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How to Approach Learning to Play the Piano

Updated on July 13, 2013
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Learning to play the piano can bring years of enjoyment
Learning to play the piano can bring years of enjoyment | Source

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 out 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.

Make sure you learn to play the piano music that excites you
Make sure you learn to play the piano music that excites you | Source

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?

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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…

Learn to play the piano on your own or under the guidance of a qualified teacher
Learn to play the piano on your own or under the guidance of a qualified teacher | Source

What to Look For in a Piano Method Book

 
 
Content
Books should contain a variety of pieces progressing from easy to more difficult, with exercises and explanatory notes along the way
Length
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.
Continuity
Books in a series often make sense as they naturally progress students from level to level
Suitability
Choose materials suitable to your age and learning level
Practice in short, focused bursts at first to make the best use of your time
Practice in short, focused bursts at first to make the best use of your time | Source

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.

Know how far you want your piano playing to take you
Know how far you want your piano playing to take you | Source
Piano playing opens up a whole new world of sensory delights!
Piano playing opens up a whole new world of sensory delights! | Source

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.

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    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      You're welcome mimosapudica. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • mimosapudica profile image

      mimosapudica 2 years ago

      Great hub! Thanks for sharing.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Better Yourself - hope it helps to spur you on!

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Congrats on HOTD! I've always wanted to learn how to play the piano but time and patience hasn't allowed it so far. This is a very helpful hub I hope to reference again as I still have the desire to learn.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks for the terrific feedback and praise, marion langley, rose-the planner, and roysyas!

    • roysyas profile image

      closed profile 4 years ago from Earth

      Between drum, guitar, and piano, in my opinion piano are the hardest one to learn. Thanks for this wonderful method.

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Growing up, my parents had a piano in the house. I could play a little as a child but it would be wonderful to really learn how to play well. One of my favourite musical sounds is that of someone playing the piano. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • marion langley profile image

      marion langley 4 years ago from The Study

      I love the topic choice...never seen an article about the mindset to explore prior to learning piano. What a difference that would have made had my parents prompted such questions when they signed me up for piano lessons. Now years later I finally do know why I want to learn...maybe it'll stick this time. Thanks for writing!

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks ComfortB. Glad you liked it... and thanks for reading!

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Your hub got me thinking much about piano lesson. I'm usually one that's quick when it comes to grasping new skills, but learning piano has been quite a challenge.

      It's the finger thing...Couldn't quite put my finger on it. But I've learnt a thing or two here.

      Great hub, and congrats on the HOTD award. :)

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Laura and thumbi7. Appreciate your feedback and kind words!

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 4 years ago from India

      Congratulations on the hub of the day.

      It is a very interesting article. A lot informative and educative for a person like me who does not know anything about piano.

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      As a former child prodigy at the piano, and a former teacher, I sit next to my beautiful but dusty-keyed grand piano and vow to have it tuned and singing my old favorites and learning new lines again soonest. I am grateful for your inspiration, and I'm sure others are, too. Next, a piano teacher search: for someone who can push, challenge, chastise, and inspire me, as needed, to pick up at an appropriate re-learning level, and not only catch up to where I was at age 9, but to go on past where was at 20. Thank you for this inspiration to resume my first love seriously. It will also keep my dear departed sister (also an accomplished pianist, singer, dancer, and actor) ever close to my heart and give my remaining dear sister a good challenge. My neighbors in my townhouse will hate me at first, though. Haha.

      Now, allegro molto e con brio for me, and thank you for the cantabile molto espressivo article. Very inspiring!

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks John Frawley... glad you enjoyed it!

    • John Frawley profile image

      John Frawley 4 years ago from Southern California

      Wonderful Hub, Mr. Mello! Not only did you cover all the fine points with the lesson, but you included many wonderful elements into your Hub. A fine job, sir.

    • JohnMello profile image
      Author

      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks priyakannan... glad you liked it!

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      priyakannan 4 years ago

      It is so clear and useful...

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks jabelufiroz!

    • jabelufiroz profile image

      Firoz 4 years ago from India

      Great hub on Learning to Play the Piano.