What is the Best Way to Learn Piano?

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Hello, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store, with a viewer question. What is the best way to learn to play the piano? This is a very basic question, yet it doesn’t have a simple answer. In a perfect world, you would grow up in a household exposed to music. You would have a beautiful grand piano to practice on. Your parents would be nurturing and loving and find the best piano teacher they can for you. One who is good at dealing with children and is inspiring. Your parents would be encouraging and would have you play for company to showcase your hard work. You would have wonderful exposure and training from a young age.

That is one ideal situation, but one size does not fit all! For example, oftentimes people contact me who have always wanted to play piano their whole lives and finally have time. They are retired and want to learn to play the piano. Is that a good situation? Absolutely!

The key to being able to be successful at the piano is immersion.

You want to immerse yourself into piano in every way possible. Not just practicing playing the piano, but listening to concerts, getting together with other people and talking about the piano, reading about the piano, everything centered around the piano!

The more involved you are mentaly with the instrument as well as physically playing it, the more productive you will be at the piano.

What about this whole idea of finding a good teacher and studying from a young age? Is this really necessary? If you want to be a concert pianist and you decide to start in your 30s or 40s or later, chances are you are not going to achieve a world-class level of supreme technique on the piano. However, I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from trying. It tends to be harder, just like learning a new language later in life, although there are some people who do that amazingly well.

There is a whole additional aspect to this which is the style of music you want to play. If you want to be a classical player, particularly a concert-level player, you absolutely should get a first class teacher to show you the intricacies and stylistic differences of the period styles. They would show you how to deal with ornamentation and how to practice particularly thorny sections. To learn all of that you are going to want to have the help of an accomplished, experienced pianist guiding you. But suppose you just want to play popular music. Maybe you like to improvise or play New Age or Country music. Are lessons really essential for that? Not necessarily.

A lot of people can pick things up on their own.

Some people are able to watch YouTube videos and figure out music. I have seen people do surprisingly well with that method. I’m talking about the type of video that shows you each of the notes you need to play. Some of them are like video games. While I can’t even imagine learning to play the piano that way, I’ve encountered people who can play relatively well who have learned from YouTube in this manner.

There isn’t just one way to learn to play the piano.

If you are learning to play popular styles, learning to play by ear is essential. To give you an extreme example of how playing by ear is necessary and how having a classical background might not help you, years ago we were having a birthday party in my father’s teaching studio. We had a bunch of people over and one of my dad’s former students was there. She had graduated from Juilliard in Piano Performance and was doing her Masters work studying with Sascha Gorodnitzki, one of their top teachers. She was working on Rachmaninoff concertos and was a very accomplished pianist. My father said, “Laurie, play Happy Birthday!” She broke into a cold sweat wondering which note it started on. Can you imagine that?

Somebody who could play virtuoso piano music couldn’t play the simplest song by ear.

There can be a myopic way of looking at the piano in conservatories. It is all about the Classical traditions. For the most part, they ignore all styles of music that you are likely to encounter in the real world. After graduation, most working engagements playing piano involves playing with other musicians, not solo playing. Accompanying is something sought after and can be rewarding if your sight-reading is good. However, playing events, parties, weddings, or other things of that nature involves an entirely different methodology. You’ve got to be able to make up arrangements. You have to be able to groove with other people by listening and playing by ear. It is a lot of fun and can be richly rewarding. You don’t necessarily have to start young. You don’t necessarily need formal training in order to do that.

There is more than one way to learn how to play the piano depending on what your goals are.

That’s the lesson for today. If you immerse yourself in piano, no matter how you go about it, you are going to learn how to play the piano in one way or another. I hope this has been enlightening and helpful as well as inspiring to those of you wanting to learn to play the piano if you have thought you had lost your opportunity. That is nonsense. It is never too late! Give it a whirl. As long as you enjoy it, it is worthwhile for you. Once again, I am Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store. Thanks for joining me.