The Versatility of the Piano

It’s not the most portable of instruments, it’s difficult to tune and its notes can’t be bent, given vibrato or sent into feedback, but the piano has been an enduring feature of many genres of music. Listen to a few bars of a well-played tune and it’s easy to see why – it has a warmth, a rhythm, a range and a level of control unlike any other instrument. Let’s take a trip around some musical styles to show just how versatile the piano is.

Classical Music

The music of Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin might be what springs to mind when many people think of the piano; and indeed, it’s hard to imagine the world of classical music without it. Interestingly, though, it’s not particularly old as instruments go. JS Bach (1685-1750) did experience the piano in his lifetime, but wasn’t overly impressed with the early models; he preferred his harpsichords and organs. In fact, classical composers though the ages will all have played slightly different versions of the piano as new innovations were invented. Modern piano music would sound most unusual to its original composers if they came back to life. That’s if you could drag them away from the TV, anyway.

Blues Music

With its roots in the final throes of American slavery, it’s no surprise that blues is often associated with small, portable and inexpensive instruments like the guitar and the harmonica. But the piano did find a place in the genre, with notable names like Fats Domino, Blind John Davies, Lucky Roberts and Ray Charles making blues piano world famous.

Jazz Music

Since the birth of jazz in the early twentieth century, the piano has played a key role. The nature of jazz made it playable on practically any instrument, from the trumpet to the violin, but the piano was never far away. Think Scott Joplin, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Rowles, Herbie Hancock – and let’s not forget Jamie Cullum – and you’ll have traced the history of this rhythmic, elastic musical form.

Rock and Roll Music

As rock and roll was a development of the blues sound, the guitar, drums and double bass were naturally the most prominent instruments, especially once bands started touring from venue to venue seeking fame. But if there’s any doubt that the piano has a place in rock and roll, look no further than one of its pioneers, Little Richard, whose playing style was as over the top as his technique was accomplished. He double-handedly changed the face of music by influencing Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and countless others. Roll over, Beethoven.

Pop Music

Like rock and roll, pop music is associated more with instruments other than the piano, namely the guitar, bass and drums and eventually synthesisers, sequencers and digital music. But let’s not forget how many hit singles have prominent pianos in them: Rocket Man; Imagine; Let it Be; You Are The Sunshine OF My Life; Hey Jude; Bohemian Rhapsody; Your Song; What A Fool Believes … and the complete back catalogue of Billy Joel.

No doubt the piano will play a part in future types of music, particularly now that the sound can be digitised and reproduced well enough to fool the most astute ears. But that wooden aroma will never be replaced.

Clive Oliver Blacksmith is a musician and writer working for Chappell of Bond Street and is an expert on piano music as well as sheet music for other instruments.

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