What is the best way to learn piano if I only want to use it to support my singing, and to aid in transcription and composition?

All self-teaching courses I've come across seem to focus on self-sufficient piano music. I can afford a teacher, but I'm a bit wary of that as I'm actively studying singing and do not want to lose focus.

I also feel that I should be able to learn the basics that I need on my own at my own pace. I play guitar and have a basic understanding of musical theory and harmony. I do not sight-read polyphony well though.

I would appreciate any pointers, be it multimedia materials, books, youtube videos or general advice.

  • 3
    Learning piano will in no way diminish your ability to study singing. It can only enhance it. You want to tell a teacher "Teach me piano, but not too MUCH piano!". That's ridiculous.
    – Laurence
    Mar 10, 2015 at 16:53
  • Ivan - if you have another question, please ask it separately. You can link to this one if you need to refer to this.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Mar 11, 2015 at 12:26
  • I started to include the transpose feature as an option in my answer but decided that it would limit your scope of learning. But you can certainly use that as you build your chord vocabulary. Mar 11, 2015 at 17:05
  • Awesome pianist/singer alert: youtube.com/watch?v=em5gL0Rw4Aw Jan 1, 2017 at 19:54

7 Answers 7


I am right there with you. I also play guitar and sing and write songs. Lately I have been trying to play more piano but don't want to devote the time to take lessons. If you follow the method detailed below, you will be accompanying your singing on piano in a surprisingly short period of time.

First - remember when you first learned to play guitar? You learned a few chords - perhaps a G and a C and a D chord. Once you learned to play those three chords you could play any song that used only those three chords. You were playing guitar and building your repertoire!

Then one day you found a song that had the three chords you had memorized and mastered but also had an Am (or perhaps it was Em) chord in it. So you learned to play a new chord. Now there were even more songs you could play! Then you learned an F and could play songs in the key of C.

Gradually you learned all the main guitar chords to play pretty much anything you wanted to play. And now if someone says play a G chord or a G7 or Cm or whatever - you don't hesitate, you just play the chord because you committed the fingering to permanent memory.

Guess what? You can play all the same chords on piano that you play on guitar. And guess what else? You don't have to make your fingers and wrist and hand curl into strange contortions to play them.

Go about learning piano chords the same way you learned guitar chords, one at a time. You will find the learning curve is easier because you don't have to master the contorted fingerings so much as just memorizing the shapes and positions. Practice the common chord changes (like on guitar) until they are smooth and you can do them without hesitating.

Start by learning all the chords for a simple three chord song you want to play. Then add more. Learn all the basic chords in your favorite key to sing in. Then learn the basic chords in your second favorite key.

Learn to play the right hand chords together with the root note of the chord with the left hand (same way you play guitar by using both right and left hand). You won't always play them simultaneously - but learn to position your left hand over the root note so you can mix the left and right hands together as the rhythm dictates.

I like to play the root note with my left thumb and an octave lower root note with my left pinkie and sometimes alternate back and forth in a rhythmic fashion. This is something you can add after you master just playing the root note with one finger. It's a little more challenging because you have to move your hand around more - but it will mostly be moving in parallel to your right hand (same direction).

Every now and then I get fancy and throw in another chord note on the left hand with my middle finger. But that will come with time if you just focus on positioning your left hand in concert with whatever chord you are playing with the right hand.

You can download and print free piano chord charts from the internet. Print out the ones you need and put them on your piano's music stand and practice playing them. Apply them to a 3 chord song you want to learn. Once you learn that song, you will have those three chords in memory and you can build from there.

Remember how the first chords you learned on guitar were the easy first position or open chords? On piano, start with the basic first position formations. Once you are playing songs with the basic chord, learn the inversions. There are some really good inversion charts that show the basic chord and then the first and second inversion. Find a song where one of the inversions of a chord you learned seem to sound better and learn to play that song with the inversion to add that new shape to your arsenal.

After you master most of the basic chords you can practice adding embellishments by playing the chord notes individually or throwing in some other filler notes like you do on guitar. This is actually easier than picking individual strings on the guitar while playing a chord. For major triads - try playing the octave of the root and alternate between inversions depending on what sounds good in your song.

Learning chords on the piano may come easier than on guitar because many of the hand positions are similar from one chord to another. For example - you can use the exact same shape to play a C or an F or a G chord just move the shape around like barre chords on guitar. And with a digital piano that allows you to digitally transpose from one key to any other key, you could just learn the chords for the key of C (as an example) and use those same chord shapes and positions to play in any other key by using the transpose feature.

I like to call this a chord based method of learning piano to accompany singing. You won't be playing classical pieces by famous composers but you can certainly accomplish what you stated in your question. And you won't need to read standard notation or sight-read polyphony. All you need to know are the chords - just like on guitar. And you will learn to improvise from there.

I have included some pictures below that I found on-line to show some examples of the type chord charts you can expect to find including an example of an inversion chart to use once you master the basic chords. There are plenty of different type charts available. Choose the ones easiest for you to read and relate to.

You will be playing piano and singing along to your favorite songs in no time at all.

enter image description hereenter image description here EDIT - Please note that the author of the image above chose to use the words "correct fingering" when in fact a more accurate label would have been "possible fingering" or "suggested fingering". Some of the numbers that indicate which finger to use to play the indicated notes might represent a typographical error. Use whatever fingering makes the most sense and is most comfortable for you and don't pay attention to the fingering suggestions in this picture! Also it is important to know that the red colored key is not part of the chord but is just showing where middle C is located for reference.

The image below is an example of the type of info you might find online to show how to play inversions. The example below is for a C Major chord.

enter image description here

  • The fingering for the Fsus4 looks like a stretch. Isn't 1 3 5 the most common fingering for right hand chords? I got this impression from e.g. this book, since I wanted to start with the vanilla variants for this stuff. I know that there isn't one single fingering that works for everyone in every context, but these looks a bit unorthodox. I am a beginner at the keyboard, so I might be wrong. Mar 11, 2015 at 11:23
  • @MeaningfulUsername That chart is just a chart I found on-line (there is one for every chord) and posted the pic as an example of what is out there. I recommend looking at the different charts available and print the ones you like best. I could have posted different examples but just wanted to show that there were different options to choose from. Mar 11, 2015 at 17:02
  • Should maybe make that part of your answer. It says "correct fingering", so one might think that this is the way it should be done. Mar 11, 2015 at 20:43
  • @MeaningfulUsername If it's incorrect I will delete the photo. But if it is correct but not the only correct way to play the chord, then it's fine. Please note that the red key is not played (only the keys indicated by blue) - it's just the C for reference. Mar 12, 2015 at 8:36
  • 1
    @MeaningfulUsername The pictures have nothing to do with the question or the answer. The answer is not about how to play an Fsus4 chord. It's about using a chord based learning method to learn the piano quickly for accompaniment only. But if you think I should remove the picture I can. I can substitute a different example. Or feel free to edit my answer and delete the pic and replace it with one you like better. Thanks. Mar 12, 2015 at 8:43

Learn the relationship between chords and chord names and arpeggios (broken chords ). You can play the root note with your left hand and the block chords or broken chords with your right. Get them dancing in time, and you can sing along.

Start with simple tunes, major triads only. Then begin to branch out to minors and chords with accidentals.

The simplest finger dance is a boom-chuck. It consists of alternating the root and the chord in 4/4 time. In waltz time it is a boom-chuck-chuck. In both cases the boom is the bass note on the left hand, and the chuck is the block chord on the right.

Soon you can move to more sophisticated rhythms, move the bass around, and even introduce short melodic phrases with your right hand.

If you play the guitar and know your notes - not necessarily to read via notation, but if the lead sheet calls for an A major chord, you know where to find the root, and you know where to find the block chord - you are on your way.

So find a lead sheet or even just a lyric and chord sheet for a tune with no more than three chords and give it a try. This is the most rudimentary way to turn your piano into an 88 string guitar. But be warned, this is a gateway drug, and soon you will crave more sophisticated piano skills. That is how it started with me. Now I am playing Thelonius Monk and playing almost as much as I sing at the piano. Who knew?


First, you could just play along with any sheet music you are singing from. You can use Google to find middle C on the piano and also which keys are for which notes, if you don't already know that (you probably do already know that). From there, you don't need to sight read really fast to be able to pick out notes from your existing vocal sheet music.

Just like with voice, it's maybe 10% theory (at most) and at least 90% practice. Pick a hand (left or right) and start playing along with your sheet music. Repeatedly play through any sheet music you have with one hand only until you have it at least partially memorized. Then try playing while you sing. If you want to learn both hands for a piece, it's very common to memorize one hand, then the other, then practice them together.

If the vocal music you have isn't helping the piano side enough, there are plenty of courses available in the form of sheet music. Personally, I like the Suzuki method, at least to get started on an instrument. There's a lot it leaves out, but the books are affordable and have a nice progression of difficulty.


If you want to get more serious on piano and play more complicated pieces, you should strongly consider a teacher and definitely pay attention to technique. Poor technique can lead to repetitive motion injuries, just like poor singing technique can be bad for your voice. You can probably find YouTube videos that will give you a good start on technique, but as you progress having a professional evaluate your technique becomes more necessary.

I think learning the piano is a great addition to any musician's skill set, and it can be really fun.


In regard to the question about using the keyboard transpose button... I don't think there is a right or wrong approach. A true pianist would find this likely far more difficult and a music teacher I know physically cannot use it because her near-perfect pitch means all the keys are making the wrong notes :)

If you need to be able to play on a real piano, then relying on the ability to transpose everything to a 'nice' key will of course be limiting. But if you only want to play on a keyboard, as a way to accompany yourself, etc, then being good at piano isn't your real goal here.

And there is a fundamental difference between being a pianist and a keyboard player.

  • How is perfect pitch related to transposition? In my understanding, the keys will be mapped to different tones, but those tones will be exactly as they were. If C, E and G are sounded together, it will be the same pitches, but different keys that are pressed. It will be hard for a accomplished player to play, since he/she is so used to the normal mapping, but that's not related to perfect pitch, but rather muscle memory. Mar 11, 2015 at 11:15
  • If you work off relative pitch, it's fine to transpose and say "OK I'm playing in C". If you've trained yourself to work in absolute pitch, and your F doesn't play F, it throws you out... as I understand anyway. I don't think it's purely muscle memory because another classically trained pianist I know has no issue and loves making it easier for himself this way!
    – Mr. Boy
    Mar 11, 2015 at 12:12
  • When I'm in "scan the music then play something effective" mode, as so often required when playing from a commercial copy or a lead sheet, I can't cope with a transposing keyboard. I find myself "correcting" the transposition so that what I hear corresponds with the music.
    – Laurence
    Mar 11, 2015 at 20:59

A typical song normally has both voice and instrument part. Go to the vocal teacher to learn the vocal part and to the piano teacher to learn the piano part, when I think you can just train alone to do both at the same time.


I think it's always best to have a teacher. You should be able to find a piano teacher who understands what your goal is, and can still assist you in learning fingerings, scales, and enough to fill in the little motifs that you probably want in addition to simple blocked chords.


I would like to add some points for practical piano playing, these are from a book called Keyboard Accompaniment and Improvisation - a Handbook for Practical Piano Skills.

First, when talking about accompanying piano skills, we must remember, that accompanying with piano is a totally different skill than playing songs with piano (classical or pop). Accompanying is like playing the role of a complete rock band with just two hands. This means, that you need to have a low bass (like a bass drum and bass line) in your left hand and a rhythm pattern with chords in your right hand. This gives you already many possibilities to create all basic piano accompaniment patterns, like pop/rock, swing, Latin and so on.

When using the chords, remember the voice leading rules. The chords need to go to the nearest next chord in order to sound smooth. Avoid using triads in root position, always think how to connect the chords.

Usually, there are not so many chords in a song, so that it is quite easy to figure out how to connect them. Then you might need to listen to the original recording to get ideas for the accompaniment patterns.

  • 3
    Posting spam or self promotion is not welcomed here. Your link has been edited out. If you want to leave a link to your site in your profile, that is fine - people can find it there
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jun 1, 2018 at 22:53

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