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Recently I have realized that many singers play the piano or at least studied it. This confused me as to why and I searched if you had to know piano to sing and such. I then stumbled across this article titled "Do Pianists Need to Sing?". Since I am learning the piano I clicked on it. To sum things up, they answered the question as "yes" because...

If you never sing, how do you know that you’re actually hearing what you’re playing?

In the article they are explaining that people do it so they can actually hear what they are playing exactly, as in, they can actually have a better way of hearing if they play things wrong.

They said that you have to sight-sing, which, according to them, means you have to sing the bars of music (not like super-star level but enough to get by I guess). I have never heard of this before and have never attempted it in a piece.

Also, it said the same for singers, as in, they must study piano for the same reason. I know a friend that is pretty good at singing (she is taking lessons for it) and she doesn't know an instrument, this makes me question a lot about this statement.

Do people actually need to do this ("sight-sing") to grow as a pianist/piano student?

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    Useful? Absolutely! A must? No.
    – Aaron
    Nov 17 '20 at 4:15
  • There've been several stories about mute pianists, notably The Piano (fictional of course), but also the real-life story of the so-called Piano Man. Clearly signing is not a requirement. (On a personal note, I've played piano for decades but can't sing to save my life.) Nov 17 '20 at 17:51
  • I've never heard of this. Nov 17 '20 at 19:56
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    @AsteroidsWithWings click the link (the first "this") and you can see where I heard this Nov 17 '20 at 23:07
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    @AsteroidsWithWings no, I wanted you to see where I got it so you understood my question a little more that's why I said that. So sorry. Nov 18 '20 at 10:00
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From my experience and to my knowledge, no, pianists do not need to sight-sing to grow as pianists. In fact, listening to piano music may help them improve their piano playing more, especially if they listen to other interpretations of the repertoire they need to play, as they can pick up on the techniques used and the precise level of musical shading needed to make their piano playing sound better.

My piano teachers never recommended that I sight-sing my repertoire. Instead, they often encouraged me to borrow and listen to recordings of music I selected from among their choices or that they selected for me. At the very least, knowing what a recording sounds like often helped me sight-read my repertoire faster (or, heck, my first read may no longer be sight-reading).

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  • Did you never have to sing anything in piano (or oter instrument) exams? It's a standard part of most.
    – Tim
    Nov 17 '20 at 15:42
  • @Tim Why do you have to sing? It's about the piano playing not singing, so wouldn't it be unnecessary since singing isn't the point of the exam? Nov 17 '20 at 16:01
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    @Fly-GooglyEyes - it's always been part of the aural section in all ABRSM exams. Phrases are played by examiner, and sung back by candidate. Ask ABRSM..!
    – Tim
    Nov 17 '20 at 16:19
  • @Tim - All my piano teachers follow the Royal Conservatory of Music syllabi, so I never had to sing in piano exams - just identify intervals and chords by name, clap rhythms, and maybe play back music on the piano when it came to the ear tests. If I ever took exams for clarinet or bass clarinet (because I played them in school bands only), they probably consisted of scales only.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 17 '20 at 20:27
  • Yes, there's an option (recent, I guess) to play phrases rather than sing them, but most candidates sing. Sometimes, it's useful to have a bit of info. on profiles. I'd have worked out Canada then! ABRSM seem to be alive there too.
    – Tim
    Nov 18 '20 at 10:04
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It's not essential, but it helps a lot. Singing is a unique way to make music. On a lot of instruments, especially in the earlier stages, a things are learned with the facility of being able to see where the fingers go. Piano and guitar definitely. Violin, yes. Brass instruments not so much, and reed instruments occasionally. but with voice, there's nothing to look at, and nowhere to put the fingers.

It's useful to be able to visualise what's being sung, and piano is ideal for portraying that. So being able to play on the piano what's being sung, and vice versa, there's that mental picture. Being able to sight-read on one helps being able to sight-read on the other. Knowing what a certain interval looks like on the music, and looks like on piano, and being able to translate that into how to sing it has to help. Even if one is learning to sing without using written music, mentally imaging the keyboard must help.

It's also a skill that's useful to a pianist when there's no piano around. I often sing from the sheet to hear how a piano piece goes, in the absence of a piano.

So, singers will benefit from knowing their way round a piano, and piansts will benefit from being able to sing!

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Although human voice is the most natural musical instrument, there is no need to sing while playing the Piano. It is totally up to the player to decide whether to sing or not! If you are taking singing lessons, it is recommended to sing accompanied by an instrument like the Piano, but the opposite is not true.

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Why would it "confuse the heck" out of you? Most musicians study a variety of instruments. In particular singers benefit form accompaniment and piano is one of the best ways to do this. It's sort of an all purpose instrument in this way. Musicians will also try out arrangements on piano and compose on the piano, even if it's not their main instrument.

In the standard music curriculum (at least in the US) students are required (or at least strongly urged) to take "piano lab" regardless of their main instrument. They will also take singing lessons. Not with the intent of becoming a singer but to awaken the connection between the voice, ear, and other parts of the body. To develop a deep sense of ear-hand coordination. And to be able to hear music while you sight read. Learning to sing is NOT mandatory for developing this skill but rapidly accelerates it in my experience.

Learning to vocalize melodies is a standard part of learning any instrument in my experience and every private teacher I have ever had (guitar, classical bass, violin, horn, etc) has introduced sight singing into the lessons. In fact I recall that my bass teacher would have me sight sing bass concertos (one passage at a time) before attempting to work out the fingering and play it on the bass. It is often said that "if you can sing something you can play it". I'm not sure I believe this bit of "wisdom" as I don't see an objective connection between singing and say having finger dexterity. But one thing is clear, if you don't have a clue what you are trying to play you won't know if you are playing it correctly and sight reading has it's flaws as well.

Ultimately singing simply connects your inner ear to your body and that is helpful. That doesn't mean you need professional vocal lessons to get better at an instrument and certainly you cannot sing multiple voices at once, so singing piano and guitar music will not be entirely possible. Many beginners go through a period where they look at music and say to themselves "I wonder what this will sound like", whereas after years of training you can look at music and literally hear it in your head. If what you hear when you see sheet music is connected in your brain to a hand movement or other physical action then you are actually practicing just by reading without an instrument.

Do you need to literally sing to develop this connection? I do not think so. I can say from personal experience that I can do this with guitar music even if I don't vocalize. However, I might be wrong since I was trained to do this at age 4 by my violin teacher. So perhaps I've been "programmed" and don't know any other reality.

As a professional musician you will not always find work playing your favorite music on your instrument of choice. Being able to sing and find your way around the piano are great skill to have on a resume. I cannot count how many friends and colleagues earn $$ on a daily basis with their piano and voice skills (even if they're mediocre). Almost every audition I've been on for a guitar gig preferred or required the ability to sing back up.

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  • It confused the heck out of me because I worded it weird and as I said, I have a friend who doesn't know any other instrument and sings well. Also because I think that your voice was an instrument, why do you need to learn another to get better? If you understand what I mean. Nov 17 '20 at 15:47
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    @Fly-GooglyEyes, yes your rewording of the question makes a little more sense. I tried to explain things the best I can from my experience. The voice is the best instrument you have. Singers do not need to learn other instruments to be better singers but learning to sing and sight sing will help you be a better musician on any instrument.
    – user50691
    Nov 17 '20 at 18:09
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You have it backwards. Singers (and performers of non-keyboard instruments) benefit from being able to plunk out a melody on the piano. Indeed, university curriculums for performance majors (flute, violin, voice, sousaphone) often include a requirement for basic piano proficiency. But I've never found a music department that requires its piano performance majors to sing or to play another instrument.

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Must one sing in order to play piano? No. However, singing is the original instrument. Requirements of singing, for instance breathing, drive musical qualities like phrasing. My teachers often would attribute my ability to phrase well on piano to my having sung in a boys choir. So singing can improve the musicality of a pianist.
Rhythm is not a requirement of singing although rhythm is a musical quality. Singers can improve their rhythmic sense by playing piano or, I would imagine by dancing, cheerleading, drumming, etc. So similarly, playing piano can improve the musicality of a singer.

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  • 'Rhythm is not a requirement of singing'? Enlighten me!
    – Tim
    Nov 18 '20 at 12:07
  • When I'm talking about singing as the original instrument, I'm talking about at the animal level. The main requirement with regard to rhythm is that the vocalist needs to take a breath, but I would call that phrasing. In Hendrix's Machine Gun, at times during his solo, the guitar is just wailing in pain without a rhythmic impulse. If music (and vocal music in particular) is a way of communicating, if that which is communicated is a very visceral feeling, rhythm is not necessary and could detract from the expression of that intense moment. Nov 20 '20 at 16:16
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Piano playing is 100% in your brain. Your fingers are only the conduit between the brain and instrument. Being able to "sight sing" will improve your musicality in many ways. Just as you can hear a word you've never heard before and sound it out, maybe even use your knowledge of Latin to figure out its meaning. Your brain can do that with music but many musicians are content to match dots and not use the computer between their ears.

Before you ever play a new piece, sit down away from the piano and sing all the notes. If that is too hard, pick up a hymn book and start on page one.

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Music theory, sight singing, and ear training make up what a lot of institutions call "general musicianship" training. Anyone who gets a degree in music performance or similar will be required to do 2 years worth of general musicianship. For non-pianists, this also usually includes keyboard training. This exists to make you a more well-rounded musician, in case you decide to teach, direct, learn a new instrument, etc. Your time will not be wasted learning these skills, but they are generally not necessary aside from the below exceptions.

Wind, (non-fretted) strings, and voice all need some degree of ear training because their instruments are not, to oversimplify, automatically in tune. Sight singing is a necessity for singers who actually read music, but is not necessary for improving as a singer in general.

On the other hand, keyboards, percussion, and fretted string are more-or-less "set it and forget it" in terms of tuning. There are minor intonation issues that can come from playing technique, especially fretted strings, but for the most part you just play a note and get that note. In that sense, your skill at the instrument is not directly hindered by a lack of skill in any general musicianship areas.

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