Ready to play piano in band?


I've been playing piano for a couple years now and I'm looking to get my playing to the next level. I know from personal experience that playing in bands and gigging takes your skills to a whole new level. I'm curious if I'm ready to start playing with groups. I feel like I can learn things on piano, but I can't sit down and play it like I can with guitar, bass or drums. Here's a demo I did that consists of a bunch of random things I know how to play. There's some Bach, jazz heads, random songs, etc. It's all over the map. Not my best playing ever, but you get the idea.



Silver Supporting Member
Depends. I play guitar and keys, and for a lot of rock songs, keys isn't a whole lot more than just playing chords with a synth pad. Obviously a lot of songs are a lot more complicated, so if you're in an ELP tribute band, you have a way to go. There's certainly some stuff you could do. Just choose your songs wisely.


The "mood" on your demo tells me you may not enjoy playing in a band as much as you think, but you should try it. In the band, focus on playing specific parts and leave some space... much different than sitting down at the piano and carrying a tune. Too much piano clashes with the guitar and vice versa. You are going to be Chording, playing a specific rif that is part of the song, or soloing.

Tim Bowen

I have played keys in bands and on recordings, and I am far from a great keys player. FAR. Gotta know your limitations, and gotta be able to play parts that not only fit, but elevate, the song at hand

I've played with some virtuoso keys players, some real monsters. Virtuosos aren't always the best team players. On an odd side note, I'd prefer drummers to totally ignore their cymbals in verses on pop tunes, but it's difficult for many to do. Similarly, I would prefer that virtuoso keys players didn't always play so rhythmically, and didn't always use eight fingers and two thumbs. It's sometimes tough to get accomplished keys players to do what is actually needed in a pop song, which is often simple, unobtrusive support parts, such as block chords as diamonds with little or no rhythm, or as has been mentioned, a basic strings or synth pad.

If I were hiring a keys player for a song band, and not jazz or such, I wouldn't be looking for a virtuoso. I would want a team player, someone who could choose good and appropriate sounds, avoid the dreaded tinkly sounding digital fru-fru patches, could play good support parts, but could also construct (if not improvise) a few solos here and there. Good support, nice textures, making the songs bigger than they'd be otherwise.

I would just be straight up about your experience in talking to folks in prospective projects. That's what I did when I got my first gig playing some keys in a band. I told them that I could get parts together and add to the songs, but that virtuosity and loads of improvisation were off the table for me as a keys player.

The fact that you also play other instruments might also be a foot in the door if you are willing and able to double up a little.
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I think you are ready to play with other people, playing what you play.

By that, I mean, you're more like a "piano bar" soloist but you could branch out and add Bass and Percussion/Drums, or you could accompany a vocalist or lead instrument (flute, sax, violin, etc.) or do some kind of combination.

I saw this in another thread about a guitarist trying to find his place in "keyboard driven" songs...

One of the problems with "soloists" is they get used to carrying the entire song - so they tend to approach everything that way - it's a hard habit to get out of.

So you need either to play in a format where you can still "carry everything", or, you need to learn to play the REAL parts in real songs by others - and of course, what style you choose to play impacts that a great deal.

There are a few "rock" piano players who "carry" the songs - Ben Folds, Elton John, Billy Joel - those players tend to play piano and then build the other parts around them.

But then there are a bunch of players who "vamp" through progressions - I'm thinking about things like the Piano part in "Against the Wind" by Bob Seger.

But then there are all the "synthesists" who can take an entirely different approach - like if you listen to how well the synth parts in a Cars song integrate with the guitar part - the two compliment (and complement) each other rather then both doing basically the same thing or one laying back while the other plays.

Gigging with a band is just a huge can of worms.

I'd love to work with a person who knows how to play keyboard PARTS properly. I've yet to find one in my life who wasn't a guitarists or bass player. Again, the "piano players" tend to want to cover everything in the song, and not play the parts that were in the song.

So my advice to you is, if you want to gig in any kind of 4 or 5 piece or larger band, you need to learn the "standards" and learn to cover "keyboard" as well as piano parts. That means horns, strings, winds, synth, organ, etc. on top of just piano.

To me, a "piano player" in my band would be as useless as a guy who "just played clean electric".

But that's the type of music I play - it calls for a more versatile player.

If you can do more of a "piano-centric" group, it's certainly possible and I think that might be your better avenue for success - depending of course on what it is you really want to do.

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