The keyboard is still one of the most popular ways to play all kinds of musical parts from basslines to drums. Here are some ways you can polish up your ivory-tinkling talents… and some of the tips will help your skills on any instrument.
Now I’m not going to tell you to practice, because that’s an obvious way to get better and if you don’t do it you will take much longer to improve. What I am saying however is that it helps a lot to play regularly – even every day if possible. Playing for 10-15 minutes a day will get your dexterity and muscle memory into much better shape than playing for an hour once every two weeks, for example.
A lot of people who are forced to learn an instrument while young come to resent being made to do it. They eventually give up and then later in life, many of them regret doing so. As an adult, some of the same thinking applies. If you are forcing yourself to practice because you think you should, you’re going to end up making negative associations in your brain between playing and enjoyment. If you’re playing and it’s not going well, instead of grimly pressing on, stop for the day and come back tomorrow.
If you’ve never learned scales, or learned them as a kid but long since abandoned playing them, you will find that starting up again helps both your fluidity and ability to play more easily in different keys. Once you get the hang of playing major scales, start playing them faster until you can do it at pace without making mistakes. Go beyond the basics and try more unusual scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor, pentatonic and so on. There’s probably no need to master every single scale unless you really want to, but certainly refreshing your knowledge will help your playing more generally.
Make an effort to learn pieces or songs that you haven’t played before, or that you have found too difficult to play. Obviously there’s a limit to this and you don’t need to jump from James Blunt to Rachmaninoff, but you won’t learn new techniques, figures or patterns unless you play them and get them right. This can take a while: that tricky jazz chord change, fiddly trill or busy bass part might take time to figure out and then commit to memory. But the sense of achievement when you can easily play something that an hour ago you couldn’t even work out the fingering for is amazing.
The piano is a much more dynamic instrument than many people realise. Whereas drums are naturally loud and electric guitars use amps for power, the piano is capable of huge dynamic range depending on how hard you play it. You can only make a piano louder by hitting notes harder (or cheating by drawing in velocity in a DAW) so the stronger your fingers are, the better chance you will have of getting power and volume when needed. Personally I have always found playing intense or powerful music the best way to do this rather than using special grip training gear, but whatever works for you.