Learning how to play piano will improve your life in every conceivable way. First of all, it’s one of the most beautiful and capable instruments in Western music. It’s also good for you – learning piano can reduce stress and anxiety and even improve your self-esteem.
The piano is like an orchestra in a box. It’s like jazz pianist Oscar Peterson says “I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea.” This makes learning piano ideal as a cornerstone of musical education.
There is no age limit on learning how to play piano. There’s even been a movement of teaching piano to senior citizens. Anyone from toddlers to the elderly can master the ivories if they apply themselves.
We’ve put together a guide on how to learn piano to guide you in your studies. You’ll be grooving like Dave Brubeck and tinkling like Beethoven or Bach in less than no time. Keep reading to find out about all of the things that you will need to know before you get started.
How to Learn Piano: Everything You Need to Know
Over the entrance of the cave of the Oracle Of Delphi, there was a banner that translated to “Know Thyself.” Before you ever even open a book or pull out the piano bench, you should take a moment and reflect on why you want to learn the piano.
There is no one specific method how to learn piano. It depends on what you’re hoping to learn.
Are you hoping to write your own songs? Do you want to learn how to play your favorite classical music? Your desired result will play a huge part in how you approach learning piano.
Assess Your Abilities
As part of your journey towards self-knowledge, you should take a moment and assess your musical abilities. Not everyone is gifted with natural talent and thinking about this ahead of time will set you up for success. This will also help you adopt a learning practice that will keep you stimulated, entertained, and engaged.
Are you an absolute beginner, never having seen a piano keyboard before? Or maybe you’re new to the piano but you know how to play another instrument? This will help you decide on a learning program that will help you stick with it.
If you’re brand new to learning the piano, perhaps signing up for some piano lessons like those offered by Keylab could be the best course of action.
Choose an Instrument
This should also be considered a preliminary step in learning the piano. If you’re serious about learning how to play, you should really get an instrument to practice on. You could simply learn abstractly from tutorials and piano lessons but that’s like learning how to play chess by looking at old chess games.
Yes, it is technically possible. It’s also far harder than it needs to be. You’ll also need to translate those lessons into physical technique at some point anyway.
When selecting an instrument to learn how to play piano on, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The first and most important is how much space do you have to dedicate to your keyboard? Do you live in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with two roommates, for example?
It’s important to pick a keyboard or piano that’s an appropriate size for the space you’re in. You want to be comfortable when you sit down to begin learning piano in earnest. It’s also a bonus if you can leave your keyboard set up so you don’t have to unpack it every time you want to play.
There’s a wide array of different sizes and shapes of pianos and keyboards to choose from. If you’re dealing with a small space, you can get keyboards with as few as 41 keys. A full-sized piano keyboard has 88 keys.
The other main thing you should think about is the key action. If you’re going to get an electronic keyboard instead of an acoustic piano, it’s highly preferable if you can get one with weighted keys if at all possible. This will make your keyboard feel as realistic as possible.
It also means that the technique you learn on your keyboard can be translated to an acoustic piano. Practice makes permanent, after all, as the saying goes.
Start With the Basics
No matter what your goals are for learning the piano, approaching it like an absolute beginner is still the best approach. The basics of learning piano are quite literally the building blocks of Western music.
This means two things:
- Learning the names of the piano keys
- Learning the names of sheet music notes
The piano keys are organized around clusters of black keys, which are known as sharps or flats. The key immediately to the left of the two black notes is ‘C’.
The Western octave contains:
- C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
Sheet music for piano most commonly contains two clefs. These are the Treble Clef and Bass Clef.
There are numerous mnemonics for memorizing the names of the notes on sheet music that are simple enough for toddlers to remember.
The mnemonic for the lines of the treble clef is: Every Good Boy Does Fine. The notes are:
- E – G – B – D – F
For the spaces, the mnemonic is FACE. No cute sentence is necessary for that one, obviously.
For the bass clef, you move all of those notes down two spaces. The mnemonic for the notes on the lines of the stave is Good Boys Do Fine Always. The notes are:
- G – B – D – F – A
The way to remember the names of the spaces is simple – All Cars Eat Gas. Those notes are:
- A – C – E – G
Beginning to Practice
Now it’s time to get your fingers on the keys. You should strive to balance how much time you spend learning theory and how much time you put into physical practice. It can be useful – not to mention fun and even exciting – to learn why music functions the way it does. It’s even more important to implement those lessons into practical, actionable lessons, however.
There are a few ways you can go about taking your first steps towards learning piano. Although every pianist’s journey is going to be particular, we still recommend you start off by picking out a song that you like for the piano to learn. There’s something that initially made you want to sit down at the keyboard, right?
No matter what age you are when you begin learning to play piano, it’s far more rewarding and exciting to hear the melodies of a song you adore begin to sparkle out from beneath your fingertips. That rush will help you get the momentum you need to get through the sometimes painstaking task of learning to sight-read or practicing endless fingering exercises.
There are all sorts of beginner piano songs you can learn that aren’t “Chopsticks” or “Three Blind Mice.”
Some good songs for beginner piano players include:
- “Fur Elise” – Beethoven
- “Let It Be” – The Beatles
- “Let It Go” – Frozen
- “What A Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong
- “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” – Elvis Presley
- “The Entertainer” – Scott Joplin
- “Canon In D” – Pachelbel
This list has something for nearly every music lover, covering a wide range of styles, moods, and genres. There is a common feeling of optimism and beauty across most of them, though.
This is important as you’re going to hear these songs a lot. This is why we recommend starting with a song you love, or at least like a lot when you’re first learning to play the piano. You’re going to play it over and over and over and over and over again.
We also recommend starting with some sort of musical example when you’re first starting out. This way, when you incorporate more technical exercises into your repertoire you’ll still be able to make them musical. When it comes time to write your own music or accompany someone else, you don’t need a C Major arpeggio, necessarily. But the wide-open sweetness and light of C – E – G and C might be just the chord or sequence you’re looking for.
Develop a Routine
Don’t stress about being really rigorous or perfect about your practice routine when you are first starting out. It’s all too easy to let our inner perfectionist kick in as we imagine ourselves becoming the next David Helfgott. This sets you up for disappointment when you inevitably falter, especially in the fragile early stages of beginning to play.
Remember the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Will you do more good practicing for 10 minutes or 0? The more you play, the faster your skills will improve and the more you’ll be capable of. This becomes a self-fulfilling mechanism towards quickly becoming proficient on the piano.
Rather than setting hard, fast rules, just realize that the more you play, the more quickly you’ll get good.
Although it’s best to avoid creating rigid, dogmatic rules, it’s preferable if you can practice at least a little bit every day. Think of it as learning a language. If you only spend a few minutes once a week, it’ll take a long time until you can get anywhere close to conversational.
By practicing speaking, regularly, you will quickly find yourself approaching fluency.
It’s also important that you practice with good technique. This is one reason we advocate for taking at least some in-person lessons at some point, as an instructor will be able to assess things like your posture and hand position and help you make the necessary corrections.
You should practice with a metronome as much as possible, if not always. There are all kinds of metronome apps available for free for every platform, so you can get your hands on one without having to spend any additional money if you have a smartphone.
It’s vital that you internalize the steady beat of the metronome because one of the principal roles of the piano is accompaniment. Which is to say there’s a good chance there won’t be an additional rhythm section. You’ll be the rhythm section.
As you get further along in your piano playing you’re bound to move on to harder, more ambitious piano pieces. When you’re playing hard music, there’s a tendency to rush when things get moving quickly. There’s also a tendency to slow down if you’re playing more quietly.
While little variations can add some flavor and personality to your piano playing, you should be careful about internalizing those changes. So it is best to practice with a metronome to help give you a solid sense of rhythm in your playing.
Learn How to Play Piano Today
No matter who you are or what your goals are, your life will be better for learning to play the piano. It is beyond empowering and motivating to hear a piece of music that moves you and be able to recreate it with your own hands.
Turn your ringer off, set your metronome, and lose yourself in the sounds! You’ll be playing beautifully before you know it.
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