One of the most important things for an aspiring musician of any kind is inspiration. We’ve posted before about fun love songs to play, songs for different holidays or occasions, etc., but sometimes it’s also great just to find music that makes you want to be a better player. And one of the best ways to do that is through film.
For those looking for a little bit of musical inspiration, or even just a fun song or two to work on, these are some of our best five movies for aspiring pianists.
It’s an easy film to include, but it’s not just because of the name. Another article on a similar topic (and one worth checking out) put it perfectly, saying that the piano not only stars in a scene but actually plays a central role in the plot of this film. Fans of the film may recall that it essentially surrounds a Jewish pianist in hiding during the Holocaust, and that his ability to play beautiful music gives him a chance at escape. But the broader theme beyond basic plot devices uses the piano as a link to a more peaceful time and a more civilized society. Naturally it’s a little bleak in this case, but that concept is a beautiful reminder to any piano enthusiast of the purity and universal impact of the instrument. The piano can be a friend and a comfort even at the worst of times.
Ray is not the most cheerful film either, but it’s a fantastic one for anyone with a genuine passion for piano. Ray Charles is essential listening if you’re going to be a student of the musical history (which is a good idea for any player) and Jamie Foxx’s portrayal in this film is outstanding.
La La Land
There isn’t a hotter filmmaker working right now than Damien Chazelle. The 33-year-old prodigy has already received multiple Oscar nominations for his work and has another major film (a Neil Armstrong biopic called First Man) coming out this year. Betting on sports and events like the Oscars is currently illegal in the U.S. in most states, but suffice it to say plenty of us still keep a close eye on Oscars odds, and lately, Chazelle and his films have been among the regular favorites. Most notably, La La Land was a massive favorite for a few big awards at the 2017 Oscars – and half the film concerns an aspiring jazz pianist, played by Ryan Gosling. The actor supposedly buckled down and learned to play at a near-professional level, which brings some authenticity to some truly outstanding piano sequences. It’s just a wonderful film, and one that very literally shows that practice can pay off.
Once is more of a singer/songwriter story than specifically a piano tale, but it’s still perhaps the most important film out there for any aspiring musician. Made with a budget most modern filmmakers would laugh at, it’s a simple but charming movie about a man putting together a collection of songs, and finding love and passion in the process. The song “Falling Slowly” (which actually does produce a piano scene) wound up winning an Oscar for the Best Original Song, and helped to launch the starring duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova to real world musical acclaim. Overall, the movie is a good reminder of the values of perseverance and passion in any musical pursuit.
I imagine that Whiplash might be a polarizing choice for this list. For one thing, it’s primarily about a jazz drummer rather than a pianist. For another, there is some backlash against the film that suggests it does something harmful to jazz culture. Indeed, one write-up in the New Yorker went so far as to say it turns the very idea of jazz into “a grotesque and ludicrous caricature.” That said, there isn’t a mainstream modern movie with more jazz in it, and there may not be a film that better demonstrates the rigors of perfecting a musical craft. It’s an intense but wonderful film, perfect for anyone who loves music (or jazz specifically). For an alternative that delves more into piano play, however, the 1996 film Shine is vaguely similar in some ways, if decidedly more tame.