Piano: The Ultimate Preparatory Instrument

Choosing Your First Musical Instrument, Part 4


In parts one, two, and three, we looked at seven considerations for choosing an instrument: personality, space, transportation, availability, budget, body, and finally, preparatory instruments. So what’s left to consider? If you’re still not sure which instrument to choose, consider the ultimate preparatory instrument: the piano.

As stated in part three, preparatory instruments prepare students to play other instruments by developing easily-transferable skills. Music Parents’ Guide writes, “Many children who begin on piano at a young age choose to switch to another instrument….” Why are students able to do this? What makes the piano the ultimate preparatory instrument?

A piano student performing in a masterclass after choosing piano for their first instrument.
Photo Credit: Candace Bolinger
A piece of grand staff sheet music to be read by a student who plays piano.

Most instruments read treble clef (for high pitches) or bass clef (for low pitches). Pianists read both clefs simultaneously. This means they not only develop reading skills necessary for most instruments, but develop those skills to a high degree.

A student using both hands at the piano.

Pianists use both hands to play their instrument, and develop the skill to do different things in those hands (like rubbing your stomach while patting your head, but much more detailed). Pianists must develop finger control, strength, flexibility, and agility.

A girl developing ear training at the piano.

Developing a student’s ears is important: a student learns to expect a particular sound before it is actually produced. Ear training for beginning students can be difficult on instruments that are hard to produce a sound on, that easily go out of tune, or that require precise positioning to produce a note that is in tune. Pianists don’t have to contend with these issues, so they develop their ear quickly. When pianists play other instruments later, they can focus on producing the note that they already hear in their head.

A young man studying music theory at the piano with his teacher.

Closely tied to reading is a student’s ability to grasp concepts about how music works. One of the most obvious advantages of the piano is that students can see every note at once on the keyboard and how those notes relate to one another. In addition, and unlike many instruments, pianists play both melody and harmony parts simultaneously. This means that pianists are reading the big picture, so to speak, while they hear it and produce it.

Two piano students at a workshop.

Despite the fact that pianists develop all the skills mentioned thus far, the piano is considered one of the easiest instruments for beginners. Community Music Center Of Boston writes, “Although instrument difficulty level shouldn’t necessarily decide which instrument you choose, it can be a factor depending on how quickly you want to be able to play well.” In other words, choosing an easier instrument allows students to more quickly advance to levels where they are able to play music they love.


We’ve focused in this article on consideration number seven: preparatory instruments. What about those other six considerations?

  • Body: The piano (and its predecessors) has long been used to teach everyone from toddlers to adults. A good teacher will assign material that builds muscles and skills while fitting the student’s body.
  • Budget: Though pianos can be expensive to buy or repair, keyboards have become less expensive while growing in quality. Yamaha states “…advances in technology have made it possible for digital pianos to reproduce sounds very close to those of an acoustic piano, and even the feel of the keyboard can be closely simulated by various mechanisms.” A beginning student needs a keyboard stand and bench; advanced students may need pedals.
  • Availability: Due to the popularity of this instrument, reputable dealers and music are easily found. Pianos require some repairs as they age and wear, and should be tuned once or twice a year.
  • Transportation & Space: While pianos and keyboards require a fair amount of space to store and play, students rarely have to transport them (unless they join a garage band). These are generally sturdy instruments, difficult to break without trying to do so; however, the weight of a piano can cause a house to settle. Unlike most instruments, a keyboard can be connected to headphones, making it ideal for those living in close proximity to others.
  • Personality: No matter the kind of music you like, somebody has probably published that kind of music for piano, and if not, pianists can often read off music published for other instruments. Unlike many other instruments, a pianist can achieve a full sound without the need of a backing track or accompanist. For students considering a career in music, it is worth noting that either a piano proficiency test or class is usually required of music majors, and that statistically most music jobs are for pianists.
A parent shopping at a piano store

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