Singing is something we were born to do. Babies start babbling tones from the beginning. Young children love to sing, and are often making up sing-song games to go with their imaginative play. They don’t need coaxing to do this. They are just doing it already. It’s completely natural.
One of my favorite things to do is sing and play the piano. To me, piano and singing just go together like peanut butter and jelly. I love being a singing keyboardist. Singing with my students is something I do at every piano lesson.
It is true that all piano pieces aren’t suited for that, especially classical solo repetoire. There are countless amazing piano pieces that are designed to be instrumental only. It’s truly wonderful to play music from the great masters that moves your soul. Imparting that to your students is even better. Glorious in fact! That isn’t really what I’m getting at. Solo piano music has it’s place.
Still, what if you didn’t only want to play instrumental solo piano? What if instrumental piano playing or accompanying others has simply become your default? Perhaps, you always wanted to sing and play but just weren’t offered the chance to develop it fully?
Pondering…how many pianists are actually untrained singers that weren’t encouraged to develop their vocal potential? How many were put on the bench at an early age, and defaulted to never really singing much again?
Perhaps, their own piano teacher didn’t sing. They weren’t really encouraged to sing along with their piano studies. (Not even singing their letter names aloud.) It just didn’t really happen. In time, their singing birthright was silenced, like a bird in a cage with a sheet over it.
As the years went by, these young pianists grew better at their piano skills. They were even asked to start accompanying singers. That happened again and again. It became a part of their identity. Soon they were an accompanist. They had now become the piano player- those other people-the singers.
This differentiation has always saddened me a little. I have met so many incredible pianists who deeply wish they could have more confidence in singing. They wished they sang more. When no one is around, they sing a little. And deep down they know they aren’t half bad.
The irony in this situation is they are right. They aren’t half bad at all. Piano players usually have excellent pitch. After all, they are playing an instrument day in and out that is melodic. They have often hummed their intervals quietly to themselves again and again in playing.
Maybe they just didn’t have to opportunity to learn much vocal technique. They haven’t really put playing and singing together in a continual habit.
Pianists, do you want to start singing and playing? it isn’t too late! Start with simple accompaniment patterns and lead sheets. You most likely already know a gazillion children’s folk songs from all the years of playing and teaching out of method books. Start there. Choose a simple melody in whatever key you feel the best in for range. (D usually works well for most ladies. ) Add some very basic primary chords, and sing out like you did when you were little in the kindergarten music class. Be brazen and unashamed!
Sing and play that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Mary Had a Little Lamb at the top of your lungs! Do it like the rock star your four- your- old self knew you were!
Next step: start singing the letter names out loud to your youngest students and have them do it with you. As music teachers we generally know the benefits of singing, and hearing our intervals. We know singing melodic lines enhances phrasing. There are a myriad of benefits I could list, but you already know them.
Why would we hesitate to sing with our students? Our voices will do fine and so will theirs. Sure, we can all improve, and in more posts, I’ll give some singing essentials to do that. In the meantime, don’t let your dear piano students be put in a singing cage! Start singing with them today right where you are at!
If you want your students to be brave, then you have to be brave. Sing sing sing!!! Encourage your students to do the same. Don’t worry about your breathing and tone and everything else. Those things can be worked out little by little. Today we are just taking the cover off the cage, and opening the door. Now sing!
Come Let us Sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Psalm 95:1