How do you score on educator Brenda Earle Stokes’ piano skills checklist for singing teachers?
It’s not written in stone that you need to be proficient at the piano to teach singing. But it certainly helps.
As Brenda Earle Stokes, a pianist, vocalist and educator, explains: “Singing teachers that don’t have piano skills are going to have a heck of a time trying to get employed over singers that do have piano skills.”
Brenda has helped many singers and singing teachers improve their keyboard repertoire. She also founded The Versatile Musician, a membership that offers piano and music theory training.
Speaking on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Brenda argues that while singing teachers don’t have to be concert-level pianists, they do require a specific set of skills to be able to respond to their students’ needs.
And once you’ve built up this skillset, it can open other doors too.
“Think of all the gig opportunities out there for somebody able to sing and play a simple accompaniment,” Brenda says. “It means you can conduct a choir or do a restaurant or a coffee shop gig. It’s also useful if you’re a studio singer or a songwriter.
“I can’t think of a single situation where it wouldn’t be beneficial to have keyboard skills.”
So how long would it take to become proficient at the piano? Brenda suggests practising for 20 minutes a day for two years should be enough.
“It’s not as big of a deal as people make out. It’s not 20 years of training. It’s a couple of years of work, and you’ll have the skills you need for the rest of your life.”
Are your keyboard skills up to scratch?
Here are the four things that Brenda believes singing teachers need to master.
Piano Skills Checklist for Singing Teachers
1 Basic hand position; having a decent five-finger position and knowing the basics of posture.
2 Ability to play major and minor chords in all 12 keys. “Once you can play your major and minor chords, there is not a song in the Western musical tradition that you can’t play. Even if you’re doing jazz or Sondheim, you’ll find a major or a minor triad at the bottom of those complex chords.”
3 General ability to read music. “Even if it’s not reading fully notated music, I think every singing teacher should be able to read the melody lines.”
4 Have a handful of simple accompaniment strategies that support their work. “The skill that I teach is the concept of ‘faking’. Faking is not playing from fully notated piano music; you’re playing from a sheet with just the melody, lyrics and the chords.”
- How to develop accompaniment strategies.
- The best type of keyboard to invest in.