Skills a Piano Player Should Have

On the February 9th post titled Performing Monkeys, I ended the post saying that we taught with the basic idea of creating piano players for life and building their skills. I promised a better list of basic skills every piano player should have. Well, Howard and I have been kicking that idea around a lot for the past two weeks and I finally have the list. So here goes, piano players…..

General Skills

  1. Read music fluently. That is, not be able to “figure it out”, but actually to read it like reading a book.
  2. Learn and perform a piece by memory.
  3. Have the knowledge and technique to play the scales and chords of each key.
  4. Know the five standard chord progressions: Basic Harmony, Substitute Chords, Scale Chords, Circle of Fifths, and Chromatic Chords.
  5. Know the standard musical forms such as Song Form, Sonata Form, and Rondo Form.
  6. Play by ear – picking out a melody and choosing appropriate accompaniment chords.
  7. Sort out the melody from the accompaniment and balance the hands to display that.
  8. Be able to play to a steady drum-beat or metronome.
  9. Transpose a piece various keys.
  10. Maintain a repertoire of performable music.

Classical Skills

Learn and play from written music of the following eras:

  • Baroque
  • Classical
  • Romantic
  • 20th Century


Fake Book and Improvisation Skills. Use a fake book or lead sheet to:

  • Perform a piece using left hand solid chords.
  • Perform a piece using various left hand patterns.
  • Create and perform an arrangement of a piece using various left hands and right hand embelishments.
  • Improvise a piece from a fake book using various left hands/right hands/ and embelishments on the fly.


Modern Popular and Jazz Music Skills

  • Improvise on 12-bar blues
  • Learn and perform a modern popular piece with modern pop or Latin rhythms.


Sight Reading Skills

  • Count the rhythms at sight while playing.
  • Sight-read modern rhythms in popular music.
  • Recognize the chords at sight including different inversions and voicing of the chords.


Ensemble Playing Skills

  • Be able to play along with another person.
  • Know how to accompany another musician or singer.
  • Play chords within a band or ensemble.


This is the current list of what we think is most important for a good all-around piano player. If you have other additions, we would love to hear your ideas. Please leave a comment.

Til next time,


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