How to learn to play the piano? your guide in 7 keys!

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  • Post last modified:July 30, 2020
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Learn how to play the piano

Do you want to learn the piano? follow this guide!

You want to learn how to play the piano or keyboard and you don’t know where to start your journey?

Did you get lost in the web of how-to guides and various websites?

I know how it feels.

You spend hours looking for the right information.

You find a nicely designed website and it is only there to sell you a method without much info to help you.

Or you have lots of free lessons but no explanations of where to start.

Somehow, everything seems incomplete.

Good news: you landed on the right page.


I am here to be your guide towards the joy and fulfillment of being able to play the piano.

You are not alone anymore.


And after reading this guide, you will know how to learn the piano.

 Be sure you have first read our article on the musician mindset!

And if you are looking to buy a piano or an electronic keyboard, read our guide to choosing a piano or keyboard


Before we start, I am sure you have tons of questions already.

And you probably have heard lots of things around you or on the web, which may not be true.


Let’s have a look right now to a few question on how to play the piano or keyboards:

  • Can I learn the piano by myself or do I need a teacher?
    You can definitely learn by yourself. The aim of this guide (and more generally of this website) is to help with this.

  • Am I too old to start learning the piano?
    In short, no! You can start learning at any age. Even if you are 70, no problem. But if your aim is to become a world-famous classical piano concertist, well you’d better start early.
    Otherwise, you will be able to play how to play nice songs, whatever your age. And if you wish, to create your own music, to play at concerts with a band or alone. Age is an excuse.

  • Do I need to read music sheets to play the piano?
    No. You can learn to play many songs without reading a single music sheet. But it depends on what you want to play. Classical music relies on this musical notation. And it is not that complicated. Plenty of methods and resources will help you with that.

  • What if I don’t have a gift for music? I see people around playing so well, they must be naturals.
    OK, this one is a big myth that you need to forget: Talent does NOT exist. All great pianists weren’t born like that. They had to LEARN, like you (and me!).
    What you hear and see, their fingers flying on the keyboard effortlessly. This is the result of constant work for years.
    You will get there if you want to. You have everything to learn and succeed.

  • I live far from any town, how can I find a piano teacher?
    Well, lucky you, there are plenty of online methods available. From hiring a private teacher for online personal lessons to phone apps. Check below for more details

  • I only want to play keyboards to produce EDM, why should I care?
    Ok, this is a quite specific this one. People think that to produce EDM (or other kinds of electronic music) you only need to press a key and turn some knobs. And it can be ok if you work a lot to master this (because it is not that easy). But what if you have the skills to play with ease on a keyboard? you will use it and produce music which stands out of the mass of producers who didn’t put the effort into that. Your musicality will improve and it will make your music better.

OK, now that this is out of the way, let’s get started!

Important note: I will focus here on adult beginners (teenagers welcome also!) on the piano. What I present might not be suitable for children and young learners. There are other resources online for them. Also, I am using the word piano but what I say applies to keyboards as well.




The 7 keys to learning the piano


To learn anything, you need a system before going into any tactic, any method.

And keep this whole system in mind. So you will work on improving globally, not only in very specific details.

What will happen if you become very good at playing notes, but you are totally off rhythm?

I can tell you that it won’t be nice to listen to you!

Or if you have great ideas of a beautiful melody but your fingering technique is not good enough to play it?

Frustrating, right?

Here are the 7 keys to learn the piano!


1.Know your instrument:

Get to know the different parts, get used to the keyboards, the sound, the feel of the keys, their size, the positions of the pedals…

This is your partner for the coming months and years. Know it as your pocket!

To help you with that, here is a series of two videos explaining the different parts of a grand piano:

Of course, depending on the piano you have it will be different, but the basic elements should be there.

Even if you have a keyboard, you likely have a sustain pedal or button which simulate the actual piano mechanism.


 If you want to know more about the piano keyboard, read our guide ! 



2. Keep a good posture: body, hands, fingers

Know how to place your body, your legs, your hands, your fingers on the keys.

This will help you to play better and faster, with less fatigue!

Here is a very good video to explain how to place your body, arms, hands and fingers on the piano:


3. Know how to move: your hands, your fingers

When you play the piano, you need to move your hands to reach all the keys and your fingers to produce all the notes.

This is a major part of the skills you have to develop.

To start with, watch this video explaining 5 finger exercises:

Keep practicing regularly, with patience and you will move with ease and precision!


4. To beat or not to beat: learn and feel the rhythm

Learn and feel the rhythm in the music you play and in the music you listen. Listen to the noises around you and recognizes the rhythmic patterns.

Rhythm is essence of life…and music!


5. Read the music

Learn to read music sheets.

This one is optional, only recommended.

Indeed, this is not mandatory to learn and play the piano.

There are piano methods that rely partly or totally on ear-training.

You will find the best selection of online piano lessons here where you can actually learn to play songs without reading music sheets.

One is totally dedicated to learn by hearing: HearandPlay.


However, to play certain styles at a more advanced level, like classical music, it is mandatory.

Don’t worry, it is not that complicated, just a matter of practice!

Watch this well-explained video to start learning how to read music easily:


6. Listen to music: you (record yourself) and others

Record yourself, even with your smartphone to get an objective listening to how you play.

And listen to other pianists, beginners as well as pros, to identify good and bad techniques!

You can also record videos of yourself playing.

A very interesting way to get feedback to yourself.

Because you will look and listen as if it was someone else playing (well, almost!!)


7. Enjoy playing and express your emotions!

Finaly, the most important: have fun playing the piano!


This doesn’t to be hard to start having fun by the way, check out this:


To keep into your memory, you can save the following illustration. And you can even print it and display it next to your piano or your keyboard!


the 7 keys to learn the piano


Choose your piano method

Skoove
Image credit: Skoove

Now you need the tools to apply the system. These tools can include the system also.

This is the case of several methods you can find around, but not always.

But you already have the system, so you can even use different methods in parallel.

For instance, not all online piano methods address what is the right posture on a piano.

It might be useful to take a few basic lessons with a teacher at the beginning.

Or to find a video to show you how to sit and place your hands, how to position your fingers.

There are 4 categories of piano methods:

If your objective is to become a high-level performer in classical music, this is probably the traditional method the best way to go (the only?).

On the other end, if you “only” want to play a few popular songs (and this is a very valuable aim), it might not be necessary to go through all this training.

A modern or DIY approach may work better.

And you will be able to play your favorite songs in a few weeks or months, not years.


 As always, choose “The right tool for the right job”. 


1. Traditional private piano lessons

Traditional piano lessons

You can take private or collective lessons from a teacher, at home, in a music school, or a private studio.

This is the most traditional way to learn how to play the piano.

How does it work?

In this method, you will have one-to-one communication with an experienced pianist and teacher.

You will learn all the basics. From how to sit in front of the piano, up to sight-reading (playing while reading music sheets).

You will be fully guided throughout your learning. If you stick with it for several years, you will reach a good piano skill level.

If you do your homework, use the right mindset, and have the right teacher.

A typical lesson addresses the following aspects:

  • music sheet reading exercises,
  • rhythm exercises,
  • technical exercises on the piano
  • learning/practicing a song.

You will usually also have to buy an exercise book and songbooks to practice at home between two lessons, as well as a workbook for your homework.


How to choose your teacher?

You have to check 4 main criteria besides his/her skills as a pianist: musical style, availability, price, and mindset.

First, choose a teacher who teaches the musical style you want to learn. It sounds obvious, but if you spend months learning a style you are not interested in. And likely with the wrong approach.

Second, check the schedule of the lessons. Does it fit with yours?
You may need to cancel for work or family reasons. The teacher may not be available at the best time for you.

Third, ask for the price. Is it for each lesson (usually) or a package of lessons? What is the duration of each lesson? Because you may be ok for $40/hour but not for only 30 minutes!

Lastly, the mindset.

Because a good pianist doesn’t always make a good piano teacher.
Don’t get impressed by his/her technique.

See how it approaches teaching. If your teacher has a fixed mindset (see Step 1), you will have a hard time growing in your practice and musical apprenticeship. Because fixed-mindset teachers will judge you on how good you “are”, not how well you make progress.

You certainly experienced this at school and could feel the difference in your involvement with the lessons. You may have felt in your guts before going to the class: “oh no, I have a class with him” instead of “oh that’s great, I will have a class with him and learn a lot!”.

A sign of a fixed-mindset teacher: a teacher who praises you all the time. And don’t tell you if you suck.

On the contrary, it can be a teacher who thinks and makes you feel that you won’t be able to improve that you will never be good.

Of course, it depends on your own mindset. And you may manage to take benefits from the lessons of a fixed-mindset teacher.

But if you can, choose the best learning environment.


How to find a piano teacher?

You can look at global online directories, local classified, or selected directories such as pianoteachersconnect.

You may also know people (or people knowing people) around you who can recommend a teacher. Be aware that it might be a good fit for you even if your friend finds him or her wonderful.

And check at the entrance of music schools, community centers. Or ads and flyers in shops for instance.

Traditional piano lessons

Pros

  • In-depth learning of the techniques
  • Good to get the basics.
  • You are directly accountable to a person which may help you keep the motivation and hard work.
  • Constant interaction with someone to correct you
  • Adapts the lessons to your own initial abilities and learning speed.
  • Can ask questions easily and get immediate feedback
  • Teachers have connections with professionals. With access to events such as masterclasses or concerts.

Cons

  • Time constraints
  • Expensive: >$30 for 30 minutes typically, plus the cost of the books.
  • Limited availability of teachers/lesson slots.
  • Maybe incomplete for certain styles (often classical music only)
  • It can be long before being able to play “interesting” songs.
  • Finding the right teacher can be difficult.
  • Once the lesson is done, you can’t go back to it.


2. Private online piano lessons

Private online piano lessons

You can also have an online lesson with a private teacher. This will then be closer to the traditional method, only using a bit of technology.

How does it work?

You set up a connection with your teacher using video conferencing software (Skype, Zoom) with a webcam, a microphone.

And there you go for a one-to-one lesson without leaving home. Tablets can be a nice all-in-one compact solution for this, with a bigger screen compared to phones offering a better visual experience.


How to choose a private online piano lesson teacher?

Since it is the online version of the traditional method, the same rules apply when it comes to choosing your teacher: musical style, availability, price, and mindset.

Then, you have to look online for teachers.

One advantage here is that you can select a teacher from whatever part of the world (at least if you speak the same language ! And have some waking hours in common!).

You can use global directories such as Takelessons or Apprentus.

Or you can find more selected lists, with the advantage of common rules and prices, like a physical music school. For example at pianoteachersconnect.

Pros

  • You don’t have to find a teacher close to your home
  • A larger selection of teachers from many countries (and they don’t need to be fluent in English, we are talking piano here, not literature)
  • You don’t loose time and money to go to your lesson
  • You don’t have to sit next to a stranger for hours
  • You can record the lesson with a screen capture software

Cons

  • Potential connection issues (depending on the quality of your network but also your teacher’s connection).
  • Relatively expensive (usually more than traditional methods).
  • Extra equipment if you want a higher quality
  • No physical presence, thus posture corrections are not as efficient. But better than other online methods.


3. Digital and online piano lessons

Pianoforall

What if you use a more technological approach to learn how to play the piano?

One based on online lessons or apps for your computer or your phone?

How does it work?

The most common online lesson consists of a fixed curriculum with no interaction with the teacher.

The teacher is still there, but behind a camera in a series of videos, an ebook, or an online curriculum.

In a few ones, you can still have a personal coaching if you like. And communication with the teacher and students.

Using these methods, you can start to play a song in a few days. Or even hours.

And you have more freedom in your learning while benefiting from the most recent teaching techniques.

The principle is to sit in front of your computer with a MIDI keyboard or digital piano. Or to have a tablet or phone on your piano.

Then you choose the lessons you want to practice and for how long.
You have also a progression already designed by the teacher so you don’t get lost in your learning.


How to choose the right digital piano learning method for you?

It depends on your current level on the piano and what level you want to reach.

Some methods are very good to start and learn the basics, while others are quite comprehensive and can lead you far in your journey to master the piano.

Do you want to be able to communicate with a qualified teacher? Select one which allows this (such as Skoove).
Do you want to learn improvisation? Make sure it is part of the curriculum (such as pianoforall)

You also want to set a budget.
Compared to traditional or online private teachers, you have better control over your expenses.
They usually range from $40 to $500 roughly.

It is good to know that some of them are bought as one-time full payment, whereas others are only available as a regular subscription (monthly or annual).

It is to be noted that some digital piano methods propose a note detection feature to give you direct feedback on your playing. Not as helpful as having a private teacher, it can still help to get things right.

Especially for playing notes with the right rhythm, which is a common struggle for a lot of people (including myself)!

 To help you find the one which suits your needs, read my review of the best online piano lessons. 


Pros

  • Flexible: you work on your lessons when you want, where you want and any number of times you need at no extra cost.
  • Faster (much faster) results than a traditional method.
  • Much cheaper than private lessons
  • You can learn the basics of many styles so you can try them and pick up the one you prefer.
  • Don’t have to spend one hour sitting close to someone you don’t like.

Cons

  • It can be difficult to stay motivated and practice regularly (unless the lessons are efficient and engaging).
  • Not every aspect might be covered, for instance the posture.
  • Nobody interacts with you to correct your mistakes


4. Hybrid or “DIY” piano method

DIY piano method

Lastly, you can choose what I would call a hybrid or “Do-it-Yourself” approach.

Drop the tools, I don’t mean that you have to build a piano! But you can if you wish.

How does it work?

By its very nature, you do the work of the teacher and the student: you have to build your own method and find the pedagogical resources to learn all you need to know.

This is only for highly motivated and independent people.


How to build your own method?

Probably the first place to find tons of good (and less good) tutorials is Youtube.

Even for people using other methods, this is the place to go for extra tips and lessons, songs, particular techniques…

And to watch great piano players as well as beginners showing their progress.

OK, I love YouTube as you see.

But, I will suggest that you do not to start here.

Why?

Because you will struggle to learn the basics.

I would first take a few lessons (often free) from a well structured online lesson or app.

Then, when you feel more confident about your basic techniques, you can consider going to YouTube to grab what you need to grow your skills.

But this is not the only place to go. There are websites full of useful information.

To my opinion, the two best websites (despite a very ugly interface!) are these two:
https://www.true-piano-lessons.com/
http://www.zebrakeys.com/

Of course, you can also combine online lessons from different sources or apps that I mentioned above.



Pros

  • It can be totally free (Except your connection fees of course, but you already have one if you read this, don’t you?)
  • You have total control and freedom of learning.
  • You build your own method, highly personalized which might be
  • If you succeed, you might be a great teacher and find yourself a new job.

Cons

  • Long time to research the resources (even if I am here to help you with that)
  • Difficult to focus on what you need to learn
  • Need to be very self-disciplined and motivated
  • Some aspects will be difficult to learn, except by choosing the right resources (this blog!)


Conclusion on the methods:

Ok, we listed a good series of possibilities.
There is no good or wrong choice. Only the one which fits YOUR needs.

And it is fine (if not inevitable) to change over time.

That’s what I did myself: starting with a traditional private teacher to study classical music, to DIY solutions, and now going to online lessons and apps.

No problem with that.

I have had different objectives with different constraints at different times of my musical journey. And it might change again.

Maybe I will take a few private lessons, later on, to improve a specific technique or correct my fingering. Why not?

Learning never ends.

Now, your turn to work and choose what works the best for you now from this list.

Don’t forget to check out my best online piano lesson review.

We are done now…

Nope!

What?

Not yet?

Are you kidding me?

No.

There is the last little thing to do…

to take ACTION!




Plan your practice and start to learn the piano

Start to learn the piano

We are not done yet.

Let’s sum-up where we are:

  • You have learned the 7 keys to learning the piano? done.
  • You have chosen the method which should work for you? done.

Well, now you need to find a plan of action, to decide when you will practice, and for how long.

And review your progress regularly.

And revise your goals and methods over time.

There are plenty of planning and time management techniques out there.
And you probably already have yours which you can apply here.

Let me give you right now a few tips.


Tip1: Practice regularly and schedule it

It is not efficient at all to do long sessions of several hours one day and nothing for one week or more.

It is much more efficient to practice daily if you can.

Or at least several times a week.

How much time do you need to practice to progress on the piano? Well as much as you can.

But the least recommended would be 20-30 min.

And write it down in your diary!



Tip2: set your session goals in advance and keep track of what you have done

This is a general time management technique that I use myself for everything, from work to gardening.

Bullet journals are quite good for this but use what is best for you. Even a simple sticky or a reminder on your phone.

For each session, decide BEFORE what you will do and for how long.

Why?

5 reasons:

  • You will save time at the beginning of your session because you won’t have to wonder what to do.
  • You will be more focused: “ ok today I decided to do this exercise for 5 min. Let’s go.” No procrastination.
  • You can ensure that individual sessions are aligned with your purpose and your main goal.
  • You can measure your progress.
  • You will be accountable towards someone (yourself).


Tip3: have a detailed practice routine

It will be easier to learn and improve your skills over time by following the global system if you have a detailed practice routine.

For example:

  1. 5 min: warm-up
  2. 5 min: rhythm exercises
  3. 5 min: music sheet reading
  4. 10 min: fingering exercises
  5. 10 min: learning a song

You can find other good practice routines here.


Tip4: Start small and make it an habit

It has been shown (see here) that to set new durable habits in your life, it works better by starting small.

Even if you only have 5 minutes in your day (and you can find 5 minutes, no excuses!), it is worth practicing something.

Because you will likely do more.

And this will train your brain to go to the piano regularly.

If you try to start big (like when you take your New Year resolutions which last… 1 month? Less?), you will likely fail.

Because there is a big barrier for your brain. And you will tend to find excuses:” today I don’t have one spare hour, thus I don’t do anything”.

And you will find yourself in one month without any piano practice.

Try it and you will see it.

And if I am wrong, congrats! You have a strong will.

But trust me (and others) or not, willpower is not enough to set regular and durable practice habits.


Tip5: play without any piano!

Yep. That’s right.

You can practice even when you are away from your keyboard.

For instace, you can do rhythm exercises (like drummers do).

Or, you can do fingering exercises: do the same exercises as you do on the piano, but on a table or on your knees.

You can also develop hand independence: do different fingering patterns on each hand.

And finally, you can play virtually the song you are learning or practicing by mental visualization.

This last technique has been proven to be part of the success of the best musicians and athletes.

Close your eyes and visualize yourself playing this song.

You can move your fingers of course. But they can stay still and it will still be efficient.

Give it a try with this video:




CONCLUSION

OKAY, this was a long post.

It is a lot to take.

Congrats, you made it till the end!

This is a good sign of your engagement to learn the piano and for your success.

Except if you skimmed the article down to here 😉

That’s bad, go back to the beginning!

The most important thing you have to do to guarantee you will make progress is to be consistent in your practice.

That’s all.

 Always keep going. Never give up. 

Even for a few minutes if you can’t do more.

But be consistent.

This is the main ‘secret’ of any success.

And learning how to play the piano is not different.

So, we have seen here:

  1. What is the whole system of learning the piano in 7 keys
  2. What are the methods to learn the piano,
  3. How to plan and take action

You may feel a bit overwhelmed and that’s fine.

You will come back several times to read the parts you want.

If you want to learn quickly something useful, read my post on piano chords, an easy way to get started!

You can also take online lessons by choosing the best online piano method for you here.

Now your turn to write a little something in the comments!

My hands hurt spending hours writing this guide!


Please leave a comment below. Let’s start  the discussion!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Brittney

    Thank you for this guide! I’ve been wanting to try to learn how to play piano since the beginning of my area’s quarantine / social distancing – I just had no idea how to go about starting.

    I’m off to read your guide about online piano lessons. Thank you so much for all the content here! There’s so much to read!

    1. Frank

      Thanks for the nice comment!
      I know how it feels to face a large keyboard full of mysterious keys!
      I hope this guide will help you get started.
      Also if you check on the bottom of the homepage, you can sign up for a free piano bootcamp to help you further.
      Don’t hesitate to ask any question, I am here to help and guide you until you know how to play your first songs and further 🙂

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