Comparing guitar to piano

Discussion in 'Guitar Lessons' started by To Need a Woman, Jul 27, 2017.

  1. To Need a Woman

    To Need a Woman Senior Member

    Likes Received:
    Mar 16, 2015
    A few comparisons here (with titles), just to help me and others put our finger on the pros and cons of each. So maybe people might just want to read the headings that interest them. I think writing these helped me realise a few more things. And then it's only the last paragraph that is really about me and how I should prioritise. Any other semi-pianists here?

    More timbre options on guitar! Better you say – are you sure?

    This can be confusing for people who are only semi acquired to the guitar’s layout. Your brain is essentially being told to go two different directions.

    Basically, when you land on a note your free fingers are either near the head stock, or nearer the guitar body. So it often happens, that the way that’s most ergonomic to hit the next note mightn’t be the way that you’re most used to doing. For example, if playing on the b string, most people will like to get a descending semi-tone by staying on the same string, instead of reaching 3 frets higher & one string lower!

    I actually find this more of a problem when utilising open strings. I think it’s because the open string will nearly always happen to give the sound you intend, so sometimes you can become so used to going for the open string that it makes your mind lazy. If you play a scale higher up the neck, you’re forced to think about why you’re reaching for certain notes.

    Corresponding cadences can seem completely different depending on the key

    Each key is difficult to get your head around. Let’s take an I-iii movement, and compare it in three different keys (below). All of these keys are easy to play in, but corresponding movement can seem completely different:

    This is something guitar teachers don’t address (as far as I’m aware). If you can’t put your finger on the reasons why you find learning something as being difficult, then there’s going to be confusion added on top of that!

    On piano, this problem is perhaps harder. However, at least you can go ‘up’ as well as ‘down’ for the base notes. With the (D-F#m) example above, you can’t really go up to get the base note.

    Unintentional noises

    Again something guitar teachers don’t seem to talk about. Whether it’s silencing a base note at the start of a new chord, or an accidental pull-off. It seems nearly all of these I have to anticipate in order to correct - and often end up coming up with a different way of rectifying them each time (could involve RH or LH). If it was the same habit I could use to rectify this each time, then it would be easier.

    Piano – definitely no need to elaborate

    In the context of doing a nice melodic intro to a song (which rhythm is much of a concern), to set the mood:

    Supposing you’re a guitarist who’s improvising and you’ve a really good hear for finding the notes you want to hit (lets say you’re playing in the key G). Now let’s suppose you find yourself going out of key, and reaching for an Eb chord. The question is, do you suddenly find yourself hindered to express melody on those chords? Sometimes this happens to me and I just continue with the feeling… in other words, I continue the melody imagining the base note in my head. But that’s not really appropriate to do on stage, is it?!

    On the piano/keyboard, you’ve got two hands – you’re ready for anything when improvising, as Elton demonstrates:

    Physical difficulty with out of key chords

    On piano (if you suddenly need to), you may find your left hand dropping from F to Eb, but on guitar it’s a case of “whoops, what am I gonna do here?”!

    Take a song like ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ – it’s in F which is a tricky one to play. But considering there’s so many ‘out of key’ chords in the song anyway, this means I don’t even know which key is the easiest one (on guitar) to play it in! So I just play it in F! On piano, you don’t have this problem.

    However, there are some guys out there that can play bring melody, base and rhythm together like as if it were piano:

    Guitar is vertical, piano is horizontal

    Sometimes with guitar, it’s easy to underestimate the vertical distance between strings – both with the left and right hand.

    Piano - you have gravity on your side.

    Guitar is cooler

    Getting to the more obvious comparisons now! I know no one will object to this statement! One reason it's cooler is because you can get whole lot more of a ‘big’ sound, that's longer lasting, out of one note on guitar... as well as personalising that note. A lot of piano players make it a nerdy hobby - like this guy:

    – dude, just because it looks hard to do doesn’t mean it's good to listen to!

    I remember Joe Jackson (pop pianist) learned one instrument (I forget which) so that he could escape soccer practice! That does not sound cool! But then again Charlie Harper from ‘Two and a Half Men’ played piano, and he wasn’t a chode by any means!


    I seem to like both equally, but sometimes I feel like I'm stuck with guitar because that's what started with. I think a good way to compare the two, is that piano is something that’s harder to learn, but once you’ve it learned, you are not limited like the guitarist. But if I really want to get good, shouldn't I sort of choose one? Could I choose piano, and maybe just keep guitar as a social thing?

    With muscular memory, you either have it or you don't. But with guitar, I don't feel like muscular memory is always enough - certain chords movement are always going to be ‘hit or miss’ and you cannot be relaxed when playing if that’s the case. I do have big hands, but I think the tips of my fingers are too narrow for guitar. It's no wonder I prefer to play on electric.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  2. paradice

    paradice Senior Member

    Likes Received:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Guitar is more technically challenging. Piano is harder to know all the keys/chords, you can't just transpose by moving a shape up or down like you can on guitar, although piano is easier to see/count notes if you're just trying to flat the 3rd or whatever, might have to change to a different string or completely different shape/hand position on the guitar to do that

    They're so different I don't think one will have a negative effect on the other.....would just mean you had more time to focus on the one you choose
  3. Greg's Guitars

    Greg's Guitars Senior Member

    Likes Received:
    Feb 11, 2009
    To technical for my blood..........
  4. JonR

    JonR Senior Member

    Likes Received:
    Sep 29, 2010
    Piano is better because:

    1. It contains every note used in western music (OK aside from a few massive church organs, and squeaky harmonics on various instruments). 88 keys is over 7 octaves; twice as much as most guitars (and yes it goes lower than bass, unless you have a 5-string with a low A).

    2. It requires no technique whatsoever to play chords. Just learn which note is which (whoops some theory required) and drop your fingers down where necessary.

    3. Standard notation makes most sense with piano. Treble clef right hand, bass clef left hand, middle C in the middle. The white notes are all the lines and spaces. A black note means adding a sharp or flat.

    4. For all those reasons, it's the ideal workbench for studying music theory.

    5. It's great as an alternative composing tool, because you're not constrained by technical issues. And if you don't know music theory, you're not constrained by that either. You're entirely dependent on your ear (which knows all you need to know).

    6. If you can't play piano but want someone to believe you can, just noodle around on the black notes. They form a pentatonic scale. And we all know how random noodling on a pentatonic sounds better than random noodling on full 7-note scales. (Imagine trying to tell someone who can't play guitar how to play so it sounds like they can...)

    Guitar is better because:

    1. More timbral variety (same notes on different strings).

    2. More expression available.
    No vibrato on piano. No note bending. The only expression available on piano (and don't let pianists tell you any different) is dynamics: soft ("piano") or loud ("forte"). In terms of pitched instruments, the only instruments with less expressive potential are the keyboard instruments that preceded it, such as the harpsichord. Yes, pianos have that pedal that puts a felt strip between hammers and strings, so you can play more muffled. Big deal.

    3. You have your fingers on the strings at all times. Yes that makes it tough to learn, but that's where the expressive potential comes from.
    A piano is a machine, basically. It puts a whole array of levers between you and the strings. The musical equivalent of a typewriter, or steam engine, car engine, or blast furnace. A musical instrument for the industrial revolution - not possible before it, and perfectly expressive of it.
    You know it's classified as a percussion instrument, not a string instrument? Because you don't "play" it, you bang on it. Use your fingers like hammers to operate the internal hammers.
    In fact the piano sounds best when played like that - when hammered mercilessly, like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson; and when treated with sardonic disrespect, like Thelonius Monk. Or "prepared", like John Cage, who struggled to turn the damn thing into a musical instrument. Here's one way (in fact a few ways) to do that:

    4. You can't strum a piano. (OK, you can, sort of, if you lift the lid... see above)

    5. You can't hold macho poses or strut around the stage with a piano. Yes, you can get those strap-on keyboards. If you want to look like a total dork.

    6. Guitar is portable (see above). Tried playing a piano round a campfire?
    I mean acoustic, obviously, sorry LP fans. (OK, you can strap on a battery amp, I guess.)

    7. Guitar is cool (see above).
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2017

Share This Page