“I believe in using the entire piano as a single instrument capable of expressing every possible musical idea.” -Oscar Peterson
A recent survey conducted by Australian Attitudes To Music revealed that 35% of households contain at least one person who plays a musical instrument, and that younger people (those within the ages 5-34 age bracket) make up approximately 60% of music players.
This statistic is significantly higher than decades before, proving that as a society, we are more interested in playing music than ever before. Out of all of these instruments, the piano is one of the most popular instruments chosen by aspiring musicians.
Piano chords, melody, rhythm and reading music can be taught in many ways: at a Conservatoire, on a budget, private or public music school and professional face to face lessons with an experienced piano instructor.
While these professional lesson settings are great at providing hands-on knowledge, they can often be difficult to fit into our daily schedules and may become costly over time. Furthermore, it is often difficult for more mature students to take part in formal music education schools.
Sometimes, the best approach might be to learn piano on your own.
While self-taught lessons can be tricky and require a lot of discipline, succeeding at this can be incredibly rewarding. The following article is aimed at giving you some useful tips when learning the piano without taking professional lessons.
Common Things You Might Not Consider When Learning the Piano By Yourself
Looking at sheet music, without any prior knowledge of music theory can seem very intimidating. Not knowing where to place your hands and being unfamiliar with basic piano chords can also seem incredibly disheartening.
However, you should not worry - just remember that everybody needs to start somewhere and no one is good at something first try.
Initially Don’t Focus on the Quality Of Your Instrument
It’s important to know that just because your instrument is expensive or really great quality-wise, it does not necessarily make you better at playing. Sure, it may make things sound a little bit clearer, but the fundamentals of practice and hard work do not change.
All you need is an old upright piano, electric piano, keyboard or synthesiser in order to practice the basics.
Be Careful Where You Get Your Sheet Music
When starting off learning the piano alone, your first instinct may be to head to the internet to find some sheet music from your favourite song or film score. While this is a great idea in theory, many online transposed music scores have been incorrectly formatted, meaning that some rhythm aspects and notes within a song may not be entirely accurate.
As a beginner, you want to make sure that you’re learning a version of a song that is pretty much original to its original composition. This will help you learn a bit more about how songs are composed and structured correctly, whilst also learning how to spot mistakes and music theory aspects that may be inaccurate.
To prevent this scenario when learning a new instrument, why not contact a music store or paid music professional online who can give you verified sheet music to practice from.
Ensure You Have The Correct Finger Positions
The fingerings of a score are extremely important when making the most of your dexterity in order to play with minimal strain and maximum precision. These fingerings are located above or below notes on sheet music to make sure the position of your hands are accurate.
Here, each number should correspond to your
- Middle Finger,
- Ring Finger,
- Little Finger (or commonly known as Pinky Finger).
Not paying attention to these finger guides from the get go can lead to poor habits later on and may inhibit your playing style and technical ability during future performances. By maintaining good habits you can prevent this from occurring and have a far more fulfilling time playing the piano.
The importance of Rhythm
Whether you’re playing pop, rock or jazz music, staying in time is just as important as any other element within a song - if you remove rhythm when playing a tune, it tends to fall apart pretty quickly - resulting in a less than adequate performance.
This is why it is important to familiarise yourself with a metronome (digital or physical version) as soon as you start trying to learn your first song. While this is true, do not feel like you need to play a song at normal speed straight away. Many students find that playing a song slowly (but still maintaining the same rhythm) and then building up to a more natural speed is a great learning technique.
Go Over The Basics
It might seem like a no-brainer, but as a beginner (and particularly as someone who is learning solo) it is crucially important that you do not cut corners when starting off learning to play piano. It may be tempting to skip ahead and try and learn the more intermediate stuff, however glossing over the fundamentals of piano can leave you lacking rudimentary knowledge, ultimately jeopardising and impeding your growth as a student.
Sometimes we need to accept the fact that learning takes time and none of us become brilliant musicians overnight. It’s much easier to take small steps to reach the goal of becoming a great pianist. You’ll get there eventually!
Is A Teacher Necessary When Learning The Piano?
Unless you’re a musical prodigy, learning how to play the piano without the assistance of a professional teacher requires a lot of practice and hard work.
Being able to muster up the enthusiasm and determination to stick to a daily routine practicing is essential if you want to head down a successful path. Being disciplined means finding your faults when playing and then correcting them accordingly.
Try and find time throughout your week to organise a regular routine where you can dedicate hours of practice. The key is to stay consistent so that you don’t forget the progress you’ve made and all the mistakes you have corrected. Failing to have regular, routined lessons on your own can slow your progress and make things seem more like a chore rather than a fun hobby to work on.
Provided you maintain regular practice and continue to pick up on the common mistakes beginner pianists make such as bad posture, poor fingering mistakes and out of time rhythm, having a professional piano teacher is not necessary. However, having a professional guide can certainly make these steps easier for you as a novice student.
The Difficulties of Being Self-Taught
Reading and playing from piano sheet music can be difficult - so much so, that even some of the best musicians such as Paul McCartney have admitted that they can’t even read. So of course, self-taught students might be even more intimidated when learning where to start. So, where exactly should you begin?
First, you want to assess your initial skill level, and then go from there. If you are a beginner for instance, it’s best to follow a piano method that is simple and easy to adhere to. If you’re unsure, it’s best to contact a music professional or experienced pianist for some basic advice.
A common path to take for beginners is equipping yourself the basics of music theory and possibly a book featuring some easy to understand music scores.
Another common approach for beginners is to watch piano tutorial videos online which can range from brief instructions to comprehensive lessons split into different parts. This method may be particularly more engaging for new students who are visual learners and get more out of practical advice.
There are few exercises you might want to follow in conjunction with learning piano online. You might want to:
- Practice scales for different octaves
- Try out hand eye coordination exercises so that you can learn to use both your hands simultaneously
- Stretch out your hands out to provide finger flexibility
In the beginning it’s best to stick to compositions that suit your level of playing. The spectrum of skill level for piano playing is spread out between 1-8. So before tackling anything too advanced like Mozart’s ‘Piano Sonata No.11 In A, K331.K300I’, try and learn some songs that have a slower tempo and involve less hand movements. By doing this you’ll be able to work up to a higher level of piano playing.
Judging the Difficulty of a Piece Of Music
As a beginner, it can be tricky to determine the difficulty of a composition based on the sheet music alone, particularly if reading music is not your main strength.
The following are some indicators which might help you pick a piano score that is more suited to a beginner level:
- Finger work: songs that require a minimal amount of finger movement will be less strain on your hand muscles but will still build up dexterity over time.
- Simple Rhythms: Basic time signatures such 4/4 or 3/4 time are easier to follow and make up the majority of popular music. It is advised you stick to these until you feel comfortable challenging yourself with tricker rhythms within songs.
- Slower Tempos: Songs with a higher BPM (beats per minute), while fun to listen to, are rather difficult to master and require far more practice and hand eye coordination. Songs that follow a slower tempo (low BPM) can still sound great, however nowhere near as problematic to master.
- Basic Chords: As a beginner, the last thing you want is to become overwhelmed with too many chords to remember, especially if it’s your first song! Try and pick songs that are based on a few simple chords to begin with, as this will also make melody parts easier to manage at the same time.
Some Great Piano Pieces That Beginners Can Learn Easily
To progress, it is important to choose songs that you will enjoy playing and listening to.
Playing the piano and learning new songs should be first and foremost, a fun and pleasurable pastime. With this in mind, you should always remember to learn songs that you enjoy listening to.
You may be surprised how many of your favourite songs are easily accessible for beginners learning the piano alone. Here are some examples:
- Imagine by John Lennon
- Ain’t No Mountain High by Marvin Gaye
- Nightswimming by R.E.M.
- Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear
- Theme from Jurassic Park by John Williams
- Ode to Joy by Beethoven