parts using a keyboard and have it (or your computer) produce the violin sounds.

 

Guitar was the first instrument I studied, although I remember plunking around on pianos as a kid whenever I got the chance. I still don't have very good keyboard skills, which I regret just about everytime I go to record a song. If I had a MIDI bass, that might be a different story. ;)

 

I'm kind of torn. I certainly enjoyed learning guitar and still play today. But for example one of the first chords you learn on guitar is C major, voiced as C E G C E, not just the simple C E G triad you'd play on piano. So you spend a lot more time getting started wrestling with guitar chords than you do plunking on a keyboard. Now go for a C7 (dominant or flatted 7th: C E G Bb) and I guarantee you'll be playing that quicker on keys than on guitar. Some guitar chords are like your fingers playing a game of Twister gone bad.

 

I dunno, so maybe get one of each? (...said the multi-instrumentalist.)

+1. As is common, Eric picks up my slack by explaining what I actually meant...specifically about the software approach in this case. :D If you want to learn just the music theory part of the equation, then sequencing or standard notation software will allow you to do that without being encumbered by having to learn the physical requirements (like guitar chord shapes or piano chord shapes) for a new instrument. Most of them will also give you an easy way (render as a WAV file) to output the chord progressions to use, for instance, in a composition or to practice against. I actually think this approach has helped me more than the little bit of study I've put into guitar and keys.

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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Piano is so visual, as Jeremy stated, that it helps with theory and understanding intervals in harmony. It is also nice to be able to play some chords on a piano. It is a beautiful instrument.

 

Guitar's chord fingering can help you bassist that has not been exposed to chords to think a bit differently; I always think chord fingering before I think of a scale fingering.

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Not a democracy, but my vote:

 

Piano if you're willing to work harder

Guitar if you're not.

 

More important than either is finding a good teacher who knows, and can teach, the theory aspect. IMHO, that's the hard part.

Things are just the way they are, and they're only going to get worse.

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Well, if you don't like piano, that's going to be like pushing the proverbial uphill, isn't it? :) If the instrument's going to put you off, that's not much good.

 

Personally, I like mucking around on piano, but after awhile I find it a bit of a drag. I ghate the way that you have to be in a fixed place to play the silly thing. You can't drag it over to the sofa or out into the backyard.

 

So I agree with the people that suggested some sort of software. If you are only interested in theory and not in the actual technique, you can always download piano scores and play around with the chord voicings.

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Originally posted by SteveC:

Originally posted by jeremy c:

On guitar, just learn about six chords on the end of the neck and four barre chords and you'll know as much as 90% of the guitarists out there.

How true. And don't forget the guitarist's other best friend - the capo. You can do just about any song in any key and still only know how to play about 4 chords. :rolleyes:
:rolleyes:
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Let me know when you learn music theory by mucking around with sequencing and AI music programs.

 

Meanwhile, let's talk about why piano makes more sense than guitar.

 

First of all, the "rules" of music theory are based on the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was a keyboard player and he also wrote for voices and instruments.

 

Try playing a Bach Chorale on the guitar. Good luck.

 

You can "see" a chord on the piano in a way that only the most advanced guitarists can do.

 

First of all, play triads. Now play the same chords in the first inversion (with the third on the bottom). Then play the chords in the second inversion (fifth on the bottom). You are going to have to be very good at the guitar to even attempt this and it's still not going to be easy.

 

Play a dominant seventh chord. What does it sound like if you add a ninth or a flatted ninth or a sharp ninth? On guitar you have to learn all new fingerings. On keyboard, you just have to put another finger down.

 

Let's work on voice leading. Play something simple like a I IV V7 I progression. Make the voices lead to each other. Make sure that the 3rd of the V7 chord resolves upward and the 7th resolves downward into the I chord.

 

You can do this on piano.

 

Can you do it on guitar?

 

Can you write an harmony arrangement for vocals and try it out on your guitar? What about a horn section arrangement? You can do these things on the piano slowly and clumsily, but you can figure out how to do them.

 

Meanwhile, if you like the guitar, learn your six chords (A E D G C Em Am) and play rhythm guitar in your band.

 

No one said you had to ever play piano in public.

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

First of all, play triads. Now play the same chords in the first inversion (with the third on the bottom). Then play the chords in the second inversion (fifth on the bottom). You are going to have to be very good at the guitar to even attempt this and it's still not going to be easy.

Well, yeah. But then, guitar (and bass) notes repeat after the fifth fret. So you can actually do inversions on guitar.

 

Originally posted by jeremy c:

Play a dominant seventh chord. What does it sound like if you add a ninth or a flatted ninth or a sharp ninth? On guitar you have to learn all new fingerings. On keyboard, you just have to put another finger down.

And of course, "putting another finger down" is not "learning a new fingering"? And, excuse my curiosity... how DO you play bass or guitar? Don't you (ahem) put another finger down? :);)

 

On the plus side for the guitar, once you learn one chord shape, you can play it in all keys, thanks to barring. With piano, of course, each chord is different.

 

Originally posted by jeremy c:

Let's work on voice leading. Play something simple like a I IV V7 I progression. Make the voices lead to each other. Make sure that the 3rd of the V7 chord resolves upward and the 7th resolves downward into the I chord.

 

You can do this on piano.

 

Can you do it on guitar?

Fair enough. But then, that's a technique issue. It has nothing to do with theory per se. And if we get into technique, doing a decent tremolo on a chord (or doing a glissando) on piano is a real job, isn't it? Oh, and don't try to bend notes, *tsk* it's a waste of time.

 

Originally posted by jeremy c:

Can you write an harmony arrangement for vocals and try it out on your guitar? What about a horn section arrangement? You can do these things on the piano slowly and clumsily, but you can figure out how to do them.

So you can't work out harmony on guitar, then?

 

Originally posted by jeremy c:

Meanwhile, if you like the guitar, learn your six chords (A E D G C Em Am) and play rhythm guitar in your band.

Wow, I didn't realize it was that easy. I'm going to write to Vai and DEMAND to be given a recording contract with Favored Nations. I mean, I KNOW how to play six chords, I should be a shoo-in! ;)

 

 

Look, I'm not trying to flame you, I just think you're getting a bit carried away in your praise for the piano, which is a fantastic instrument, and you're being a bit dismissive of guitar, an instrument which has rather impressive possibilities.

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