How to Learn Piano by Yourself

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Learning Piano by Yourself

Learning piano can be a large commitment, but most people get by with weekly lessons and learning songs they enjoy playing. If lessons aren’t reasonable for you, or you think that you learn better independently, you’ve probably looked into learning to play piano by yourself. In fact, many people who wish to learn to play piano as an adult often inquire about self-learning programs. If you want to learn well by yourself,  you should be willing to ask questions, even ones that you aren’t quite sure how to ask, in order to progress at the quickest possible rate. Nothing happens instantly when you’re working towards something that’s really worth doing, but if it was easy then everyone would play the piano, and then what would be the point? Right?

The best learning programs are the ones that give you the right tools and structure to learn.

What does learning piano by yourself involve? 

We begin with the basics, like what is music, what are notes, what are they named and how do they work. It is important that you go through this process to have a foundation that will allow you to be more in control of how you learn and how fast you learn. It is easy to neglect this while being self-taught in Piano, but it’ll improve the rate you learn immensely to build this foundation. We talk about Western Music, and specifically what’s played in North and South America, as well as the European Continent. There are instruments and styles of music in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East that have different notes and rhythms, but for us we will not be focusing on these.

 

What does learning piano by yourself involve? 

We begin with the basics, like what is music, what are notes, what are they named and how do they work. It is important that you go through this process to have a foundation that will allow you to be more in control of how you learn and how fast you learn. It is easy to neglect this while being self-taught in Piano, but it’ll improve the rate you learn immensely to build this foundation. We talk about Western Music, and specifically what’s played in North and South America, as well as the European Continent. There are instruments and styles of music in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East that have different notes and rhythms, but for us we will not be focusing on these.

Learn Piano and Music Basics

They will be either taken from the major scale, or from some variation of it.  If you want to play a minor triad, it’s the first, flat third and fifth notes of a major scale. The augmented triad is the first, third and sharp fifth notes of the major scale. The diminished triad is the first, flat third and flat fifth notes of a major scale. Notice how in each example, the notes that are being referenced include ones that are either directly from the major scale, or variations of notes in the major scale.

Learn your Favorite Songs on Piano

It also has to be fun. Learning to play your favorite songs. Being able to play with others and jam is another. One of the most important concepts that needs to be focused on when you are learning to play the piano is the need for a steady tempo. The best way to gain this ability is by playing your exercises like scales and chords along with a metronome. The one that I use most often is a free app called Pro Metronome. There is an advanced version that you can pay for, but I find that the free version is more than adequate for most situations.

The ability to have steady time will not only give you a more enjoyable experience when playing alone, but is an essential skill to have when you are playing with other musicians. In fact my experience has been that you will not get called back again for a jam session or a gig if your time is unsteady. The amount of practice time dedicated to this will actually help you to improve your piano playing faster. Plus, being able to enjoy a jam session is one of the best reasons to learn to play piano as an adult! As someone who has played with a great many players over the years, I can say this with great certainty. It is also true for other instruments, but of course we are focusing here on the piano and keyboard.

What Piano or Keyboard should you use when learning? 

When we say piano, we in fact are talking about keyboard instruments in general, such as the electric piano, the synthesizer and the organ, just to name a few. In the same way that every piano has a different tone and feel, so do other keyboards. It is important to have an instrument that you are comfortable playing, not just one that sounds good. The biggest difference is in what is called the action, which in a basic sense is how hard you have to press the keys down in order to get a good sound. There is a wide spectrum of action, all the way from a light touch to a heavy touch. The light touch means that very little force needs to be applied to get a good sound, whereas heavy touch means that a lot of force will need to be applied. I lean towards pianos and keyboards with a lighter touch, because I find that I can play for longer periods of time without taking a break, and the discipline needed to have a steady tempo and comfortable feel is a challenge that I have embraced wholeheartedly. Before taking on the challenge of learning to play piano by yourself, you should really learn more about the differences between pianos and keyboards 

We teach how to play melodies and read sheet music, and we also teach you to play accompaniment and read rhythm charts. By learning both you will become a proficient piano player quicker, being able to play alone, in groups or with friends. Either way is like learning a new language, with the playing of the instrument being like speaking the language, and reading notes or rhythms is like reading a new language. This is one of the main reasons that learning your patterns, scales and chords is so important, it’s like the letters and words of your new language. Without this knowledge and ability to apply it, the language of music tends to be very limited and in my opinion, boring. These two methods of learning how to play are not mutually exclusive, but rather are extremely complimentary. I think of people who have played either classical or jazz, and thought that the other was either not achievable or not worth learning. My main teacher and mentor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Ray Santisi, played both styles at the very highest level. He played classical music with the Boston Symphony and he played jazz with Charlie Parker himself, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Seeing this example of playing both styles at an extremely high level has been a great encouragement to me, and I in turn pass that on to my students.

One of the things that Ray encouraged was for the musician to explore their instrument in their own unique way, to develop your own style or “voice” if you will. That concept was combined for me with the idea of playing what the song needed, more than just what I wanted to play. The enjoyment that comes from enhancing the song with what you are playing is in my opinion the highest form of playing. This approach is quite often overlooked by players who simply want to show everything that they are capable of every time they play, so I encourage my students to think in terms of less is more. If you can play something interesting with just a few notes, that’s often preferred to playing as many notes as quickly as possible. One of the ways that this can be done by choosing a simpler version of a song and playing it accurately with the right notes and rhythms, and then being able to add dynamics to make the music really come to life. An example of this is accenting certain notes, giving the music an organic feel, with an emphasis on the groove.

The most important thing that I can emphasize to you is to be yourself when you play your instrument, that is something that can bring great enjoyment not only to yourself, but to the people that will be privileged to hear you play and possibly even play along with you at some point in your musical journey. As always, enjoy the day and practice as often as you are able.

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