If you have tickets for Tomorrowland in Belgium, you must be counting the days. Since 2005, Tomorrowland has gathered the best EDM DJs on stage to create a festival with unparalleled energy. But how do all these producers become worthy of taking the stage at such an epic event? Yielding from all corners of the world, their training processes must be vastly different from one another. What they have in common is a deep understanding of how musical notes fit together – something that is best achieved through learning the piano.
Music purist and EDM
The lineup for Tomorrowland features some of the top names. We’re talking Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Bebe Rexha and Flux Pavillion in Weekend 1 and Alesso, David Guetta, Axwell and Robin Schultz in Weekend 2. It is sometimes said that “music purists love to hate EDM” and find that EDM producers rarely break out from the same predictable chord progressions.
Supporters of the industry would argue that these DJs have found the progressions that are sure to make millions of dollars. And that these discoveries are rooted in a physical understanding of the relationships between different musical notes.
Playing in bands
All signs point to this being true, given that moguls such as Steve Aoki, Skrillex and David Guetta began their musical careers by playing in bands. While recording tracks in his college dorm room, Aoki experimented with keyboards and guitar riffs on stage. And it could be this foundation of experimentation that makes him always ahead of the game.
David Guetta brings a background of French Electro-Pop to the EDM industry, from which he learned to play piano in a ‘sensual manner’. There’s a reason that the introduction from his 2012 hit “Titanium” begins with just a few notes that fall naturally onto the soundscape like rain drops. Guetta has spent years exploring the spacess, between notes.
A concept like this is hard to internalize in one’s head without experiencing how different notes represent themselves on the surface of the piano. By pounding out note after note to witness and label a variety of sound firsthand, these talented producers were able to later identify the combinations of notes, chords and rhythms powerful enough to light up an endless flock of people.
Pretty amazing: The super catchy melody in ‘Das Modell’ is simply constructed from just two tones of the A-minor and E-minor chord.
But what can you as an aspiring producer learn from studying the piano? The possibilities are never-ending, but we’ve laid out a few.
Through piano, you can learn from the greats
You have a list of favorite EDM numbers created by a variety of producers. And on first listen, you may find it hard to believe that these large-scale sounds come from actual musical notes. The good news is that they definitely do and by eventually unpacking these melodies yourself on the piano, you will understand them better, which undoubtedly will inform your ability to produce your own tracks.
Progressions, harmonies and modes, oh my!
You might not yet be ready to interpret the melodies within your favorite numbers by ear, but our Producers Course will walk you through the many ways in which these melodies are developed. First you will see what it means to set up a string of chords, known as a chord progression. Then, you will learn how to break up these chords and apply different rhythms to them, using a pianistic technique called an “arpeggio.” After being encouraged to create your own progressions that fit within the track you want to build, you’ll finally learn how to alter these patterns to entrance your listeners.
In ‘Praise You’, Fatboy Slim uses a very cool chord progression called the ‘7-4-1 progression’.
Hopefully, after reading these tips and studying our Producers Course, you’ve gained insights that empower you as you move forward in your journey learning piano. Take a final moment to be introspective: How would your favorite EDM tunes change if they were arranged a different way? How much do the bare bones of a track – the parts that you could play on the piano – define the whole song?
When sitting down at the piano for a practice session, it can be really tempting to just jump straight into practicing the new song you’ve been working on. And of course, having that kind of enthusiasm to complete a song is really great. But as pianists, we should always try to start each practice session with a few technical exercises in order to get our muscles and our brains warmed up. If you’re unsure of how to warm up, or want to add some new exercises to your practice routine, then try out our set of exercises below.
Scales: combining half speed and full speed
This first exercise is focused around building speed, agility, and strength in the fingers, as well as helping our brain to handle fast paced rhythms. In order to demonstrate the exercise, we are first going to use a 2-octave C Major scale. The C-major scale only uses white keys from C to C. The sound of this succession will be very familiar to your ears. There are 8 (latin octo) white keys from C to the next C, hence we call the distance from C to C – or any repeating note – an octave.
Before attempting the half speed and full speed method, let’s make sure that you are comfortable playing the scale.
First, place your right hand on the keyboard, with your thumb on middle C. From here, you are going to play every white note moving upwards until you have traveled 2-octaves and are 2 C’s higher than where you started . From here, all you need to do is return back to middle C, playing all the whites notes on the way back down.
As you play, it’s really important that you look at the numbers under each note of the scale (shown in the music above). These numbers tell you which finger to use for each note. Notice that on the way up, your thumb tucks and passes under your 3rd finger, then your 4th finger, and then your third finger again. On the way down this motion is reversed; your third and fourth fingers wrap over your thumb.
Half speed / Full speed
Once you are comfortable playing the scale, try and spice up the rhythm by playing some notes “half speed” and some notes “full speed”!
Get your right hand into position again with your thumb on middle C. This time, play the first 8 notes really slowly (half speed). Then, play the next 4 notes, but play them twice as fast (full speed). You are then going to repeat this pattern of 8 slow notes and 4 fast notes until you have gone up and down the scale twice. Watch the video below to see exactly how it’s done!
The benefit of this method is that the half speed notes gives our fingers time to rest, and helps us to execute the full speed notes with rhythmic accuracy and evenness.
Put the C Major scale into action by trying out Billy Joel’s hit “The Piano Man”.
This exercise can be done using any scale; let’s try it using the A Natural Minor scale (this scale is related to C Major, and therefore uses all of the same notes). Before trying to spice up the rhythm, get comfortable playing the scale normally.
This time, start with the thumb of your right hand on the A just below middle C. Then play up the keyboard, playing every white note until you have traveled 2-octaves up. At this point, just like before, head back down the other way until you land back where you started.
Did you notice that the fingering is exactly the same as C Major? Just think of this scale as C Major starting on A. Once you can play this scale up and down using the right fingers, spice up the rhythm by adding in the half speed/full speed method.
Don’t worry if you struggle with this exercise at first. It can take some getting used to! Just take it slow at first, and make sure to count out loud if it helps. Once you master this exercise, it is very fun and beneficial to play!
Put the A natural minor scale into practice and try out the song “Mad World” by Tears for Fears.
This next exercise is all about improving flexibility and speed. To demonstrate the exercise, we are going to use a 2-octave arpeggio in C Major and then A minor.
First, lets get familiar with the C Major 2-octave arpeggio. An arpeggio involves playing the first, third, and fifth notes in a scale. To play this arpeggios, you start on middle C, and play all the C’s E’s and G’s until you have travel 2-octave. Once you are here, you then return back down to middle C, playing all the same notes on the way down.
Using your right hand, try playing the arpeggio. Start of with your thumb on Middle C. Make sure you read the finger numbers under each note as you play.
Notice that as you go upwards, your thumb passes under your third finger. This is quite a stretch, so make sure you turn your hand counter clockwise and raise your elbow out from your side a little if needed. On the way back down, your third finger reaches over your thumb; again make sure you turn your hand counter clockwise to help with the stretch.
Now try this exercise using the A Minor 2 -octave arpeggio.
What are the first, third, and fifth notes in the scale of A minor? A, C, and E. Well done if you got it right!
Start with the thumb of your right hand on the A just below middle C. Play all the A’s, C’s, and E’s until you have traveled 2-octaves up. Then come back down.
Did you notice that both arpeggios use exactly the same finger numbers?
As you start to feel more confident, slowly increase your speed, but make sure your touch and rhythm stays even and consistent!
Make sure to try out these exercises using lots of different scales and arpeggios. And remember to practice them before every practice session! You can also play these exercises with the left hand, and even try them with both hands together.
With the Cannes Film Festival in full swing, we wanted to celebrate a few popular tunes that you can learn to play on Skoove. Whether you’re just beginning with us or further along, we know you will enjoy delving into famous film music featuring the piano and sharing it with the film buffs in your life.
If you haven’t yet seen the charming French flick “Amélie”, now would be a good time to stop missing out. The movie explores the intricacies of French culture in a magical way, which is further brought to life by the excellent soundtrack. “Comptine d’un autre été” may already sound familiar to you. That’s because the musical motif made from six notes will stick in your head for hours after you have finished watching the film The best part is that you never have to stop reveling in the graceful contours of this tune. Learn how to play it on the piano to embed Amelie’s whimsical environment permanently in your home.
You may recognize the haunting melody of “Mad World” from the psychological drama Donnie Darko. Even if you haven’t yet seen this classic film, you may recognize the theme song’s introduction. Many legends from Tears for Fears to Gary Jules have taken a turn at this song, but its simple yet subtle transitions between major and minor keys are the pinnacle of every version. “Mad World” has piano at its front and center, so you can join the set of talented musicians before you in crafting your own take on it. It will surely impress your friends at the next movie night.
Nothing complements Inspector Gadget’s precarious case drama better than Grieg’s “Peer Gynt.” This classic piece is a favorite of orchestras all around the world. However, it can also be played on the piano. You don’t have to be a master detective to learn this impish melody for yourself and see how mastering even the most famous of classical melodies is possible. The repetitive rhythm paired with a curious transition through different tonal structures makes “Peer Gynt” a challenging and worthwhile exercise.
Chuck and Blair’s twisted romance, central to the plot of the hit television Gossip Girl, could never cease to pull all your heartstrings. The producers’ choice to pair the apex of their Season 6 drama with “Angels” by the XX made sure of that. The XX is known for their lo fi sounds and rhythms that somehow grip an audience’s attention tighter than a fast-paced ditty ever could. After some diligent practice, no Upper East Sider will be surprised to spot you recreating this poignant melody in your own space.
It’s been a long year and a half waiting for the third season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. Whether you’re impatiently waiting to see if Hopper and Joyce will or won’t or hopelessly wondering if Will’s stint with possession is truly over, you’re most likely stuck on the heartwarming last scene from Season Two at the Snow Ball. Learn to play “Every Breath You Take” by The Police to relive Mike and Eleven’s romantic dance and impress your friends at the Season 3 kick-off party you’re inevitably hosting this summer.
So you have a piano and you have a bench to sit on. What’s next? The key to effective playing is good hand and sitting posture. You want to make sure that you are sitting close enough to the piano that your hands can fully graze the keys. However, you also want enough space to move as you find your rhythm. Sit so that the middle of the keyboard is right in front of you and be sure to sit up straight. It may not seem integral at first, but as you progress in your studies, good form goes a long way.
Do Your Research:
Positions and movements differ from pianist to pianist and many of the well-known legends have their own signatures. Look up videos online of pianists in concert to see which styles you like and might want to emulate as you grow in skill. How does Lang Lang’s style differ from Mitsuko Uchida’s?
2. A Hands-On Approach
It’s no secret that successful piano-playing starts with good hand technique. Fortunately, in our digital world, most of us have decent practice with good technique from using our laptops. Just like with typing, you want your fingers to be slightly bent. Flat fingers mashing down on the piano will not give you the flexibility you need in the long run. You will gradually learn how to differ between volume levels by changing the intensity of your touch, but not the position.
Think Outside The Box:
To get in character, sit at the piano and run your hands across the keys as you would when writing an essay on your laptop. Explore the differences between the keys of the piano and the keys of your laptop. Do you feel you need more force than usual to create a viable sound or less force? What comparisons can you make?
3. Where Your Feet Go
Your hands may have the star role when it comes to piano playing, but in fact, playing the piano is a full body workout. Most pianos, even keyboards, are equipped with at least one pedal to soften the transition between the notes you play. You will find that upright pianos have three pedals that allow you to switch easily between tone qualities. The farthest right pedal, lessens your piano’s volume and mutes the reverb for a mellow effect. The middle pedal is the sustain pedal, often used to preserve the echo of the first note of a scale as the melody continues to develop. Lastly, the farthest most left pedal will intensify your piano’s reverb and make the transitions between all of your notes smooth and seamless.
Note the Differences:
Using a scale you know or if you’re more advanced a melody, you can examine the differences between all three pedals’ effects if you are using an upright piano. If you are using an instrument with only one pedal, try playing the same scale or tune with the pedal and without? What do you notice? Which effect do you like the best?
Throughout my life as a pianist, I have always received praise and admiration from those around me. Uncles, aunties, and friends of my parents tell me how much they wished they’d learnt the piano, but always talk as though it is too late to learn. Of course, this idea that it’s “too late” to learn an instrument is completely ridiculous – humans are capable of learning and absorbing new information at any age! (Look up “brain plasticity” if you want to learn more).
My student Daniel
Over the years I have taught many adults. One particular student I’d like to introduce you to is Daniel. I met Daniel a few years ago now, and one of the first things he said to me was – “I want to be able to play The Entertainer by Scott Joplin, as quickly as possible.” It was a song he loved, and the thought of him being able to play it created a goal that gave him the patience and motivation he needed to begin practicing. Fast forward two years to the present day, and Daniel can probably play The Entertainer with his eyes closed.
“Find a song you love, and be patient and kind to yourself.”
Of course when Daniel began his journey, he knew he wasn’t going to become a concert pianist, but he also recognized that he still had at least another forty years of life to learn all of the songs that he loved. And in fact, although it is true that you have to start at a very young age to become a concert pianist, there are many benefits to learning piano as an adult.
Benefits of learning piano as an adult
What I always experience with my adult beginners, is that they find it much easier to grasp the key concepts like note reading and recognizing rhythms. As adults, we are much more experienced in learning to understand new and unfamiliar concepts. We can even teach these concepts to ourselves using books and online guides.
Another great advantage adults have is their adult hands! Yes, I know this may sound stupid and obvious. But unlike children, adults’ hands and fingers are much stronger and more dexterous, meaning they don’t have to spend hours and hours developing their technique before being able to play even the easiest of songs.
On top of these reasons, probably the biggest advantage that adults have, is their love and appreciation for music. I started learning the piano at age six, and for the first ten years, I often remember hating the songs I had to play. I found my teachers taste in music boring and ordinary. But unfortunately for me – I was still young! I hadn’t developed my own taste in music to be able to choose the songs for myself.
A song you love
Going back to the story of Daniel, he didn’t have to spend weeks and weeks wrapping his head around how to read music, or sit through tonnes of grueling practice sessions repeating finger exercises. All he needed was a song he loved, and to be patient and kind to himself.
Although I no longer teach Daniel, I really admire how much he has developed in just two years. We still see each other, and occasionally he tells me how he’s frustrated and struggling to learn a song. My reply to Daniel is always the same – “relax, take a deep breath, and take your time. You’ve got many years of practice yet to come, enjoy them all, as every moment with your piano is precious!”
Your first song
My final piece of advice to those ready to begin their journey, is to make sure that your first song isn’t too challenging. Of course we all love a challenge, it gives us motivation. But a song that takes too long to learn can leave us frustrated and discouraged. Luckily, pretty much all difficult songs have easier versions that are available. Skoove also offers lots of simpler versions of classic songs for you to try out. So what are you waiting for? Go and find a song that you love, and start your journey!
Lessons to try
Here are some great songs that you can start learning right now using Skoove’s interactive, step by step approach: