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What Are the Most Popular Piano Styles?

The piano is arguably the most versatile and popular instrument, found in nearly every musical genre. From classical to jazz, the piano makes its presence known!

Today, we are going to take a look at some of the most popular piano playing styles to give you a feel for the broad range of music that embraces the piano. We’ll point out the differences and help you determine what type of piano might be best for the style you intend to play or learn. We’ll also include some video links to give you a reference— you can hear for yourself the differences in each style!

Style #1: Classical

In the mid-1700s, composers began writing music for the newly-invented piano. True “classical” piano includes the works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Later, artists like Haydn, Chopin, Handel, and Debussy continued the classical style through the baroque and romantic periods.

Classical piano is often the starting point for many when learning piano, as the nature of this genre requires good playing technique and knowledge of music theory. Grand and upright acoustic pianos are both great choices for classical playing styles.

Take a listen! This YouTube video (audio only) explores several different classical pieces for piano.

Style #2: Jazz

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Classical lies Jazz, where improvisation and playing by ear are commonplace. Jazz piano has developed over the course of the past 100 years, with its roots in ragtime, evolving into subgenres of blues, swing, bebop, cool jazz, and free jazz. This genre consists of experimental sounds, unconventional rhythms, and generally “all the wrong notes, but sounds so good” sounds, deviating from the classical techniques.

Jazz was popularized in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans, created by masters like Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis. Jazz is generally played on upright or grand acoustic pianos; however, some newer “smooth jazz” is played on electronic keyboards, as they offer versatility in sound options.

Take a listen! This YouTube video is an hour-long session of Duke Ellington playing and telling stories – a fascinating watch!

This YouTube video features Spyro Gyra, a popular jazz fusion band (notice the use of an electronic keyboard for varied sounds along with a traditional piano sound)

Pop and Rock

The late 1940s and 1950s saw the birth of yet another new style of rebellious music, Rock and roll. Early rock and roll has roots in rhythm and blues. However, over time, it evolved into its own style.

Early rock and roll artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard helped launch the piano into the popular music scene. The ’70s brought Billy Joel and Elton John, who are undoubtedly the kings of rock piano even today.

Piano remains a staple in pop music, thanks to musicians like Ben Folds, Chris Martin of Coldplay, John Legend. Rock musicians who incorporate piano include Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, Brendon Urie of Panic! and the Disco, and Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots. These musicians continue to make the piano a mainstay of rock/pop music.

You’ll notice in the videos linked below, many pop and rock artists play acoustic grand pianos in their live shows. However, when it comes time to record, many opt for electronic keyboards that allow for many different sounds from pure piano sounds to organ sounds, to completely distorted or digitally created effects.

Take a listen! This YouTube video features Billy Joel and Elton John playing together on The Tonight Show

This YouTube video features Chris Martin of Coldplay playing a piano and vocal only version of Everglow

This YouTube Video features Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy playing piano for Fall Out Boy’s “Save Rock and Roll”

Liturgical

Liturgical piano is a broad term for music associated with religious ceremonies. While many religions have traditionally rooted pieces hundreds of years old that are based on classical styles, there are still plenty of musicians creating and composing new music today for religious worship that has its roots in classical music, modern pop, and jazz/blues.

Many traditionally styled places of worship utilize acoustic upright pianos, organs, and grand pianos. However, many more contemporary churches are opting for electronic keyboards— partly for their compact size and partly for their ability to mimic multiple instruments.

Take a listen: This YouTube video features an extensive playlist of traditional Christian hymns for piano

This YouTube video features composer and pianist Damien Sneed explaining gospel styles as he plays

Even if you are well versed in one style, branching out and learning a new style can give you a push out of a musical rut, and inspire you to play more music. When you are ready to make the investment in a piano, whether acoustic or electronic, Moore Piano can help. Make an appointment today for a personalized demo on our in-stock instruments!