Danish composer & pianist Jacob Ladegaard charms well over a million Youtubers and Spotifiers with his mellow, but powerful, melodies. Originally studying to become an economist, he built his own piano universe that touches the hearts of people all over the world and inspires many to start playing the piano. In our interview, he explains what makes his music so appealing for beginners, what defines success for him, and hints at joys and challenges that await him.
OKTAV: You are largely a self-taught musician. How did you start out – someone must have shown you the basics?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I did have piano teachers, maybe for 3 to four years. What I mean by “self-taught” is that I have no formal certificate from a music school to impress you with. Most of what I do on the piano, I taught myself. When I was a child, my parents used to have a piano at home. My mother played some guitar and also simple melodies on the piano. From very early on, I felt attracted to that instrument and played it for fun. My mother signed me up for lessons when I was seven or eight years old. So then I played classical pieces my teacher gave me, for two or three years – then I stopped. I did still play privately at home, but I no longer had lessons. Sports and other activities seemed more important to me at the time.
OKTAV: This happens to so many of us who started to play as children – how did you rekindle your interest in the piano?
JACOB LADEGAARD: When I was 15 years old I had a new teacher for half a year. This teacher taught me about chords and music theory, and opened up a whole new world for me! I started to improvise and create my own simple melodies. In 2011, I founded my Youtube channel “Jacob’s Piano” as a way to share my piano videos and see what other people thought of them.
Who inspires him
OKTAV: Which composers inspire you?
JACOB LADEGAARD: That’s a funny story. When I put my own first videos up, I surfed Youtube to find new and interesting music – and I came across a composer and pianist named Ludovico Einaudi. He was hugely popular. I loved his music. And I thought, hey, this is exactly the kind of music I’m good at playing! So I would say that Einaudi, as well as Yann Tiersen, were big influences on my playing. I really love contemporary piano music, including movie soundtracks. Yes, I would definitely say Einaudi’s music inspires me.
How the piano became his career
OKTAV: But you did not really plan to have a career as a pianist until it happened?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I have a master’s in economics from the University of Copenhagen. While studying for my degree, music was my little side project. And it just grew and grew… until I realized that I had something special there, something people genuinely seemed to enjoy. After I graduated, I worked part-time for 1 1/2 years. I could not accept a full-time job because that would mean I would not have enough time for my piano project. I quit that part-time job in 2020, and concentrate on Jacob’s Piano full-time now.
The role of Social Media
OKTAV: What helped you become the musician you are today?
JACOB LADEGAARD: There were quite a few factors that lay outside of the realm of music, but without them, I would not be where I am today. First of all, the Danish educational system allowed me to have a lot of spare time besides my studies – time I could use for my piano project. It allowed me to set aside time to play, write and record my music. If I’d had to work to support myself, and study, I don’t think I could have built my piano channel.
The second factor is Social Media. This factor is extremely important for creatives because they need to get their art out there. Without Social Media, I’d probably not even play the piano anymore. Of course, success on Youtube was crucial to me. And right now, Spotify is very important as listeners are very open to discovering new artists nowadays. People used to concentrate on buying Mainstream CDs back in earlier days, and very few new artists got a chance to be noticed at all. Nowadays, I can make a living with the royalties I earn when people stream my music. I have a few partnerships as well, and – of course – I also sell my original sheet music.
On success as an artist
OKTAV: How would you define success as an artist nowadays? It seems the concept of what makes a successful musician has changed. It used to be about live concerts in bigger and better venues, the number of CDs and merch sold, but that’s not it anymore, is it?
JACOB LADEGAARD: Success, to me, is being able to concentrate on my music full-time. I spend my life creating and sharing my music with people that love it. It is not just about having lots of listeners. It is about touching people with my music and bringing them joy. So I see myself as successful whenever people tell me my music has helped them through a rough spot in their lives, or that they love listening to it after a hard day.
OKTAV: What is unusual for a musician is you don’t perform live at all. Any plans to change that?
JACOB LADEGAARD: This is true, and I get asked that a lot. I am not a concert pianist at all and have hardly ever performed live. Not even for my family! I prefer working alone in my studio, I don’t need the buzz of performing. I do see that I might start doing concerts at some point in the future as I like to push myself to try new things. But there are so many other things that I have lined up! I would have to sideline a lot of projects I have planned if I were to take on concerts and tours. For now, I would say those other projects excite me more.
OKTAV: How do you compose your music? Do you have a certain routine?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I don’t. Sometimes I compose in the mornings, sometimes in the evenings. I wish I could tell you a compelling story about how I get my ideas during walks in the forest, and then rush back home to capture any new melody on paper! The truth is, I normally sit down and improvise with an idea of where I want to go. Then I play a lot, and try around, and end up with maybe ten seconds of something new and original that I like. And this is what I take, and work into a composition, systematically. I actually write my own arrangements, the very sheet music that you find on OKTAV.
JACOB LADEGAARD (laughs): Of course!
OKTAV: Which pianos do you personally own?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I have a digital piano, a Roland, as my main instrument. There’s another one I have stacked underneath the computer that I use when I need a keyboard there. And in one or two months I will own my very first acoustic piano, an upright one. I am very excited about that, as I have never had one. I am sure it will be a great inspiration for my composition, as I find new sounds very inspiring. And then there’s also the challenge of microphoning it to record my videos and music.
Recording and midi use
OKTAV: You also know your way around recording technology. Self-taught again, we presume?
JACOB LADEGAARD: Absolutely. Back when I started, I did not like the way most pianos sounded on Youtube. So I wanted my own sound to be better and did some research. I read quite a lot about midi pianos and music production, and I realized that that was the way to go. This was very time-consuming as I had to learn a lot about recording, mixing, and sound engineering in general, but I managed to achieve the sound I wanted. People do seem to honor all the effort I put into it to get the best possible sound quality. I also blog and offer courses on my Jacob’s piano website about the knowledge I have acquired.
OKTAV: Do you play any other instruments or has it always been just the piano for you?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I have always loved the guitar, and I learned how to play it ten years ago. I can also play simple patterns on the drums. Currently, I am dreaming of playing the violin – maybe one day I will give it a go. I love practicing an instrument. I love sitting down and figuring out how to play something.
A “boring” piece of advice
OKTAV: Do you have one piece of advice for piano beginners?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I do, and it is very boring but the most effective piece of advice you’ll ever hear: Keep practicing! Just play hard pieces very slowly, and increase the tempo as you get better. It might seem dull to point this out, but sometimes people aren’t aware that playing the piano is about building a base, building muscle memory, and then taking it from there. Advising patience is not very popular, but it’s the only way.
OKTAV: Which two pieces composed by you would you recommend people try to play?
JACOB LADEGAARD: I would recommend
- “Bo’s Theme”: A simple piece, great for beginners, and I love the melody. Bo is my girlfriend, by the way.
- “Autumn Breeze”: For the same reason – it’s popular, and a lot of people like it, but it is accessible and not too hard to play.
Jacob Ladegaard/ Jacob’s Piano on Youtube.
Jacob Ladegaard/Jacob’s Piano on OKTAV.