How to Approach Learning to Play the Piano
Is Piano Tuition Important?
Unless you're one of the lucky ones who can play by ear, it might be necessary to follow some sort of piano course. That can be with or without a teacher, depending on your age, motivation, and available practice time. A good teacher can spur you on, but only if you are prepared to put the work in.
Despite all the technology around us, the piano remains one of the most popular instruments for people of all ages and walks of life. But, what do you need to know if you decide you want to start learning to play this magnificent instrument?
It goes without saying that you need a piano, some form of tuition, and dedication. No one ever learned to play without these three elements (see text opposite). For the rest, you get out of it what you put in. It’s essential that you have an idea of the kinds of things you hope to achieve. Here’s a list of questions you should ask yourself before you begin.
What Do You Want to Play on the Piano?
You might simply want to learn one song to start with. It might sound strange, but that’s often the impetus that gets people playing. Or you might hope to learn basic arrangements of well-known melodies, tunes you hear on the radio and TV, or pieces by your favorite artists or composers.
Many people start playing the piano because they have a fondness for a certain type of music, whether that might be classical, pop, rock, jazz, blues or some other style. It doesn’t really matter which style or styles you prefer, as long as you end up playing what you want to play. If you choose a teacher or a course of tuition, make sure the teacher or course can accommodate your particular taste and enthusiasm.
Learning to play so that you can say "I know how to play the piano" is absolutely fine, but it makes more sense to learn to play the music you enjoy.
Why Do You Want to Play the Piano?
The reason behind your study of the piano is also important. Some people play for fun, as a leisure pursuit. Others are interested in learning a new skill. Still more are keen to achieve a certain standard. And naturally, it’s possible to do all of these things at the same time.
If your goal is to learn a new skill, that’s great. Once you’ve learned that skill, it can become a leisure activity as well. If you’re interested in achieving grade levels, you might work a bit harder to master certain pieces and technical exercises. But once you’ve learned these things you’ll be able to play them whenever you want to, just for fun.
What's the main reason you learned/want to learn the piano?
How Do You Want to Learn the Piano?
You can learn to play on your own, using books and CDs, or you can study with a teacher. Not everyone has the motivation to work on their own, though, so often a teacher is the easiest way forward. Or you might wish to take a few lessons with a teacher and then continue on your own. It all depends on your own learning style and being able to find the best environment in which to prosper.
If grades and examinations are your goal, then a teacher is probably vital. You’ll need someone who knows exactly what’s required and who’s familiar with the standards that have to be met. A good teacher will help you prepare adequately for an exam on the one hand, but will advise against entering an exam if you’re not ready.
If you’ve got the strength and willpower to go it alone, you’ll find countless books and technical exercises in any good music shop or online. Many of the modern method books for learning the piano come with accompanying CDs and/or DVDs, so it’s almost like having a teacher right there with you. This type of learning environment is more flexible because you can work through the course whenever you want to, in your own time. And speaking of time…
What to Look For in a Piano Method Book
Books should contain a variety of pieces progressing from easy to more difficult, with exercises and explanatory notes along the way
Short books might seem easier to get through, but you need enough music to practice your skills throughly
Price & Versatility
Buy what you can afford, comparing products that appeal to you. Weigh cost against features such as CDs, worksheets, etc.
Books in a series often make sense as they naturally progress students from level to level
Choose materials suitable to your age and learning level
How Much Time Can You Devote to Piano Practice?
No matter how you approach the study of piano, you’ll need to allocate some time. Time to practice, time to attend lessons or work through your books, and time to absorb the information. Unless you’re a musical genius, in which case you’ll probably pick it up faster than most of us, you’ll have to work hard and practice if you hope to get anywhere. So don’t forget to allow yourself plenty of time for all of these factors when you get started.
Think about it logically: 10 minutes of intense practice is better than 2 hours of unfocused messing around. If you allocate a time every day - just 10 or 15 minutes to start with - that will be enough to get things moving in the right direction. As your skills and appetite grow, you'll find yourself being able to concentrate and stick at it for longer and longer periods.
What Standard of Piano Do You Want to Achieve?
The more work you put in, the faster you’ll improve. If your aim is to learn a piece at a time entirely for your own leisure, you’ll probably be happy to go at your own pace and learn that piece as and when you learn it. If you hope to give recitals or play in a group, however, you’re going to need to learn lots of different pieces. That means you’ll need a more consistent practice ritual and the determination to see it through.
If your goal is to reach a standard of playing verified by examination results, then you’ll need to learn a set number of pieces and technical exercises. You may also be required to do some sight reading and aural work, as well as attain a certain level of theoretical knowledge. This is another reason why a teacher is so important for helping students achieve grade levels on the piano.
How Long Will It Take to Learn the Piano?
You could answer this final question with another question: how long is a piece of string? But that’s not very useful information.
The truth is that everyone’s different. Some people will practice regularly and dedicate specific times every day to learning the piano, while others will try cramming everything in the night before their lessons. If you’re studying on your own, you might not feel like practicing on certain days. It’s easy to procrastinate when there’s nobody looking over your shoulder and offering positive encouragement.
Whatever happens, don’t panic. We all learn at our own pace. Be brave enough to let things come to you naturally, in their own time. Be patient and allow yourself the freedom to learn this new skill. If you do, it will provide you with many happy years of musical enjoyment.
Useful Articles About Learning the Piano
- How to Quickly Learn to Play a Piano Piece
What's the best method for learning a new piece of piano music? Find out what you should and shouldn't do to get that new piano piece under your belt as quickly as possible.
- Tips on Memorizing Piano Songs
What's the fastest and easiest way to memorize a piano song? Is it a good idea, and if so, what benefits will it bring? Look inside to find out more.
- How to Harmonize a Melody on the Piano or Keyboard
Harmony can be a difficult concept to understand. This exercise shows you an easy way to get to grips with it so you can harmonize tunes on the piano all by yourself.