Friday, June 14, 2013

LEARNING GUITAR vs PIANO: "Which one is easier to play?"

"Which one is easier to play?"

There is an entirely different mental concept behind the guitar as compared to the piano. If you're a trained classical pianist and want to learn how to play guitar, here's some comparisons and some thoughts about it.

The piano is simultaneously easier AND harder to play than the guitar. 

 1) Playing two things at the same time
You play one chord or melody with the left hand, while doing another with the right hand. Play 10 notes at a time instead of 6. That is hard! 

2) High-fidelity instrument which covers so much musical spectrum 
Pianist is responsible for providing much more of the overall sound, most of the time.

3) Complex arrangements
A lot of black notes on paper to read. A pianist is expected to play it all, even though it might involve different melodies and different rhythms on each hand at the same time.

1) All the notes are in a simple sequence from low to high
There is no skipping or gaps. It is linear. The notes run from A to G in sequence, including sharps/flats. Everything is exactly where you would expect them to be.

2) The pattern of the keys repeats
What works in one octave can be repeated in the next pattern and it still works.

3) To make a sound come out: press a key!
One finger on one hand can make a sound, there is no coordination of two fingers to make a single sound come out. Without this necessary two-handed coordination for every note, it is easier to play faster on a piano than on a guitar. 

4) It is mechanically triggered
A piano is a stringed instrument, but unlike all other stringed instruments from guitars to harps, to lutes (except perhaps a hammer-dulcimer), the musician never actually touches the strings. You don’t actually ‘play’ the piano directly. Rather, you play KEYS, which operate hammers, and the HAMMERS bang on the strings to make the sounds. They always hit the right strings, and they always hit it the same way. The only touch elements to playing it are basically how soft or hard you hit the keys, and how long you hold the keys down, and the sustain pedal.


1) Coordinate two entirely different activities together very precisely
Play both finger a string at a certain fret AND pick it at exactly the same moment in order to make any sound come out at all. So playing quickly becomes a real challenge.


2) There are 6 strings that tuned to a different scale, instead of one single scale of notes as on a keyboard
So the note at the 5th fret on one string is different from the note at the 5th fret of a different string. It’s like playing on 6 keyboards at once, where each keyboard can only play one note at a time, and so to make chords you place them stacked very close together, and each keyboard is tuned to a different scale of notes, and you have to make chords by bridging across the multiple keyboards at once with your fingers inserted between the keyboards. Imagine that!

3) Multiple forms of chords in the same register with different sounds. 
For instance, there are 7 versions of a C-major chord that come immediately to mind. And they all sound different. This is why it is very difficult for guitarists to read music from traditional “standard notation” music written for piano and wind instruments. Wind instruments play one note at a time, so it is not an issue for them since they play no chords. Pianos play multiple notes to make chords, but there is only one scale on one keyboard. And the notes are all in sequence. 

Guitars have 6 strings, six scales and they are even offset for the last two. Standard notation doesn’t make sense for guitar, because the chord notes shown are ambiguous, and can be played too many ways and they all sound different. So this is why for many years, they used so-called ‘chord charts’ These are tiny pictures of which strings and frets are used and they represent named chords. Now, although that is still used, the bulk of written music is done in “Tabulature”, called TAB for short. 

It looks a little like standard notation because there are horizontal lines set up in bars, with notes and rests, etc., except the notes are numbers, and the horizontal lines actually represent strings. The 6 strings of the guitar. The numbers represent the fret number. Then there is a whole series of symbols that represent things you do on a guitar that are not even possible on a piano. For example sliding into a note from below or above, or bending notes, or hammer-ons, pull-offs, pinch-harmonics, tap-harmonics, etc. So standard notation, designed for piano, does not allow for these elements.

4) Different tuning/Alternate tuning
Alternate tuning changes all the notes on every string at every fret. It’s like learning a completely different instrument. Imagine that you sat down to a piano and someone had jumbled all the notes that came out when you played the keys. So that when you pressed a C, an A would come out and when you press an F a B comes out, and a B is an A, a G is a C, etc. Imagine none of your chords making sense anymore. It seems crazy, but people do it to get different sounds out of the instrument. Deeper sounds, more jangly sounds, resonant sounds, unusual chord sounds, etc. All highly interpretive and highly musically creative.

5) Fretboard fingering
Fretting/fingering techniques are extremely important. You must press firmly down on the string, just behind the fret to allow the fret to become the terminal point for the string, and therefore create a clean, resonant sound. Also, you must not pick slightly before or slightly after you finger the note – this causes slurring, and short lifespan of the note. Or no note at all. You must be PERFECTLY synchronized. Also, your fingering on the fingerboard makes a difference depending on the angle of your finger, the roll of it, the nail, the meat of it, the flatness of it, etc. 

Even if you finger the right string and fret and pick the string at the same time, you might not get a sound, or the sound dies quickly with a ‘thunk’ kind of sound. This is because there is a whole world of ‘touch’ issues around how to play and feel the strings on the guitar. It is not simply a hammer hitting the string, with each string providing a separate note (like a harp). 

6) Dampening strings technique 
That should not be heard, while allowing other stings to ring through. These are advanced techniques and can be done with right or left hand depending on the situation.

7) Various different picking techniques 
There is certainly hitting it hard and soft, sustaining a note a long time, or making it brief, but there is also down-picking, up-stroking, circle-picking, sweep-picking, finger picking (different styles of this too – Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Banjo-style, Classical, etc.), finger-plucking/pulling, hammer-ons and pull-offs (single and two-handed), alternate picking, smooth legato-style, there is making it ‘chunk’ by palm-muffling as you down-stroke, and more. There is picking on the note then bending up. There is picking on the up-bend and relaxing back down to rest note, There is sliding into the note from the fret above or below, there is pinch and tap-harmonics of a note and different techniques for each. Etc.

8) Picking techniques
Picking with picks, fingers, nails, picking with combinations of picks (for the bass string side) and fingers for the treble string side.…

9) Vibrato techniques 
Whether to twist your hand to get it with a repeated semi rotation(my friend Neil Doherty has a natural ability for this, but I could never manage this with my left hand for some reason), or do it back and forth from the wrist. Tremolo bar techniques, etc. There are many different ways to hit a note on a guitar, and they all have to do with feel. 

"The feel of the artist and sensitivity to the guitar 
and how it works and how it responds. 
This is why it can be such a sensual instrument. 

Since your fingers are touching the strings directly, 
your approach, touch, and emotions 
are translated directly into the sound coming out, 
and so you can be very expressive in how you play, 
once you have the feel for it."

10) Guitar sound effects 
There are certain effects in guitar, that are integral - not just in how it sounds, but in how you PLAY it – such as a wah pedal, or a volume pedal, or a voice box, even basic effects like sweep flangers, swell, autowah, and compressors, etc.

11) Slide guitar techniques
Playing combinations of fretted notes along with the slide, some may be behind the slide. Different tunings to accommodate the slide. Muting with other fingers, plucking the strings, using finger picks for slide playing, etc. This is another whole art form.

It also has it's challenges. The two instruments are different. 

The guitar is more limited in it's scope and is played by directly touching the strings which presents many opportunities, but also many difficulties and requires many techniques, while the piano is larger, more expansive, and more of the music is played on this instrument, but also, more mechanical, so the difficulties generally arise from the music itself rather than the limitations of the instrument, since it is easy to make chords and sounds on a piano, but difficult to play the vast sounds and complex melodies that exist in some of the more challenging piano music.