Many people who are considering learning to play the piano often ask if they can teach themselves or do piano lessons with a teacher offer the best route?
In this article, we look at the pros and cons of learning to play the piano by yourself and offer some suggestions for getting started.
Firstly, it is vital to have access to a piano or keyboard. The following options are available:
- Digital piano
- Upright piano
- Baby grand piano
- Grand piano
Keyboards are cheaper than pianos and some keyboards are called 'learning keyboards' as the keys and display light up to guide the learner. Pianos can be rented as a cheaper alternative to purchasing one. However, before one rents or buys an instrument, it is useful to check that the instrument has the full 88 keys and that the keys are weighted. Weighted keys provide a more realistic touch and will help the pianist to develop the correct technique.
Also, it is essential to buy a sturdy piano seat and a sustain pedal. A piano comes with 3 pedals:
- The left pedal is the una corda, which softens the notes.
- The middle pedal is called the sostenuto pedal. This holds down the current note that is pressed.
- The right pedal is the sustain pedal, which holds down the notes after the physical note has been pressed and then released. This is the most used pedal.
Modern technology allows the self-taught pianist to access a wide range of learning tools, including:
- Piano tutor books
- Instructional keyboards (as mentioned above)
- Instructional DVDs
- Piano apps for phone or tablet
These tools should cover the following basics:
1. Posture and hand position
How one sits at the piano and places the hands on the keys is essential for developing good technique.
2. Notes on the piano and reading music
There are 12 different notes in an octave and there are just over 7 octaves on a full keyboard.
3. Sharps, flats and key signatures.
What is a key signature? This is the notation at the start of a piece of music which informs the pianist how many sharps or flats are in the piece. Most often, the sharps and flats are the black notes.
There are 7 sharp key signatures and they can be remembered by the acronym: Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket.
There are 7 flat key signatures and they can be remembered by the acronym: Blanket Explodes And Dad Gets Cold Feet
4. Counting beats and rests
Different notes are held for different lengths of time and rests are when no note is played. Rhythm is sometimes considered to be more important than the actual notes played.
Chords are hand patterns that involve using more than one note at a time. For example, the C major chord has the following notes: C (bass note), E (third note) and G (fifth note).
There are different types of chords, but it is important to start slowly and work up to learning:
- major chords
- minor chords
- specialist chords e.g. blues chords
It is important when practising chords, that the pianist is aware of hand and finger positions.
Playing a piece of music that the pianist has not seen before is both a scary yet essential skill. Sight-reading should be approached carefully, with achievable goals.
Some apps and websites are good for developing this skill because they encourage the pianist to ‘keep calm and carry on’ even when they make mistakes.
Practice is the key to learning the piano. When practising, try to
- Look at the position of the fingers.
- Listen to the notes.
- Hum the notes and hum the melody.
- Start with easy pieces, involving only a minimum number of sharps and flats.
- Practise the right hand (often the melody) slowly until there are no mistakes.
- Practise the left hand slowly until there are no mistakes.
- Practise both hands together slowly.
- Now speed up playing with both hands, counting each bar. A metronome may be a useful purchase at this point as it keeps time and the pianist can then focus on the correct notes, fingering and hand positions.
- Aim to practise at least 3 times per week, for 30 min, but remember 'little and often' is better rather than one long marathon session.
Learning from a Teacher
Erroll Garner, the famous jazz pianist was completely self-taught, so is there value in learning from a qualified piano teacher?
Although piano lessons are more expensive than solo learning, a good teacher can:
- Quickly identify and help to eliminate weaknesses and bad habits.
- Answer questions.
- Give confidence and support.
- Help the pianist to improve at a faster rate.
- Encourage and motivate the student to practice more often.
- Provide accountability and overall motivation.
The Best of Both Worlds
So, can you learn to play the piano by yourself? The answer is yes. A great example of this is Nuradean Arreythe who taught himself by watching YouTube videos. However, taking lessons with a qualified piano teacher, combined with lots of self-practice will provide the best of both worlds.