Making Money From Music

Can I Be A Music Producer If I Can’t Play The Piano? YES!

Timbaland Producing Some Fire – Credit: Timbaland

It’s a common question for budding music producers just starting out in the industry. “Can I Become A Music Producer without knowing how to play the piano?”. The common answer being repeated time and time again across the internet is a resounding no. Music producers from far and wide are coming out of the woodwork, telling anyone who dares ask this question that it’s impossible to find any success as a music producer if you can’t play the piano.

But first, a little bit about my story. You aren’t going to see me credited on any platinum, huge name releases but my music had been heard by (at the low estimate) over 50 million people, without touching a piano even once. Ironically, my mum is an incredibly good pianist with a music degree.

What she has taught me is that understanding music theory (at least somewhat) and developing a good ear for sound is more important for music production than being able to play the piano. There are millions of piano players who would have absolutely no idea how to produce a polished, great sounding beat. Just being able to play the piano doesn’t really guarantee you will be a better producer, but it should mean you will come into music production with existing knowledge of how to create catchy melodies more easily.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate. This is just my opinion, but in today’s day and age I don’t think you need to be able to play the piano to become a successful music producer, and here’s why. Today I will be breaking down my main reasons for why you can definitely become a successful music producer, even if you can’t play the piano.

Can you become a successful music producer without learning to play the piano?

1) Music Production Requires Theory, Not Piano Skills

Many beginner music producers are definitely guilty of just opening up a piano roll and attempting to pen up catchy melodies from ear without any sort of understanding of music theory.

This might be passable in certain genres where melody isn’t overly important, but as a general rule it’s pretty hard to get people to become fond of your productions without at least a bit of an understanding on music theory. Whether you know it or not, chances are if you draw something out that sounds good then you’re at least making a melody in a specific key.

As a start, learn how chords work, what the difference between major and minor scales are, and how to write a melody in a specific key. If you’re coming from complete 0, this might sound daunting, but this level of music theory depth really isn’t too challenging. Don’t give up! You will find you’re able to get the exact vibe you’re aiming for a lot quicker.

2) MIDI Packs Are Cheap / Free And Easy To Use

Okay, this one is considered a bit of a cheat to some purists, but let me let you in on a little secret. A BUNCH of really successful music producers don’t bother reinventing the wheel, and just drag in chord progressions to their DAW, before picking a preset and just leaving it at that.

If you’re good at sound design, making punchy drums and nice basslines but lack in the melody department then maybe give this production tip a go. The Unison MIDI Pack is pretty great, and contains some of the most widely used chord progressions in any key you could want. Using a midi pack like this means you can make some really fantastic beats without using overused loops and samples, but also not completely from scratch. It’s a nice middle ground in my opinion.

3) Scale Highlighting in FL Studio / Ableton Live 11

Both Fl Studio (Most new-ish versions) and Ableton Live 11 both offer scale highlighting now, which basically means that all of the keys in a particular scale (of your choice) are lit up, meaning that you can effectively colour by numbers and come up with a melody with ease that will definitely be in key.

If you don’t know the A# minor scale of the top of your head, but you’re trying to come up with a moody and dark melody, then just highlight the scale and that’s half the battle out of the way. Yet another reason that music producers don’t absolutely need to know how to play the piano.

4) Playing The Piano Into a DAW Will Probably Require Editing

If you record a melody into your DAW, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that the timing is a little off, meaning you will have to go into the piano roll and either quantize of manually line up a lot of the notes. This means that for most music producers, the piano is only really useful for drafting ideas quickly.

5) Humanization Is Pretty Easy Without A Piano

A lot of music producers who are on the pro-piano side of the argument will claim that drawing up melodies creates a bland, robotic sound and leads to boring melodies with no fizz. This is only the case if said producer is lazy! With all of the configurability that modern DAWs offer, this argument is no longer valid.

Even without a piano, you can move notes slightly off, tweak panning, velocity, tuning and just about any other attribute you can think of. Combine these all together and it’s possible to take a non-piano written melody completely indistinguishable from a live instrument.

Conclusion – You Can Definitely Become A Successful Music Producer Without Being Able To Play The Piano

So there you have it. In my opinion, it is absolutely possible to become a successful music producer even if you can’t play the piano. It might make you feel like you aren’t a “proper” music producer like MIKE DEAN, but it most definitely isn’t absolutely essential in the music world today. I absolutely think that a decent understanding of music theory goes a long, long way though, this being said.

Trying to produce music with no understanding of music theory is a little like baking a cake with no recipe. You might be able to make a nice cake from testing a few ideas and tasting them, but it isn’t going going to be as quick or painless. What I’m trying to say, is that producing music without any of the theory is like trying to drive without taking any lessons. It’s possible, but it won’t be pretty and you will make a lot more mistakes than necessary.