Why Should Musical Theatre Performers Learn to Play the Piano?

Frequently, musical theatre performers in musical productions find they need to learn to play piano or wish they’d mastered the instrument a long time ago. Here are a few reasons why performers should consider taking steps towards learning this important skill.

Communicating with Your Team

There are times when singers and dancers who never learned to play piano wish they had. Playing the piano can help performers more easily communicate with other members of their teams, especially those who are dancing, singing or playing an instrument. Performers who do know how to play the piano have an easier time explaining their thoughts to musicians. If a performer is singing, it is easier to hit the same note as the piano, granted they know which note it is. Learning piano helps performers more easily communicate when a problem arises in the performance. This is true for singers, actors and dancers. For example, being able to manipulate the keys of a piano can help a choreographer communicate when certain moves should be struck and when certain moves should end.

Photo by Elliott Billings (via Flickr / CC2.0)

Photo by Elliott Billings (via Flickr / CC2.0)

Getting Lyrics and Choreography Right

Being able to play the piano also gives performers the opportunity to hone their craft on their own. For instance, during a rehearsal, a singer may need to recheck the key their vocals are sung in. It is pretty simple and convenient to be able to walk over to the piano and strike a few notes to test out a key or a high note. If performers knew how to play the piano, it would be a simple matter of sitting down with sheet music. Also, being able to memorize an entire score off music can help actors while memorizing lines. Music is easier to memorize than monologues, and it can act as a stepping-stone for actors who are memorizing often. In addition, a dancer might want to play a few bars to make dance time or choreography clearer. Playing the piano can also have dramaturgical benefits for performers. Playing music can help actors learn about tone and harmony, as well as the building and release of tension, which are all elements of the music that often further elements of the story.

Piano-Playing Roles

In some cases, performers are expected to be multi-talented individuals who fit easily into the script and plot of the musical to be presented. There is a wealth of musicals that have acting roles that require a character to play a few bars on a piano. A director might prefer to hire an actor who can really play the piano rather than one who will have to fake it. Also, performers can check the theater media and magazines for roles that include actors, dancers and singers who play piano. If these performers are not chosen for that kind of role, they can offer their talents as a rehearsal musician or as part of the theater's musical group. By doing this, the performer remains a valuable part of theater groups and becomes a recognized name in their community. 

A Creative Survival Job

Performers who learn to play piano often supplement their incomes as piano instructors or nightclub performers in their free time. This stabilizes the amount of money they are taking in and gives them the chance for exposure. Having a backup to acting is essential in case a gig falls through, and having a survival job that’s also a creative outlet is a win-win.

Lauren Lewandowski runs Piano With Lauren, in New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 2007 with a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Pedagogy. She also received a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance from Loyola University in 2009. She’s helped dozens of students with musical lessons (piano and vocal) since then.

The post Why Should Musical Theatre Performers Learn to Play the Piano? appeared first on The NewMusicalTheatre.com Green Room.