Why Every Guitarist Needs to Learn Piano

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Videos by American Songwriter

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“I would suggest any musicians of any instrument undertake piano lessons. Not for the intention to become great at the instrument but rather for perspective.”

That’s what Grammy Award-winning guitarist Eric Johnson said in 2016 about learning to play the piano. But read that quote again, specifically the last word: “perspective.” Why perspective? What is it about perspective that would make learning the piano valuable to him as a guitarist—a guitarist whose nearly four-decade body of work says perspective isn’t something he’s ever lacked?

“When you look at a piano, you can see every note,” he continued, anticipating the question. “All 88 keys—the whole spectrum. It’s like laying out a long piece of paper that has all the architectural plans for a building. It’s a great center-point and home base to look at and study music.”

For Johnson, learning piano reshaped his approach to the guitar, because it reshaped the foundation on which he plays it and even thinks about playing it. Looking at the 88 keys, he could see music in its rawest, most basic physical form—wide open and freeing.

Like widening a camera lens to capture the broader context of the moment, Johnson could now see where he stood musically. And having moved to stand in a different spot—or to gain a new perspective —he also started to see where he could go with the possibilities of music theory and its application.

But among other guitarists who learn piano, this experience isn’t uncommon. When the initial shock of not actually being able to jump behind the keys and start playing right away wears off, the realization of a shifting musical perspective sinks in. Suddenly the fingerings aren’t vertical but just horizontal. Suddenly chords aren’t shapes but individual notes with names.

And suddenly you become an architect of those chords. With all melodies, vocal harmonies, and bass lines accounted for right in front of you, you become the composer that the guitar won’t let you be. With gigantic, heavenly chords now accessible, and even intuitive, playing piano lets guitarists build out what could once only be frustratingly envisioned or dreamed.

Learning and playing piano—the “universal instrument” as Eddie Van Halen called it—gives guitarists a bird’s-eye view of music and the process of writing it for nearly every other instrument. “If you start [with piano],” Van Halen continued, “learn your theory and how to read, you can go to any other instrument.” As the universal starting point for composition, therefore, learning piano puts guitarists far ahead of the curve where learning other instruments is concerned.

But calling it the starting point for composition, and arguably the starting point for all of music, begs the question: Where’s the starting point for learning the piano itself? Certainly, it’s not, as many of today’s apps do, making learning the piano an exercise in reflexes and muscle memory. Like some never-ending, fatigue-inducing game of flashcards, this method falls short in capturing and structuring the depth of piano education.

With such a one-dimensional learning approach, guitarists aren’t positioned to get everything out of the piano that they could—and should—be getting out of it. Because without a learning process that puts a premium on well-roundedness, guitarists get neither a full education nor a full return on their investment.

This is where Pianote stands apart from the crowd as the learning platform that guitarists wish they’d known about years ago. From sight-reading to chord mastery and live teaching engagement to personalized feedback from coaches, Pianote offers the exact blend of depth, structure, and consistency that guitarists need when transitioning to piano. Forums and Q&A lessons also provide elements of community and support as students across all skill levels and devices learn at their own pace.

And no matter what this pace is, there’s plenty to keep students motivated—the coaches in particular. Teaching the bulk of the courses, Lisa Witt demystifies piano theory, technique, composition, creativity, exercise, and improvisation with enthusiasm and sympathy. The other coaches do too. In fact, guitarists can choose whichever coach matches their style with easy-to-follow, easy-to-apply lessons on hand to make those “aha” moments a daily discovery.

Even if the goal of learning piano is to become a better guitarist, Pianote helps you do it. That’s because courses such as “Rhythmic Playing,” “Developing Your Musicality,” and “7th Chords and The Blues” improve your hand technique, speed, and strength in ways that directly carry over to the guitar. Not to mention stepping out of the C, G, and A key comfort zone and into the world of B, Db, and Gb.

So for guitarists who try to play piano and feel as if they never learned music at all, there’s clear, frustration-free hope when they sit behind the keys again. There’s hope to discover a new musical perspective as Eric Johnson did, hope to play over 100 of the greatest songs in history with ease, and hope to finally experience the big breakthrough that takes the skill of every guitarist to the next level.

As one student from British Columbia said, “I’ve had two big breakthrough moments. There was this video that promised hand independence in five days. And what do you know? A few days later, I’m a lot better at using both hands, and it just opened up a bunch more songs for me. 

And my second breakthrough moment was finding this chord chart that made it so much easier to go through the chords and practice them. And I started realizing that these chords sounded a lot like the ones I play on guitar. So I managed to take the notes that were in the practice log and apply them to my guitar and actually learned theory for both instruments at once.”

Ready for results just like these? Get started today with your FREE one-week trial of Pianote, and discover the freedom, confidence, and inspiration that hundreds of other guitarists have enjoyed from the very first lesson—100% risk free!

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