The Beginner’s Guide to Learning Piano

Ever watched Peter Bence in a piano cover tickling the keys with his fast fingers and thought, “That’s it! That’s exactly what I want to do”? 

Chances are, if that reason or a similar one is your motive to learn how to play the piano, you’re older than the standard age people usually start learning piano. And that can be disappointing if you leave yourself to the beginner’s frustrating thought that musical instruments should be learned earlier in life. 

Well, in this article, we’re going to show you that it doesn’t matter if you’re a young or adult beginner. What really matters is picking the suitable learning way, choosing between acoustic pianos and digital keyboards based on your skill, budget, and preference, and finally, getting some basics in place to begin your piano learning journey with the right stepping stone.

Ready to learn how to make the piano sing your thoughts? Scroll down and enjoy!

Are Pianos Easy to Learn? – Expectations vs. Reality

The short answer is yes. You can learn the basics and start hitting a song or two in a matter of seven days. However, to reach an intermediate level, let alone an advanced one, you must go through the so-called “hard phase.”

This phase is when the music becomes more complex, and the sheets show more complicated symbols overlapping each other. It’s also when the learning process becomes time and effort-consuming, and piano students lose the passion they started with. 

Imagine going over the same musical pattern, which is just a verse of a song, for a couple of weeks to learn it. It won’t end there because the pattern won’t be engraved in your mind yet, so you’ll have to repeat it and integrate it with the rest of the song throughout a longer period. That can’t by any means be considered fun! 

Are Pianos Easy to Learn? - Expectations vs. Reality

However, what really makes up for this challenging phase is the moment you get the whole thing right on the piano. Unfortunately, most people give up before this moment, and that’s because of two reasons. 

The first is that somehow music is treated like sports when it comes to learning it. People assume that if you start learning piano after the age of 9, your chances of continuing are nil. However, the fact is that age doesn’t matter here. 

For example, Claudio Arrau, the gifted Chilean pianist, was said to be a prodigy who could sight-read music in a very short time and at the age of 4! On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Albert Frantz, who didn’t start playing piano until the age of 17. And since then, he began his journey to the level of a world-class pianist. 

Another reason is that many piano beginners always think that advanced players have some secret skill or magical method that makes them on that level. 

Artur Schnabel, the famous Australian pianist, when asked about the secret to mastering the instrument, just said, “I always make sure that the lid over the keyboard is open before I start to play,” in a way to point out that there really isn’t any secret ingredient. It’s just hard work, dedication, and a ridiculous amount of practicing. 

A proof for that is the story of Lucas Debargue, the young French pianist and composer, who started at the age of 11, continued for four years, then gave up and stopped for years because he chose the wrong way of learning from the beginning. 

Are Pianos Easy to Learn? - Expectations vs. Reality

Yet, at the age of 21, he started piano playing again, and with some dedication and patience, he paved his way to the fourth prize at the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition, one of the most prestigious music awards. 

The point is, whether your musical dream is to be able to rock a few songs for your own pleasure, perform in the Royal Conservatory, or be a famous band’s pianist, we all begin the same way. The key is to choose the proper learning technique and have some patience until you reach the “great fun” phase.

Picking the Right Instrument

Before you pick a technique and learn how to play, you have to choose the instrument you’re going to hit those ivories on first. In general, you can either buy an acoustic piano or a digital keyboard. 

Acoustic or traditional pianos boast the advantage of being the authentic version of the instrument. With hammers and metal strings inside, you can feel the tune they produce, not just hear it. When you hit a key, a hammer falls on one of the strings, producing vibrations that resonate within the closed box to give a superior tone. 

Performance-wise, traditional ones give you better control over the articulation and expression of the notes you play. They also come with three pedals, including the soft, sostenuto, and sustain pedal, which allow you to fine-tune the frequency of your tone and achieve various musical effects. 

Picking the Right Instrument

ٍHowever, they’re huge and weigh a lot, meaning that you’ll have to be living in a big enough house and open for taking your piano lessons at home if you choose to purchase one. Moreover, like any stringed instrument, they require tuning and a great deal of maintenance every now and then.

Digital pianos, on the other hand, are moderate-sized, so they’re easier to carry and move around with. They also won’t take up much space in your room. They come in 66, 72, and 88-key sizes, the smallest of which is suitable for kids and complete beginners, while the 88-key one is the closest to grand pianos in terms of size, response, and feel. 

Although even the highest-end digital piano won’t sound as good as a traditional one, it has its perks for novices. For instance, it won’t require tuning because the sound is produced electrically. Not to mention, many models allow you to record your playing, which will help you hear and judge your performance for now and compose later when you reach that level. 

And let’s face it; you won’t play as a piano virtuoso at first. Your practicing sessions won’t be devoid of missed keys and off-tempo tunes. Luckily, almost all digital keyboards come with headphone jacks, which allow beginners to learn to play piano without also playing on the nerves of their roommates and neighbors. 

All in all, as a newbie, we recommend that you learn on a digital piano. If not for all the reasons listed above, then for the price. 

Picking the Right Instrument

A keyboard would cost you anywhere from $200-500 onwards, while an acoustic piano falls in the range between $1,000 and $3,000. Clearly, it’d be wiser to learn on a cheaper one and save your precious money for future upgrades when your skill reaches a higher level.

How to Learn Piano 

Now for the critical part: picking the right learning method. In the digital era we live in, learning piano isn’t limited to music schools, studios, and conservatories. Now, you can also learn how to play the piano by yourself or through the screen of your smartphone or laptop. 

But which method is the best? You have to understand what each one entails to answer that question, so let’s figure that out together. 

By Yourself

This approach requires lots of dedication and hard work from your part coupled with some skill because, in this method, you become your own instructor. 

With the help of affordable, easy-to-understand piano teaching books, you can be your own instructor and save the extra bucks you’d have paid on private piano lessons. 

Such books, like Alfred’s collection of beginner piano books, Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course, and the Hal Leonard series, contain curricula that teach the basics, techniques, and technical information that piano learners need to start playing. 

How to Learn Piano 

Some even contain colored illustrations and come with additional CDs to help aspiring pianists gauge their understanding of timing, harmonies, and rhythms. You can also find books specialized in teaching one genre if you know for sure you prefer blues over jazz or like to play classical music instead of pop tunes. 

However, although this DIY approach won’t cost you much, it lacks the personal engagement that usually fuels the drive to learn, so the learning experience won’t be as enjoyable here. 

Easier self-learning methods include:  

Playing By Ear

If you don’t care about the theoretical stuff and just want to learn how to play your favorite songs, this method is the one for you. Without help or assistance from teachers or specialized tools, you can learn songs by listening to them and trying to apply what you heard on the keyboard without a music sheet.

Playing By Ear

The method involves lots of trial and error, though. First, you’ll need to put the song on loop and listen to it several times, memorizing the melody along the way. Then, you’ll try to match the melody’s notes with the piano’s keys. And finally, for some final tweaking, you’ll need to add some chords, which you can also get by ear or reach for the music theory for. 

Just keep in mind that playing by ear won’t put you on the track of musical awards and live stages but will be enough to satisfy the little musician in you. 

Learning the Music Theory

Last but not least, if you’re already talented (you have a good ear that can decipher which tones make up a specific song and only lack the academic information), music theory can help. 

Simply put, music theory bridges the gap between academic methods and playing by ear. It helps you learn to play the piano by interpreting musical notes and defining the compositional elements, including the notes, chords, key signatures, intervals, and more. 

Learning the Music Theory

Fortunately, many online resources discuss this theory in a simple way, such as musictheory.net. Also, if you’re interested in learning through videos, the music educator and Youtuber Adam Neely explains the theory along with some other lessons in a cool and interesting way that’ll keep you hooked till the end. 

With a Teacher

Getting a private instructor or signing into a music school is the most expensive way to learn piano yet the most effective and guaranteed one to achieve desirable results. 

With a private instructor, you get a personalized teaching program that caters to your learning pace and abilities. You also get instant feedback on your posture, hands position, and arms movements followed by creative tricks to help you correct them – things that neither online courses nor other self-learning methods can help you with. 

With a Teacher

What’s more, in-person instructors understand how the piano learning process is taxing on their students, so they provide them with the motivation they need to keep going. And best of all, they monitor their students’ progress and give them accurate insights into their piano playing competence. 

There are many methods to locate a good piano teacher in your area, the most notable of which is the Music Teachers National Association’s site. This nonprofit organization’s goal is to help a music-teaching professional find a piano student and the other way around. 

If you’re looking to get private lessons, you can use their Find a Music Teacher tool, where you’re asked to enter your address, city, and state, and they’ll find you suitable tutors within your house’s area. 

Through a Screen

For an even more inexpensive learning method, you can turn to the online piano courses, tutorials, and videos available at your very fingertips.

Like anything on the internet, an online learning app is aided with visual effects and graphical instructions designed to keep the learner’s attention. Other features that can hook you to such apps include songbooks, discussion forums, and illustrated lessons. 

Through a Screen

The most notable advantages you get from learning piano through your portable gadget are affordability and availability. Many online piano tutorials are available to download in all countries and for affordable prices or monthly fees. 

Another reason you should reach for this learning method is the flexibility. Although you have all the learning resources organized and ready for you to take any time, you’re free to skip the lessons you’re already familiar with to compress the program. 

Also, unlike learning with a teacher, you’re not obliged to follow a certain schedule nor wait for an entire week to get your next session because your next lesson is always a few clicks away.

However, there are some drawbacks for this method too. For one, you have to pick the course that matches your objectives and learning dream to be able to follow up. This might require some digging and reading lots of reviews. 

Also, know that there’ll be no evaluation, so you’ll be on your own when it comes to judging your performance and progress. No extra suggestions on the parts you don’t understand will be available as well, but you can always search for another free resource that explains these parts better. 

Last but not least, the lack of personal touch in these lessons can discourage you a bit, but if you’re pretty sure you can play piano without a teacher’s guidance, you should certainly try this method.

If you’re looking for suggestions, Flowkey is one of the best web-based piano teaching sites. It provides all the information an aspiring pianist would need from the beginning and covers reading music, accompaniment, improvisation, and everything that’ll equip you to play your favorite songs. 

Through a Screen

In an attempt to provide some kind of evaluation, it gives you some quizzes and checks your performance via your device’s mic or a midi connection. And for a more convenient user experience, the course is featured on Flowkey’s app too. 

Piano Marvel is another online course for students who are more into learning classical music than folk and pop. The lessons are designed the traditional way for a more classical and intimate experience, and the site features one of the biggest classical song libraries out there for an additional touch of enjoyment.

What Should I Learn First on Piano?

For an extra learning boost, here are the basics you should be familiar with before you actually play the piano. 

Maintaining the Right Posture

At the beginning of your very first piano session, your tutor will teach you the right sitting position. 

You may feel a bit frustrated because you want to jump to the fun part where you hit the keys and produce tunes, but learning the right posture will spare you back and wrist injuries in the long term. Not to mention, it’ll help you practice for long hours without using your back pain as an excuse to ditch the lesson. 

Maintaining the Right Posture

Usually, piano desks don’t have backs, so you’ll have to straighten your back by yourself and maintain this position for as long as your session lasts. Your arms should hang relaxed from your shoulder and make a 90-degree position with your elbows slightly higher than the keys. That’s to make your wrist in line with your forearm while hitting the keys with your fingers. 

Mastering Piano Hand Position

Your hand position also matters. When playing the keyboard, your hands shouldn’t be opened flat. Instead, you should curve them a bit to form the letter “C” with your palm. You also have to press the keys with the tops of your fingertips, not your entire fingertips.

Mastering Piano Hand Position
Piiano Hand Position

That position may not make sense at the beginning, let alone hurt a bit. However, you’ll have to practice it because once you pick up the pace and learn more complicated patterns, you’ll find it easier and less stressful on your palms and fingers. 

One more thing to keep in mind considering your hand position is that initially, you’ll be playing simple melodies with your right hand and chords with your left hand. To make reading sheet music simpler for beginners, songs will have numbers over the notes to indicate by which finger you should play each note. 

Your right hand takes the numbering 1 to 5 from your thumb to your pinky, while your left hand takes it from your pinky to your thumb.

Deciphering a Sheet Music

After learning how to sit and where to put your hands, it’s time for some real action. Learning to read music is all about understanding what the symbols mean and coordinating your hand action with what you’re reading. 

Deciphering a Sheet Music

It’ll take lots of practice to be able to put your fingers in the right place that corresponds to the note you’re reading. For this reason, we recommend that you take some time to memorize the notes’ shapes before playing. 

Notes 

Notes are all about values and dynamics. The value refers to the length of the note, while the dynamics indicate its volume. In other words, it tells you whether the note should be played “Forte,” which means loud, or “Piano,” which means soft. 

In general, the basic note timings are one of three options: whole, half, and quarter.

A whole note takes four beats, which correspond to 4 claps with your hand, and its symbol takes the shape of a white circle, while a half note corresponds to two beats only and takes the shape of a white circle with a stem. Quarter notes, on the other hand, mean only one beat and have the same shape as half notes but with the circle shaded to be black. 

Whether you follow the Do-Re-Mi or A-B-C system, there are eight notes you should learn. In the American system, an octave starts from C, proceeding with D-E-F-G-A-B, and ending with C again. 

Memorizing their places on the keyboard is necessary because you want your eyes to focus on the notation while playing, not follow the keys your fingers are striking. 

The middle C is where all newcomers begin, so search for it first. You can find it outside the left side of the group of two black keys in the piano’s 4th octave.

Sharps and Flats

You’ll find that the piano is composed of black and white notes, not white keys only, so what are these black ones? 

Think about the piano’s scale as a ladder, with the white notes being the steps. Each black note then represents half a step. Depending on the direction, it should be considered half a step up or down. That’s where sharps and flats come into play. 

A sharp, which takes the symbol “#,” means you have to go up half a step, while a flat means you should go this half step down and is indicated with a lower case “b” beside the note. 

For example, let’s say you found the symbol “C#”. This means you should press the black key on the right side of the C. Conversely, if you come across a “Db”, you should play the black key on the left of the D.

But what if you find a sharp or flat note that doesn’t really have any black keys preceding or following it? For instance, how should a “Cb” be played? In such a case, you should play the white note preceding the C, which is the B key on your piano. 

Chords

Chords are note patterns that give a tempo to the melody you’re playing. Such patterns are formed from any three notes, sometimes four or five, that sound good together. 

To learn chords, you’ll have to go through music theory, but the general idea is that each chord triad consists of a root note combined with two other notes to produce an accompanying rhythm. These notes are usually the third and fifth, and to determine them, you have to count four and seven half steps from the root.

For instance, if your root note is C, your third note will be E, and the fifth will be G, forming the C major chord (C-E-G). 

Like this one, there are many easy major and minor chords that you can learn quickly and give a flavor to your melodies before even mastering the piano. 

How Can I Teach Myself to Play the Piano?

If you choose to take this course of action, then you’ll have to cover the things only a teacher would instruct you about. Here are some tips to help you in this mission. 

Begin With the Basic Exercises

A problem that many novices face is being able to play with their right hand while struggling with the left one. That’s because they focus more on getting their right hand’s movements right when practicing general exercises and delay the left one’s practice. 

How Can I Teach Myself to Play the Piano?

To avoid this problem, learn to play five notes with your right and left at the same time, then repeat the action until you get used to them working together. Practice with more than one pattern in different scales, and always remember that the key to having flexible and fast hands is to relax your fingers when moving over the keys. 

Learn Separate-Hand Practice

Contrary to the previous advice, when learning a certain song, make a point of teaching the moves to each hand separately then combining their work together. 

Learn Separate-Hand Practice

Coordination is the hardest part when playing piano, so attempting to learn a verse with both your hands from the beginning won’t take you anywhere. Practicing with one hand at a time will help you focus on learning the notes and adjusting your timing and rhythm. After getting each hand’s movements right, coordinating your hands together won’t be much of a hassle.

Set a Practicing Time

Self-learning, whether through online platforms or written curricula, share the problem that you don’t get scheduled practice sessions that you have to commit to. 

Set a Practicing Time

We have to admit; we’re only humans who get tired or frustrated by constant practice, and without someone constantly nudging us along, it’s easier to drop the whole ordeal and give up. 

That’s why it’s important to set a strict schedule for playing piano and whenever the time comes, start practicing immediately before your mind plays games on you and you find an excuse out of it.

How Long Will It Take Me to Play Piano Like a Pro?

The answer to that question depends on the learner’s skill and the amount of time they put into practicing daily. Some people get to the point of being able to “play for pleasure” in a year or two. Others with some experience or basic knowledge might take less than that. 

But to be a concert pianist or anything else on that level, you’ll need a decade or two of constant daily practice. 

A tip that can help you speed up the learning curve by a considerable amount is to always warm up with major, minor and melodic scales even when practicing a particular piece. Also, during your lessons, don’t go over the whole sheet music and focus on repeating the difficult parts till you get them right. This will help cut down the wasted time. 

The Key Is to Never Give Up!

At the end of the day, don’t be harsh on yourself and know that every person has their limits and learning pace. You might not reach the point where you can improvise a musical piece but being able to play a whole song without mistakes is something to celebrate. After all, even seasoned piano tutors aren’t skilled at sight-reading.

Just remember that learning piano is a lifetime journey of toil and persistence in the face of disappointments and setbacks but also an enjoyable one. There’ll be too many mistakes that’ll drive you to close the piano’s lid, burn your practicing papers, and never try again. But if you start practicing the next day again, know you’re on the right track. 

Of course, it might take you a long time before reaching a satisfying level, but as we always say, practice does wonders, so practice as much as you can. We’ll be waiting for you on the stage!

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