When you first learn how to play piano, you can't do very much. However, after practicing a whole bunch, you can play piano at a certain technical level and with enough experience, you can start to:
Play the piano or learn piano pieces in a more original way, write your own music, or even play one handed!
Simplify a piece while still making it as enjoyable to listen to but easier to play and more accessible to pianists with less experience. This is really useful for those having piano lessons, either with a piano teacher or online piano lessons, or those who are learning how to play the piano on their own.
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Why simplify a piano piece?
There are a few reasons to simplify a piano piece. They’re not related but the end all goal is always the same. Sometimes you have to make a piece more accessible or practical because the music is too difficult and you can use this simplified piece to improve your piano playing.
Some pieces are just too long or the sheet music seems indecipherable and you can't make heads or tails of reading music notation.
Composers put their heart and soul into composing music. They put in complicated chord progressions with an intensive rhythm, multiple arpeggios, varied sequences, overlapping hands... Sometimes it’s a nightmare to play them.
This is when “keeping it simple” can be really helpful. Even if someone knows the melody, when you give them the music, it doesn’t seem to work. No matter how determined they are to play their favorite tunes!
You run the risk of constantly failing if you set your goals too high. Whether you love playing the piano, are learning to read music, or are just trying to work on your dexterity, you don't want to get demotivated!
In these cases, simplifying the music might be the answer.
Especially if you’d love to play said piece but aren’t quite at that level yet like all musicians, everyone has their own personal tastes and favorite pieces that they dream of playing. Sometimes the songs or the melody are too difficult for anyone who's just started to learn to play piano.
We’ve all been there and it’s really frustrating. You're learning to play piano and you're going nowhere. Simplifying the piece is therefore an ideal solution if you want to learn the piano or better understand music theory.
If the pianist is lucky enough to be taking a piano course, their music teacher can help them to simplify the piece. If not, there are also free piano tutorials and free piano lessons on-line that can help make this task easier for any musician. However, relying solely on YouTube tutorials can be rather risky.
I recommend learning to play the piano basics down before moving on to this approach.
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At the end of the day, an accessible piece brings its own benefits. It can give a struggling pianist some much-needed confidence. They’ll be delighted to be playing piece they’ve always dreamed of playing, especially if it's piece that made them want to sit down at the ivories in the first place.
This is also a great way to otherwise learn a famous piece. We don’t often think about just learning the melody when we pick up piano pieces. It’s a different way to approach learning when we don’t have the level.
In this case we can transform the piece by changing the key and the rhythm, before adding piano elements like arpeggios and piano chords. If you want to sing while playing the piano, you can also change the piece’s key to match your voice. At this stage we’re very close to being able to write piano songs.
Wanting to learn a song is a great reason for simplifying it but it also allows you to add a personal touch. That’s basically what a cover is. In fact, artists all over the world have taken to the stage doing this. Taking up music might be a step towards fame.
You can always dream! It’ll always be in the back of your mind no matter what type of music you play.
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How do you simplify a piano piece?
Making a melody easier isn’t necessarily an easy task. You need to be a fairly advanced piano player to do so. If it was, composers would be worthless.
It may sound like a paradox, but the higher your ability, the better your ability to simplify music will be. You'll need to know how to read music, for one.
Get your hands on the sheet music for the piece and start by learning the melody and the individual parts on the right hand and on the left hand like you would do in a typical piano lesson when you were first learning to play the piano.
Once again, this may seem obvious but before you simplify a piece, you have to be familiar with its finer details. How's your fingering? What key is the song in? C Major?
Familiarize yourself with structure, the melody, the sequences, the variations, and the technical effects employed by the musicians playing it. That's how you learn! This knowledge is tantamount to being able to start simplifying a piece. There’s only one way to do this: Listen!
Listen to the music whenever your can. The morning before work, on the journey to work, and even once you sit down at your desk. That's what the best piano players do. Top tip: Listening while playing also works really well.
Let me explain. While listening to the music you’ll familiarize yourself with the chords and save yourself time later on.
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This method is great when you’re learning the piano.
Have you heard of the funnel principle?
This idea doesn’t usually apply to learning piano but when you think about the imagery of the funnel, you start to understand the how to simplify music better. This idea is very easy to understand, too.
First we need to outline the main chords. These form the basis of the piece. Most music today can be broken down into 4 or 5 main chords. Once you’ve found these chords, work out their progression. It’s all well and good knowing the individual chords, putting them together at the right tempo is often a completely different story.
Once you’ve mastered this sequence, the funnel broadens and you’re ready to get to work on the rest of the piece. That’s what we’ll talk about now.
Is it important to learn about the piece’s secondary chords and stylistic elements?
The answer should be obvious. And yet... We could work out the main chords and stop there but the rest is just as important, though not for the same reasons.
Let’s think about this logically. If I told you to consider the stylistic elements and the additional chords, it’s not really simplification any more, is it? It’s copying and pasting. So why even consider them?
Simply put, they can also be simplified. Turning chords with 4 notes into 3, by transforming an arpeggio, removing superfluous chords, etc. you've done 80% of the work.
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What role can a teacher play in all of this?
If you’re learning the piano with a private tutor, they can help you with this simplifying process. They’ll steer you in the right direction, advise you, and even stop you messing up when you're playing piano.
Whether you're using a piano or keyboard, your tutor can help with sight reading (being able to read sheet music as you look at it), sourcing easy piano sheet music, and learning the music you're trying to simplify.
They can help you to choose a song and decide on how you’ll simplify it and to what extent. You’ll even benefit from the personalized support of a private tutor working with their tutee’s strengths and weaknesses.
Make sure you get the most out of your private tutor. They’ll give you some great advice and will, if they're anything like my piano tutor, make sure you've been practicing your piano scales and working on the proper posture! There’s always time to strengthen a personal and musical bond with them. It’s beneficial for both parties.
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