How playing piano can be key to learning or improving at guitar

September is National Piano Month! Knowing how to play the piano or keyboard can be advantageous toward your guitar learning experience, whether you’re just starting out on guitar or a seasoned pro looking to polish your skills. If you have a couple of years of childhood piano lessons under your belt, you might be well on your way to better understanding the guitar!

“Piano keyboard” by freestocks.org is marked with CC0 1.0.

Here’s why:

Playing the piano helps with music theory

Every note on the piano is laid out horizontally, and there’s only one key per note, so it’s easy to know exactly where to put your fingers. This can be very helpful with reading music. It can also be helpful for better understanding how chords are structured, rather than memorizing patterns on a guitar.

Piano helps you develop strength and motor skills in both hands

This 2006 study from Cardiff University found that piano players actually showed development in the mapping of their motor cortices to increase speed and dexterity of their fingers. Playing piano with both hands can help make your strumming hand stronger and faster.

Playing piano can be useful for songwriting

Grammy-winning guitarist Eric Johnson said in a 2016 interview that every guitarist should learn piano, saying that learning the instrument can give you a new perspective on music that you can apply to any instrument.

“When you look at a piano, you can see every note,” Johnson told Total Guitar. “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.” You can apply that perspective to help you figure out chord and key changes, vocal arrangements, and more.

Piano is a “universal instrument”

Both of the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, learned to play piano at an early age. Eddie eventually became one of the most celebrated guitarists of all time, and he acknowledged how learning piano first helped him on his musical journey. In a 1981 Guitar World interview, Eddie said “the piano is a universal instrument. If you start there, learn your theory and how to read, you can go on to any other instrument”.

Here are some other famous guitarists who also play piano or keyboard:

Sir Paul McCartney

McCartney grew up with an upright piano in the front room of his family’s Liverpool home and learned how to play it by ear. He also composed what would become the melody to “When I’m Sixty-Four” on that piano.

Joni Mitchell

The prolific singer-songwriter took piano lessons for eighteen months starting at age seven before deciding she liked writing her own music more than doing piano exercises. Piano, along with guitar and Applachain dulcimer, is one of her primary instruments.

Pete Townshend

The guitarist/co-founder/songwriter of The Who is also an accomplished piano and keyboard player.

Keith Richards

The legendary Rolling Stones guitarist also knows how to play piano, and you can hear it on his solo recording A Stone Alone: Solo Sessions.

Steve Lukather

The sole continuous founding member of Toto started playing keyboards and drums before he taught himself guitar at age seven.

Check out the Steve Lukather player study to learn how to play like him!

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