Since its invention around the year 1700, piano has become and remained one of the most beloved musical instruments. It went to replace the clavichord and the harpsichord and to discontinue their use for quite a long time due to its qualities: the ability to play multiple notes at the same time, increased control over loudness and softness, and infinite control over the dynamics of notes. The piano introduced an entire new realm of expressive possibilities and we couldn’t imagine modern music without such dynamics and diversity. The appearance of the piano was like switching from black and white to color TV. As a result, piano has become one of the most popular and studied musical instruments and those who are looking to make a career in music (even commercial music) have a lot to win by learning how to play the piano. Here is a list of famous artists whose songs are often heard on the radio and listened to by millions, who successfully play the piano as part of their repertoire:
Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947, Elton John is an English singer and pianist who has sold more than 300 million records in his five-decade career. He learned how to play the piano at an early age, around 3, and he started to take up formal piano lessons at 7. His ability to play the piano and compose melodies made him popular at school functions and at age 11 he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Some of the most memorable performances of Elton John include his playing a tribute at Lady Diana’s funeral and his duet with Lady Gaga at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.
Alicia Keys became famous in 2001, after launching her debut album Songs in A Minor, which produced her first Billboard Hot 100 number-one single “Fallin”. The album sold 12 million copies worldwide and earned her five Grammy Awards in 2002. Alicia Keys started to study classical piano at age 7, and she enrolled in the Professional Performing Arts School at the age of 12. At 14, she started writing songs and years later she became a famous R&B artist known for a high level of musicianship.
Legend also started playing the piano at an early age, when he was 7. He attended North High School at the age of 12 and graduated salutatorian four years later. His studies were not focused on music, though, but he served as president and musical director or a jazz and pop a capella group in college. At that time, John Legend was hired to play piano by Lauryn Hill on a song from her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. His own Billboard Hot 100 number one single came in 2013, with “All of Me”, and two years later Legend won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2015 for writing the song “Glory” from the film Selma.
Aside from playing the piano, Norah Jones is also proficient in guitar and bass. Norah’s interest in music started at an early age, when she was singing in church and taking piano lessons. She majored in jazz piano from the University of North Texas. Here she met her future collaborator Jesse Harris, and their recording together made Norah Jones famous. Her last album, Day Breaks, was launched in October 2016 and marked a return to piano after experimenting with folk and pop in the previous two records.
Billy Joel’s first hit song was “Piano Man”, released in 1973. It was the beginning of a career throughout which he became the sixth best-selling recording artist in the United States. Joel took up piano lessons at an early age at his mother’s insistence, and he considers himself a better organist than pianist. As a teenager, he used to play at a piano bar to help his mother, and this caused him to fail graduating with his class – he missed an important exam after playing a late-night gig at a piano bar the evening before. Instead of attending summer school to earn his diploma, he decided to start a career in music, despite being a strong student: “To hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there.” Bill Joel has been active since 1965 and his compilation album Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 is one of the best-selling albums in the US.
When we look at this singer’s beginnings with playing the piano, the first thing that strikes is that Tori Amos taught herself to play. At age 2, she could reproduce pieces of music she has heard once and started composing songs at the age of 3. She stated that since early childhood, she could see music as structures of light, or like an amazing kaleidoscope, and this eliminated the need for formal education. At 5, she became the youngest student ever admitted to the preparatory division of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where she studied classical piano. Her dislike for reading sheet music caused her scholarship to be discontinued 6 years later. So far, Tori Amos has released 15 solo albums, throughout which she displays her ability to play many other keyboard instruments as well: harpsichord, clavichord, Hammond organ, harmonium, Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, and clavinet.
Aretha Franklin is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide. She learned how to play the piano by ear around her 10th birthday, and she began singing solos in church after her mother’s death. At 14, her father began to manager her, taking Aretha to gospel caravan tours that introduced performers to various churches. Some of the best descriptions of Aretha Franklin and her career describe her as: “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.”, and she is known for “vocal flexibility, interpretive intelligence, skillful piano-playing, her ear, her experience.”
Which of these artists is your favorite and who would you add on the list?