The 3 R’s and a P

For many years, parents have worked hard to ensure that their kids learned the 3 R’s of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Like other dads and moms, Cheryl and I have done the same with our children; however, we have an additional category: piano.

We engrained into our kids from a young age that they would all have to take a minimum of 2 years of piano lessons. We also told them that if they didn’t like the piano or wanted to try a different instrument, they would be free to do so after they had completed their 2 years of piano.

Music Theory

Why is playing the piano first so important to us? Because the piano is the best instrument for learning the fundamentals of music theory.

While other instruments share the same musical alphabet, no instrument is more visual than the piano. Here are just a few examples of what I mean. For the sake of illustration, I will compare it to another popular instrument…the guitar. 


music theory

The C Scale

This is the C scale on the piano (above). It’s the same notes in every octave.

As you can see, the C scale is laid out in a simple and logical manner. It’s easy to see the formula of half and whole steps that make up all of the major scales: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.


music theory


This is the C scale on a guitar (above). There are 6 different ways to play it! Much more complex.


music theory

One Key Per Note

Another reason that the piano is better for learning music theory is that there is only one key for each note. For instance, the C above middle C is one key on the piano (above).


music theory


On the guitar, it can be played as 1st fret-B string, 5th fret-G string, 10th fret D-string, 15th fret-A string, and 20th fret-low E strings (above).


music theory


Learning intervals on the piano is much better as well because you can physically see the distance between the notes (above). 


music theory


The only way to do something similar on the guitar is to use one string at a time (above). While this helps, it’s not really practical since guitarists usually jump from string to string when playing melodies.


music theory


Playing chords on a piano is very similar to playing intervals. In fact, a chord is simply a group of intervals working together. The linear nature of the piano makes it easy to form chords and chord progressions (above). 


music theory


As you can see, there is no real logical layout for guitar chords (above).

In my next post, I will explore why studying music theory on the piano makes learning other instruments easier. Stay tuned!


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