How the piano ruined music

The piano is a swaggering bully. And its time is up.

For around 200 years, it has strutted around the musical playground, imposing its own rules on harmony and tuning, embedding itself in the class system of Europe and America, and bullied millions of people into believing that they are ‘not musical’.

It strong-armed music into being a means of establishing status and squashing the idea of community participation. It made millions of children feel inadequate. In the words of the great music educator Atarah Ben-Tovim, ‘For many young children, the piano itself is a medieval torture machine. More people have been musically crippled by the piano than by all the other instruments put together.’

The piano ruined music*.

Every day, small children are told by their parents to study an instrument that forces them to be solitary, is of no communal use until you’ve studied it for at least 5 years, and on which they will almost certainly end up memorising physical patterns rather than making music…

… just because their parents believe it will teach them discipline, or get them into a better school, or somehow magically make them ‘better people’.

So how exactly did this over-complex box of hammers acquire this power?

And why is it now losing that monolithic influence?

I’m aiming to explore exactly how the piano took over as the unchallenged principal of music instruments through a series of brief essays, interviews and thought pieces.

Join me on this journey. And please (politely) argue with me. I’m up for a (polite) fight.

Let’s have a debate.

*Disclaimer – I don’t really believe that the piano ‘ruined’ music, I’m just being deliberately controversial. However, I do believe it altered the path of music in a way that has damaged musical participation in Europe and America and that music would have been better off without it.

Photo by Emmanuel Codden:

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