“Life is like a piano; the white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life's journey, remember that the black keys also create music.” - Ehssan

Study after study shows that music can decrease stress, help with motivation and improve your overall quality of life. But why stop at just listening? The best way to truly immerse yourself in music is to learn an instrument yourself!

Easier said than done - your first big hurdle is finding the right piano tutor for beginner piano lessons.

So, where to start?

In the following article, we'll walk you through these crucial first few steps when playing the piano - finding the right tutor and having a great first lesson together.

Lesson 1: Get Assessed By Your New Piano Tutor

Playing the piano is a wonderfully creative activity with a host of benefits - improving your memory, fine motor skills and coordination, as well as helping you set and achieve personal goals. You experience music at a whole new level once you know how to play an instrument, and you can turn your piano playing into a social activity by joining a band. All this aside, it also just happens to be a lot of fun!

how to find your piano level
Your tutor will evaluate your piano playing ability and music theory knowledge. (Source: TeroVesalainen)

Learning to play any instrument - be it flute, saxophone, drums, piano or guitar - doesn't come cheap.

(On the other hand, thanks to the magic of the internet, there are now free piano lessons available on YouTube). These might be a good place to start or brush up on certain skills, but they will only get you so far.

The biggest cost upfront will be your instrument. Luckily, there are lots of different kinds of pianos available for different budgets. These could include upright pianos, synthesizers and keyboards, digital pianos... all the way up to a grand piano! A basic Casio keyboard could set you back anywhere between $50-$150, whilst grand pianos can cost tens of thousands of dollars!

So once you've purchased an instrument, what can you expect from your first private piano lesson?

Having a dedicated teacher is the biggest advantage of taking private tutorials. You pay more than for group classes, but every lesson is tailored to your needs. You get individual attention, as the tutor's attention doesn't need to be split across many students, and classes will target your personal level and learning style.

Your very first private lesson is crucial to your success as a piano student. In this lesson, your tutor will assess your level so they can build on your strengths and target any flaws in technique, as well as bringing out individual expression. You should be upfront and honest with your teacher and talk about any musical goals, anything you're struggling with or any particular areas you wish to target. Do you have trouble coordinating your right and left hand? Do you need extra help with music theory or reading sheet music? Do you want to hone your dexterity and coordination with lots of scales and arpeggios? Bring all this up in the first lesson.

As well as evaluating your level, this lesson is your time to get to know your teacher. Ask any questions you may have about their qualifications or teaching experience.

Some time in the first lessons is usually dedicated to administration and scheduling - working out how often you'll have lessons, how much lessons will cost, and how you'll pay.

Lessons 2, 3 and 4... are all about Piano Technique!

At each lesson, you'll usually begin by revising what you've learnt in previous lessons. This is to see how your practice is coming along and correct any faults in technique.

Learning piano online from home
Your first big hurdle: coordinating your right and left hands. (Source: Iguanat)

In your first lesson, your teacher will lay out their expectations around practice - how long and how often per week. The first few lessons will often have a strong focus on piano techniques and skills rather than learning a new song every week.

In these next few lessons, you'll begin to:

  • Read piano music
  • Play exercises such as scales and arpeggios
  • Learn efficient and comfortable piano technique
  • Coordinate both hands
  • Learn some chords
  • Etc...

Don't be disheartened if your first few lessons are more about exercises - these are laying a strong foundation for good piano technique further down the track. If you have any questions - speak up! This way you'll get the most out of your piano tutor during lesson time.

Your tutor isn't there to correct any mistakes when you practice at home, so consider videoing or recording your lessons if you need something to look back on in between lessons.

Other foundations piano technique include good posture at the piano and comfortable hand positioning. There may also be rhythm exercises, where you learn to play in time, often along with your teacher.

Lesson 5 and beyond: your first songs!

Once you're feeling confident in your technique, you'll be able to put theory into practice by playing your first piece. Let your teacher know which genres of music you like so that they can offer songs you'll enjoy playing.

Learn to play Beatles songs on piano
Learn the piano with your favourite classic pop songs! (Source: skeeze)

After the first few lessons, you'll be able to apply the piano techniques you've learned to practising a real song! Your first few songs may be very simple classical or folk songs. Ideally, your teacher will offer you a range of different simple songs for you to choose from. Be sure to pick one you like - the surest way to stay motivated with piano practice is to play pieces you enjoy!

After your first few simple folk songs, you may graduate to a simplified version of classic pop songs or simple popular classical tunes. Here are some pop and classical songs we suggest for beginners:

  • Imagine by John Lennon
  • Fur Elise by Beethoven
  • Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
  • Someone Like You by Adele
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Part of your tutor's job is to find the right music book or sheet music for you and offer you music that is challenging without being too hard.

Luckily, whether you're a fan of blues, jazz, rock or classical, nearly any song can be simplified for beginner students. If there is a song you really love that you can't find sheet music for, your teacher may transcribe a simplified version for you. No need to practice for years to play your favourite songs!

Each Piano Tutor Is Unique

Whilst foundational elements such as scales and technical exercises are more or less the same, the content and style of private tutorials will vary depending on the tutor. Our guide is intended to give you a rough outline of what to expect but keep in mind that every piano tutor is unique in their approach.

Find piano courses near you
Every piano tutor, like every student, is different. (Source: b1-foto)

To make sure that a particular tutor's style of teaching will work for you, contact a few teachers online and book in for a trial lesson or ask for a phone consultation.

When you meet your teacher, pay attention to whether you two "click" - your respective personalities will play a huge role in the success of the student-teacher relationship. You should also discuss any music genres or pieces you truly love - the more overlap in you and your teacher's musical tastes, the more likely you'll have exciting, fun and productive lessons together!

You should also discuss your learning style - are you someone who needs a lot of variety in your practice, or do you benefit from focussing on one task at a time?

If you're looking for lessons for your child or an adolescent, specify their age and check whether the tutor has worked with that children before, as tailoring the lesson to your age group is very important.

It is the private tutor's job to adapt their approach to each student. The more information you give them about your goals, needs and musical preferences, the more easily they can tailor their piano courses to you.

Each student, like each teacher, is unique and comes into the lesson with a specific set of strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you dream of auditioning at a prestigious music school, or you wish to know more about music history and music theory.

Learning how to play the piano and understanding music theory is a different journey for everyone. The most important concern is to take piano lessons you enjoy with a tutor whose approaches work for you.

As your lessons progress, your goals or needs could change. You could start playing the piano just for fun and then want to enroll in exams. With a private tutorial, you have lots of input into how your lessons are run, and you can work together to design a piano course the challenges, motivates and excites you.

Now you know what to expect from your first few piano lessons, find your perfect Piano tutor today!

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Erin is an Australian musician, writer and francophile living in France.