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  1. #1

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    I wonder about this a lot.

    I'm interested in how many of the greats of guitar played or didn't play piano.

    I'm very interested in Bach counterpoint and piano sounds that aren't really possible on guitar (Bill Evans is a big one). I can play chords on piano and see how the voicings work and I'm toying with getting a keyboard to work on harmony stuff (had to stop myself from buying a super nice Native Instruments keyboard during Black Friday). Clearly a lot of material about harmony and working on harmony and counterpoint is based on working things out on piano.

    On the other hand, I'm working on being a guitar player and I think doing as much of my mental work on guitar is important. It's definitely hard to work on contrapuntal things on a solo guitar (not impossible just really hard and limiting). Seems like most harmonic concepts are fully accessible, but possibly in awkward ways and clearly more difficult then pressing the requisite keys.

    There's always writing things out in Musescore and having them played back which takes the whole learning more technique on piano thing away.

    Anyway. Just wondering how many of the harmonic giants of guitar were working things out on piano?

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  3. #2

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    There's a difference between "working things out on the piano" and actually "playing piano" too.

    A lot of good musicians can at least find their way around on piano. Some are surprisingly good piano players. Some great drummers are particularly good, Jack DeJohnette plays well enough that I'd go see him play piano!

    The piano is the "motherboard," really. How far you go with it is up to you, but literally nothing bad can come from learning some piano.

  4. #3

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    I can think of examples each way. John Abercrombie was a good piano player, and did a lot of composing away from the guitar. Jim Hall didn't have regular access to a piano during his time in music school, and said he got a lot out of working out his counterpoint and harmony assignments on the guitar.

    I can't sit down and play songs on the piano, but I did a lot of ear training and theory work on keyboards when I was starting out. I can see where nowadays I could do the same work with notation/playback software. Best wishes for your music!

    PK

  5. #4

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    Of course some pianists wish they could be guitarists.

    The playing or the Not playing of Piano-96fa083b-c0b4-4996-a5a8-eb9ae80fbc1e-jpg

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    Of course some pianists wish they could be guitarists.

    The playing or the Not playing of Piano-96fa083b-c0b4-4996-a5a8-eb9ae80fbc1e-jpg
    It's funny how much people still love the novelty of the keytar. When I saw Herbie this summer, the crowd went absolute NUTS when he scurried offstage and came back with it.

  7. #6

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    Well strutting your stuff with a guitar is way sexier than sitting behind some boring old keyboard looking like a typist.

  8. #7

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    Did Ted Green play the piano much ?

  9. #8
    To be a bit more specific, my question wasn't is it a good and nice thing to play piano and a useful way to understand things but: if your ultimate goal is to be a great and unique guitar player with an excellent sense of harmony and counterpoint, is it more beneficial to focus on your own instrument and what can be done there or is the piano effective as a teaching tool for figuring things out, and/or can the piano end up being a crutch that slows you down from doing hard stuff on the guitar?

    I could go either way. I can't think of too many guitar players (other than mentioned above) who did play piano but I guess I don't really know.

    My general thought of the guitar is that it's sort of a piano substitute instrument in jazz that can do a lot of the things a piano does but also does them in a totally different way. So I'm still weighing buying a keyboard for figuring out certain kinds of stuff vs just sticking to the guitar.

  10. #9

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    ralph towner was a classically trained pianist before turning to guitar..and hes a monster on both! abercrombie played ralphs piano waltz on guitar..in duo with ralph and in his own solo career

    keith jarrett a child piano prodigy picked up the electric guitar for a lark...stan getz wanted to hire him as his guitarist!!

    slim gaillard was also equally proficient on piano and guitar

    cheers

  11. #10

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    This is an interesting question.

    I think a great deal of the peculiar ubiquitous nature of the piano comes from an unwritten rule about propriety, custom, and courtesy concerning who may play instruments... We all know it is generally common practice that personal guitars are off limits for being played other than by their owners, that it is a social error to request to do so (forcing the owner to uncomfortably be put on the spot to decline), and a serious and grave situation arises if one were to just pick up another's guitar and start to play it without asking... same with sax, and trumpet, etc. But a piano may generally be played by anyone in the sense that nobody would refuse or be inclined to. The only other instrument that comes close to this is a drum kit on an open mic jam bandstand.

    I'm sure part of this comes from the logistics of the piano; when I studied classical piano I practiced on one at home, played another during the lessons, played any of a dozen or so in practice rooms at the school, and performed on yet another one (a really nice one) for public performance recitals.

    So, since you can't bring one with you, everywhere that music (teaching, practicing, rehearsals, performance) is happening there are pianos already there intended to be played by anyone. I think this is part of why about all musicians can go over to a piano and play some scales and chords... it's long been a part of the setting, an easy way to express an idea or concept directly using a universally understood popular instrument.

    That said, as to whether you should mix learning some piano along with learning guitar, I don't think there is a one size fits all answer - especially the temping answer to reply, "Yes, of course!", and I don't think looking to see if past guitarists of note used pianos would help much without assuming that your musical mind and theirs' share certain similarities or attributes, etc.

    I played piano before the guitar. The first time I played a guitar I knew I was understanding it already, I instinctively was grasping how it worked as a musical instrument. None of this came from experience with the piano - I didn't know the names of the notes on the guitar, but part of my amazement was discovering and realizing I didn't need to know.

    I first learned scales on the piano (and the clarinet before that), so teaching myself my ear, I taught myself to play lead guitar first. Two years later I realized that I already knew how to form chords and make them up when needed.

    I have always thought the usual way of teaching the guitar as chords first and scales later promoted a flawed asymmetry or gradient; if you grasp the melody of lines (notes, intervals, and scales) first as melody, then composing of chords by ear is direct and natural, but trying to decompose chords learned first into lines seems so difficult, unnatural, and tedious that hundreds of theory books and methods are produced to figure it out. In Jazz they say, "Let the melody be your guide"... yet how many guitarists actually did that and literally first learned how to play single note lines?

    What I'm getting at is that it will depend on your musical mind - how you hear, conceive, learn, compose, practice, and perform music. My path was not the usual way because I decided to learn the guitar exclusively by ear - it was such a different instrument from the piano that to my mind I knew immediately from the first it was my instrument.

    To me, the piano has no relationship to how I play and understand playing the guitar. I do still play my piano, it's now over 50 years old, and I play it frequently, pulling out some Bach or whatever and playing through for a few hours - but that kind of playing is another planet altogether compared to how I play the guitar. To someone else whose musical mind would have or allow a substantial overlap between their grasp of piano and guitar, things would be different for them, or you...

  12. #11

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    Music majors are required to learn some piano/keyboard, regardless of their chosen "principal" instrument or voice. It helps with theory assignments, arranging, orchestration, composing.

    OTOH - Segovia collaborated with great composers (who were pianists of course) but had to tell them - that part cannot be played on the guitar! And then they had to make adjustments for the guitar.

    So, if one is to compose for the guitar it seems that the piano may or may not help if one already knows harmony and keyboard well enough to speed the path to sketching out a composition. Joe Pass used the piano to compose. He said that composing on the guitar was troublesome because his fingers wanted to do things on their own.

  13. #12

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    It was critical in my development as a musician.

  14. #13
    I think it's somewhat of a personal thing. Some people feel the need to compartmentalize things and to limit for simplicity's sake. Others are very comfortable with really diversifying in styles or different instruments and feel that it all supports the totality of knowledge. That's my personal view as well , but to each his own.

    I personally view the "choice" between piano time and guitar time somewhat like the "choice" between reading good books, enjoying good meals, and other fine things in life. Mostly it's "all of the above", isn't it? Why make anything an "or"which doesn't have to be. There are a lot of things to be enjoyed in life and a long to be learned. There are pretty finite limits of attention span etc. Some of us have to diversify even more than others.

    I've gotten a lot out of my stints of burnout or irritation with guitar: in learning ukulele and piano, or pursuing other styles of music, (as well as other non-musical endeavors). I feel like all of these have made me a better musician.

    There very often seems to be a lot of concern over competing elements vying for finite mental bandwidth - like "piano mental space" taking up some of the room that would be occupied with "guitar mental space". I think this is a big misunderstanding in the way the mind works, personally.

  15. #14

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    Never really researched how many of the great ones actually played the piano, but I can think of several that did, despite it not being their main instrument. But for the younger generation of horn and drum players today, I believe almost everyone does.

    I think the piano is a perfect compliment to the guitar. Things that are easy on the guitar are things you have to work on on the piano, and vise versa. It's so much easier to make sense of everything that has to do with theory on the piano. And such a fresh and different approach compared to the guitar.

  16. #15

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    Piano has an 88 note range // 6 string guitar has between a 45 - 49 note range.

    With some constraints, pianists can play 10 or more notes at once // With greater constraints, guitarists can play 6 notes at once.

    For piano, the use of two hands makes the playing of independent lines convenient //
    The manner of playing independent lines on guitar is far more convoluted although possible within greater constraints

    Close voicings are easily played on piano // Guitar has a limited vocabulary of playable close voicings.

    Stanley Jordan sort out ways to mitigate the relative limitations of guitar through two handed tapping techniques.

    Obviously guitar also has some redeeming advantages starting with the expressive variance that we can achieve by having our hands directly in contact with the strings.

    Regarding studying the piano music of Bach, a cellist friend of mine had an interesting solution. He would play one line while singing the other. Mind you this was not something he was able to sightread but was able to achieve with several pieces through concerted practice.

    I use piano for study, to work certain things out, for help with composition/arranging tasks. In my opinion, some piano skill are helpful, greater skill, even better, but many excellent things are still possible by dealing directly with the guitar on it's own.
    Last edited by bako; 01-15-2020 at 11:48 AM.

  17. #16

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    I wish I could play piano. I can play about as well as Bob Dylan could back in the 60's. ;-)

    I can see the benefit for music theory and composition, but I don't think it's necessary. I think most guitarists who compose on piano do so guitaristically, not with piano necessarily in mind.

    BTW, one of my teachers pointed out that Villa-Lobos was one of the most guitaristic composers. I think he was actually a well-trained guitarist, along with cello and clarinet. (Apparently he went into the interior of Brazil on expeditions and once barely escaped from "cannibals". Shades of The Green Inferno.) That is rare among classical composers, though I think Bach's works for cello and lute translate well with some modifications.

    I had a classmate in high school who was a keyboard prodigy. He still plays and directs music at one of the largest Unitarian churches in Chicago. He started taking guitar lessons with a well-known local college professor (Mario Abril) and within a year was a monster on the classical guitar as well.

    Boy do I envy people like that.

  18. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Patlotch
    Aren't guitarists good composers for bands without guitar?to my knowledge there is very little composition of guitarists who have become 'standards', in the sense that they would have been taken up by bands, apart from the presence of the guitarist composer, or guitarists in the groupif Joe Pass was as said composing on the piano, and many guitarists with guitar, perhaps an example is the two famous compositions by Wes Montgomery, Four on Six and West Coast Blues but I did not find interpretations without guitar...the best-known that come to mind is Bluesette, by Toots Thielemans, on harmony of "Swedish Blues" like Blues for AliceI found a interpretation of 1966, without guitar or harmonica, but with the accordion of Art Van Damme, surrounded by 2 flugelhorns, a baritone sax, a trombone, bass and drums
    I'm obviously curious about other examplesin classical, if Segovia has adapted orchestral pieces, and contributed with composers to works for solo or concertating guitar, he has not composed, or very littleVilla Lobos, guitarist, writes for the orchestra, but he had learned piano, cello, clarinet and guitar, so it is difficult to know whether his knowledge of the guitar influenced his orchestral worksmy cat Bluesette, my guitare, and me, 1986
    I'm not sure that compostitions becoming standards is really a good marker for harmonic knowledge. Certainly Pat Metheny has a book full of complex compositions and a few of his early ones are in the real book. But also you'd have to count for the legions of great pianists who don't have any tunes that have become standards. I believe Ben Monder has a big book of incredibly complex tunes he's written.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patlotch
    I made a mistake when I wrote in 2013 The Jazz Guitar like a piano, history and techniques*. I felt it and that's why I should have put quotes. We often talk about playing the guitar in a pianistic way, but when we listen to those who do, it has nothing to do with playing the piano, it is mixing apples and carrots. I should have talked, like Berlioz, about "guitar like a small orchestra", which is very often the classical guitar
    I don't know, I think one can play a guitar pianistically. That implies playing contrapuntally or at least with a bass or rhythm voice and a treble or lead voice. In other words, accompanying oneself. A lot of the transcriptions for Bach like Bouree and Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, also Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, are designed to emulate the piano.

    When Joe Pass is in his full-blown running-bass-line mode he sounds like nothing so much as a stride pianist. Guy Van Duser is another guy who plays what I would call stride guitar.

    Maybe I'm missing the point here? But at least in my mind's eye when I play a piece like Jesu Joy on the classical guitar, I visualize the neck horizontally, not vertically.

    It might be worth listing what are the really unique properties of the guitar--ability to transpose to a different key effortlessly, playing slides and hammer-ons, open chords, interesting chord arrangements based on inversions. Those come to mind off the top of my head.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patlotch
    Aren't guitarists good composers for bands without guitar?

    to my knowledge there is very little composition of guitarists who have become 'standards', in the sense that they would have been taken up by bands, apart from the presence of the guitarist composer, or guitarists in the group

    if Joe Pass was as said composing on the piano, and many guitarists with guitar, perhaps an example is the two famous compositions by Wes Montgomery, Four on Six and West Coast Blues but I did not find interpretations without guitar...

    the best-known that come to mind is Bluesette, by Toots Thielemans, on harmony of "Swedish Blues" like Blues for Alice

    I found a interpretation of 1966, without guitar or harmonica, but with the accordion of Art Van Damme, surrounded by 2 flugelhorns, a baritone sax, a trombone, bass and drums



    I'm obviously curious about other examples

    in classical, if Segovia has adapted orchestral pieces, and contributed with composers to works for solo or concertating guitar, he has not composed, or very little

    Villa Lobos, guitarist, writes for the orchestra, but he had learned piano, cello, clarinet and guitar, so it is difficult to know whether his knowledge of the guitar influenced his orchestral works


    my cat Bluesette, my guitare, and me, 1986
    Nancy Wilson's version of Wes Montgomery's West Coast Blues:


    As for composers who played guitar as their primary instrument, you don't have to venture outside France to find a major figure. Hector Berlioz learnt flute as well as guitar but his piano skills were almost non-existent and he never formally studied the instrument. Berlioz himself saw that as an asset, writing that it "saved me from the tyranny of keyboard habits, so dangerous to thought, and from the lure of conventional harmonies".

  21. #20
    Django is a highly underrated composer and is to me on par and similar to Monk. Also musically illiterate in the common sense.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by sully75

    Anyway. Just wondering how many of the harmonic giants of guitar were working things out on piano?
    Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Potter are both very, very good pianists.

    I think of piano like a tool, is it useful for the job? if so, it's great to have the basic skill to play a melody and harmonize it. That said, it's certainly not a necessity for composing or arranging, I've written for almost every kind of ensemble you can think of (including full orchestra and jazz big band) and I play no piano whatsoever.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patlotch
    one could imagine a fretboard with the notes of the C major scale in white
    something like that



    well, I didn't say anything. Poor luthiers!

    If guitar finger boards where marked like that it would hurt my eyes.

    The guitar is like six stacked keyboards offset in position progressively,
    from bottom to top, up by a fourth, fourth, fourth, major third, and a fourth.

    Piano is like a guitar with one string employing a normalized scale length.

  24. #23
    I got to know Bill Swick several years ago when I was teaching a school guitar program. He's kind of a legend in that space. Anyway, he used the white/black fretboard overlay in his Las Vegas guitar program.

    swickster.com

    Great guy. I owe him a lot.