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4 Easy Steps to Playing Piano By Ear

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Want to try playing piano by ear? Follow these four simple steps from Newport Beach, CA teacher Patricia S. and you’ll be playing your favorite songs in no time…


Ear training doesn’t need to be difficult or boring. You can have fun, learn techniques for playing piano by ear, and learn a little bit about music theory all at once! And you need to know very little about the piano to do it.

To start, find a song with a good melody, and one that isn’t too fast. Pick a slow song or ballad. It’s best if you have some kind of a media player, like an iPod, iPad, or even YouTube handy, to play the song while you are working. You’ll need to know how to stop the track you are listening to and rewind sections of it. Oh! And, of course, have some kind of a keyboard or piano to play on.

Don’t worry if you’ve never had a piano lesson. If you have two hands and at least four fingers you can do this.

Step 1: Listen a LOT to the melody of the song. Then, listen only to a small section. As you listen, poke around on the keys to find notes that sound like they belong in the tune. Enjoy the process of discovering your song. Don’t forget the black keys! The melodies to most songs fall right in the middle of the keyboard. That’s a good place to start hunting. Be sure to listen in small sections, or you might become frustrated. Finding the notes in a song, alone, is an excellent way to start training your ear.

Step 2: With your right hand, play your song without listening to your media player. Uh-oh! Which fingers do you use? While learning to use efficient fingering is a skill to be learned later, we aren’t too concerned about that right now. Here’s a tip: place your hand so that the lowest notes in your song – those toward the left side of the keyboard as you face it – are closer to your thumb. Reserve the higher notes – those toward the right side of the keyboard – for your pinky finger. If most of the notes go much lower, or much higher, adjust the position of your hand accordingly. Or, you can just play through your melody with one finger for now.

Step 3: Now we get to the music theory part. To harmonize your song, or add body and fullness beneath the melody, play chords with your left hand. You will play these with your thumb, your middle finger and your pinky.

The notes in the chord need to be evenly spaced. Look at your keyboard — we’ll build a chord starting from the note “C” to get you started. Find a patch with two black keys – not three black keys. The “C” is the white key just barely to the left of the two black keys. To help you find “C” there is another white key to the left of it. Place your pinky on “C” and keep it there. Skip a white key and put your middle finger on the next white key. Skip one more white key and put your thumb on the next white key. Now, play all three notes at once. You have played a C Major chord!

Most songs can be harmonized with major and minor chords. Look at the C chord you just played. Including black keys, notice the number of keys between the notes you are playing. In a major chord, there are three other keys between your pinky and your middle finger, and there are two other keys between your middle finger and your thumb. That configuration makes a major chord. If you change the shape of the chord, so that you have only two other keys between your thumb and middle finger and three between your middle finger and thumb, you will make a minor chord. Try it. Play the “C.” Skip only two keys of any color. You will be playing a black key with your middle finger. Then, skip three keys. With your thumb you should be playing the same note you played in your major chord. Now, play them all at once. You have played a minor chord.

Step 4: Play your melody and add some chords with your left hand. Experiment with lots of major and minor chords to see which ones fit.

Don’t worry if you aren’t 100% successful at playing piano by ear at first. Keep at it. You’ll be learning, whether or not you work out your song completely. Try playing the melody to a familiar nursery song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to start. It might be easier to find chords for a simpler song.

Remember to have fun with your experiment. Piano should be fun. And it doesn’t hurt to exercise our minds with a little bit of music theory. Happy playing!

Patricia SPatricia S. teaches piano, singing, music performance,and more in Newport Beach, CA. Patricia S. has taught voice for Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory, Crestmont Conservatory of Music, and the California State University Dominguez Hills Music Conservatory. Learn more about Patricia here!



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Five Movies That Will Change the Way You Look at the Piano

Settling in for movie night? Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her recommendations for five piano films every musician should watch…


Movies have an amazing way of changing how we look at the world. Every once in a while, some studio will release one that has a tremendous impact on so many of us. After the Cold War fighter jet film “Top Gun” came out in the 1980s, for example, the United States Navy saw a huge increase in recruitments to their aviation program. When a movie about a studio musician who reluctantly takes a job as a high school music teacher called “Mr. Holland’s Opus” was released in the 1990s, music education programs saw a spike in new students looking to become music teachers. Maybe movies don’t change the way that we see the world; maybe they just inspire us to see what was already there.

There’s nothing like a movie about the piano and pianists to feed your own art. Here is a list of five of my favorites.

The Piano (1993)

The-Piano-7051_3Starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, and a young Anna Paquin, “The Piano” tells the story of a mute woman sent with her daughter and her prized piano to be married to a wealthy landowner in New Zealand. A romance with another man ensues, but the woman’s most intimate and intense relationship is most certainly with the piano.

The Pianist (2002)

2002_the_pianist_007Directed by the world-renowned Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody, “The Pianist” beautifully details the heart-wrenching tale of a Polish-Jewish pianist who survives the brutal invasion of Warsaw by the Nazi regime. Brody won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role.

Shine (1996)

still-of-john-gielgud,-scott-hicks-and-noah-taylor-in-shine-(1996)-large-picture-1Geoffrey Rush plays David Helfgott, a real-life Australian pianist raised and viciously driven by his father and his teachers to become the greatest in the world. After an emotional breakdown, he eventually finds both his love of playing and the joy of life. Rush won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in this piano film.

The Competiition (1980)

MCDCOMP EC033Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving star as two competitive piano players who enter the same major competition and then just happen to fall in love with each other. The tension and intensity of such an important event both fuels and complicates the romance.

The Piano Lesson (1995)

hqdefaultA Hallmark Channel TV movie set in the 1930s, “The Piano Lesson” is the story of a man who returns to his childhood home in Pittsburgh to sell his family’s cherished heirloom piano and “claim his half.” But his sister wants to keep the instrument that’s meant so much to their family and continues to be such a wonderful part of their childhood memories. The battle over the piano ends in a great life lesson.

The piano is one of the most special objects in many cultures, but especially in the West. Unlike a French horn or a cello, for example, it’s the one musical instrument that many families, even those without musicians, have and share in their homes. Perhaps that’s why so many terrific films have been inspired by it and by the draw and allure that it evokes.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!



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Stevie Wonder

Pianist Spotlight: How Stevie Wonder Overcame Blindness to Play Piano

Have you ever wondered if you have the potential to become a famous musician? If so, you probably know that it takes more than just raw talent to break into the music industry.

Stevie Wonder is an excellent example of this. Beyond his amazing talent, vocal and piano practice, along with hard work and persistence, were the keys to Stevie’s success. Read on to learn more about Stevie Wonder and how he came to be the musical legend we know today.

Who is Stevie Wonder?

Stevie Wonder and Janelle MonaeStevie Wonder is an American music legend. The singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist was born on May 13, 1950. Although originally from Saginaw, Michigan, he grew up in Detroit after his mother moved the family there after separating from Stevie’s dad. Stevie faced many obstacles thorough his life, but used hard work and dedication to overcome everything life threw at him — most notably, his lifelong blindness.

His Early Life

Born prematurely, Stevie spent the first days of his life in an incubator. Too much oxygen in the incubator damaged his vision, leaving him permanently blind. His total and complete blindness could have discouraged Stevie from pursuing music, but he didn’t let that stop him from fulfilling his dreams.

He always had a great love for music and rhythm, even from a young age. He taught himself to play harmonica by the time he was five, which encouraged his mother to sign him up for piano lessons a year later. At eight, he began learning the drums. When not engrossed in his piano practice, he could often be found beating out the rhythm to radio songs on any surface he could find.

Stevie Gets Discovered

Stevie’s talent and age astounded everyone from fellow musicians to record executives. Ronnie White of the well-known band The Miracles was so impressed with Stevie’s talent that he introduced him to Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown Records. Amazed that such talent was found in such a young boy, Barry promptly signed Stevie on as Motown Records’ youngest musician.

The single “Fingertips” from his first live album, “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius”, hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. An overnight star, Stevie didn’t just sit back and enjoy his success. Instead, he enrolled at the Michigan School for the Blind the following year, and began studying piano professionally.

Stevie Grown Up

Stevie Wonder

Even though Stevie possessed immense potential, he knew he needed training if he really wanted to be successful. He was still churning out hit songs, but that just wasn’t enough. In addition to his continued singing and piano practice, he took classes to improve his songwriting and producing abilities.

By the time he was 21, “Little Stevie Wonder” dropped the “Little” and began going by just Stevie Wonder. His schooling and piano practice paid off, as he began writing his own music, and he even renegotiated his contract with Motown Records for more creative control. Stevie also financed his own publishing and recording studio and continued pumping out hit after hit.

Awards and Recognition

Over the years, Stevie has been showered with awards and recognition. As of 2014, Stevie has won 25 Grammy Awards for his music, and was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

In 1998, he was named a United Nations Messengers of Peace. He has also been awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from several organizations, including the Grammy Awards Committee, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the National Academy of Recording. In 2005, the City of Detroit awarded Stevie the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Motown Music Fest and declared September 9th “Stevie Wonder Day,” presenting him with the key to the city.

Even from an early age, Stevie knew that if he wanted to be successful, he was going to have to work hard. In addition to studying, he knew that singing and piano practice were the key to making a life as a musician.

If you’re interested in learning the piano, take a lesson from the Motown child prodigy Little Stevie Wonder. The investment you make in learning and improving your skills can take you far, and a private music teacher will be there to guide you along the way. Good luck!


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The Evolution of the Piano: From the Harpsichord to the Modern Grand

History Of The Piano Whether you are just starting out or your piano learning days are far behind you, you may have often wondered how the modern piano came to be. And you may be surprised to learn that although the modern piano is over 300 years old, its look and design has remained largely unchanged over the years.

The piano is an amazing stringed instrument that uses percussion to create a full, resonating sound. Italian harpsichord maker Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori (1655-1731) invented the first piano around the year 1700. Without him, you’d likely be considering either harpsichord or organ lessons instead of dreaming of learning to play the piano.

Cristofori’s first piano was actually called a “pianoforte,” and borrowed quite a bit of its look and design from the harpsichord — which makes sense, since he was a harpsichord maker. Over the years, the designers learned to utilize better materials, but the basic inner workings have stayed pretty much the same.

The Piano’s Older Cousin – The Harpsichord


The harpsichord is visually similar to the piano. They are both string instruments with wooden cases, but the harpsichord has two or more sets of strings inside the case, and two keyboards. When playing a harpsichord, you press down on a key, causing a “plectrum” to pluck the strings inside the case. No matter how hard or softly you press the keys, the sound produced will be the same.

The Pianoforte Makes its Debut

In Italian, pianoforte translates to “soft loud.” The sounds produced by Cristofori’s pianoforte were an extension of what the harpsichord could do. While similar in looks, the pianoforte was much different inside.

Instead of a plectrum plucking the strings, the pianoforte used a hammer to strike them. This allowed the player to control not only the volume and intensity of the sound produced, but also the length of the sound. The pianoforte became a favorite among musicians because they could express more emotion through the instrument than with the harpsichord.

Modern Pianos Make Their Mark

upright piano

With a full seven octaves represented, the modern piano features 88 keys, made of ivory or plastic, with wool-covered hammers and cast iron frames able to withstand higher levels of tension on the strings. But before then, the instrument had a few periods of evolution:

  • Square Piano – Initially designed in France in 1777 by Sébastien Érard, the square piano wasn’t square at all. It was actually rectangular, with the strings running horizontally along the keyboard. Johann Christoph Zumpe and other German piano designers improved on the square piano design and by the mid-1800s, it was commonly used to play salon music throughout Europe.

  • Upright piano – During the mid-1800s, upright pianos began to replace square pianos throughout the world. The strings of an upright piano ran vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard, which initially made them very tall. John Isaac Hawkins, an English piano maker who lived in Philadelphia, improved the upright design by bringing the strings down to the floor level, instead of having them begin at the keyboard. Due to their original height, older uprights often incorporated elegant designs, but they required quite a bit more space than modern uprights. Less expensive than a traditional grand piano, modern uprights take up much less space than grand pianos, making them popular in schools and homes.

  • Grand Pianos – From the four-and-a-half-foot small grand to the much larger eight- or 11-foot concert grand, the classic look of the grand piano has remained almost unchanged over the years. The strings run horizontally, perpendicular to the keyboard. Prop open the lid and the grand piano offers unparalleled sound quality that is favored for concerts and large performances. In general, the larger the grand piano, the longer the strings and the greater the timbre or sound quality it produces.

  • Digital Pianos – The current digital age brought technology together with the piano to create electric pianos and digital keyboards. From the first inception in 1946 until now, these instruments have come a long way. Modern electric pianos are purely electronic instruments that have high-quality recorded sounds on an internal hard drive. The keys are often weighted to replicate the feel of playing a traditional acoustic piano.

Over the last 300 years, the piano has entranced musicians throughout the world. Curious about other fun facts about the piano? Check out our infographic here! Want to learn how to play this amazing instrument? Browse our piano teachers and find one in your area or online to guide you along the way!

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8 Simple Steps for Learning Fast Piano Songs


Struggling to get through the fast piano songs you’re dying to play? Here, Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares her tips for success…


Piano is an easy instrument to learn. You push a key, and a note sounds. Compared to instruments like the violin, which can take months and months of dedicated practice before a pleasant sound comes out, piano seems like a walk in the park.

But because of this, it’s also one of the easiest instruments to learn to play poorly. Many piano students become so enraptured with the idea of moving forward quickly that the idea of playing piano fast becomes a goal. We want to play fast, to really show we can do our stuff, but often what happens when we take on all that speed is the quality of the playing is compromised. Most piano players don’t learn patience with the process.

If you’re struggling to master songs with faster tempos, you’re not alone. Here are some tips for learning fast piano songs:

1. Be patient… start with the basics, and find the most difficult part of the song. Find out how slow you need to go to play that part accurately. Use a metronome, and set it at that slow pace. If you don’t have a metronome, you can search for one online. I like this one. Play the entire song at that slow pace. Yes, even the easy parts. Play it perfectly again and again.

2. Watch your fingers. Are there places in the song where your fingers are tripping over each other? Even the best pianists need to come up with specific fingering for certain passages. Go ahead and write in the finger numbers like a beginner … 1-2-3-4-5 … and don’t forget the left hand!

3. Don’t practice in front of an audience. If you’re practicing at home and your family listens in while you practice, remember that your song isn’t going to sound anywhere near as good in the beginning as it will in the future.

4. Don’t practice the same mistake twice. Practicing mistakes teaches you to play inaccurately. If you notice you’re having trouble on certain passages, stop and slow down even more. Work on those specific passages, and give the rest of the song (which you play well) a rest. If you practice perfectly, you’ll learn to play perfectly. Yes, even the hard parts.

5. Celebrate your accomplishments with feelings of confidence. While practicing your “fast” piano songs at a snail’s pace, you’ll slowly and surely become more confident about all the little details of fingering, dynamics and, yes, specific notes. You will become enlightened about those complicated places, and before long they will become easy. When you can play smoothly and slowly, you’re ready for the next step.

6. Let your metronome be your best friend. By now, you’re used to that tick-tick-tick and keeping a slow pace throughout the song. Now, push the metronome speed up one notch. You probably won’t notice you’re playing any faster, because metronomes are calibrated to very small increments. If you can play the song at that pace, push the metronome speed up one more notch.

7. Continue working on speed, one metronome notch at a time. If you start going faster than you can play accurately, move the metronome speed back down one notch. Work on smoothing out those hard parts, and then playing the whole song at that speed.

8. Set your goal speed, using the metronome. Slowly work up to that goal speed, one notch at a time. You’ll know you’re ready when you’re at your goal speed, and playing accurately and confidently.

Now you’re ready to perform that fast piano song. And remember: your audience didn’t sit in on your practice sessions. Nobody but you (and maybe your family) will ever know how hard it was for you to learn that fast song. If you can make all that hard work look easy, then mastering your fast piano songs will be easier than ever.

Good luck!

SylviaSSylvia S. teaches singing, piano, theater acting, and more in Helendale, CA. She comes from a musical family of several generations, and her experience includes playing an electric keyboard and singing vocals in a professional, working band. Learn more about Sylvia here! 



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3 Reasons Why Piano Players Should Also Learn the Organ

There are many reasons why a music student may find themselves learning to play piano on a keyboard rather than on a baby grand: cost, space, or simply lack of access, for example. Versatility on a range of keyboard instruments is also an extremely useful string for any pianist to have to their bow, and can lead to greater practice and public performance opportunities, and even excellent opportunities to earn a little money on the side.

The organ, although not the most prevalent or popular musical instrument, is a great option for pianists looking to expand their skills. Here are three reasons why you should consider learning this fascinating set of keys:

1) The Techniques are Different

Playing The Organ

Many piano players make the assumption that their skills on one keyboard will transfer directly to another, and that they will be able to play the organ with the same level of skill instantly. However, this is a dangerous assumption to make, especially if you are engaged to play the organ somewhere, and haven’t honed your skills already. Whereas the touch on the piano is all about the attack, the organ is all about the release, so using the same weight on the keys will not necessarily produce the desired outcome. This is where students who have been learning to play piano on a keyboard will have a small advantage — unless you’re using an expensive clavinova with weighted keys, an electronic keyboard will require a similar attack-and-release technique as an organ.

2) Pedals and Keyboards and Stops, Oh My!

organ pedals

If you’ve played the organ, you probably have vivid memories of the first time you were faced with a model with dual keyboards, pedals, and stops! It was probably pretty terrifying. Remember all those hours you spent making your hands properly independent and equally agile on the piano keyboard? You’ll have to develop an entirely new technique for the organ, where you will be negotiating stops and a dual keyboard at the same time. Also, your piano has a measly three pedals at most, so your footwork will have to become extra-fancy to negotiate the organ pedals.

It’s worth finding specific exercises to help coordinate your hands and feet to ensure that you can transfer your dexterity at the piano to the organ. Again, if you have been learning to play piano on a keyboard, you will find yourself at an advantage, as you may have had to manipulate buttons to get different effects. As for those stops, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the sound and function of each before you play, so that you can become fluent quickly.

3) There’s a Whole New World of Playing Opportunities Out There

organ player

While you may have found the odd source of extra money playing the piano at a restaurant, or perhaps giving an occasional piano lesson to a beginner, even if you don’t plan on a career as a professional musician, being able to play the organ will open up a whole new sphere of music jobs to you. Many older churches have large manual organs, and although most will have a regular organist, it’s worth introducing yourself as someone that they can call on when needed. Even smaller churches typically need a keyboard player of some kind, so you may find occasional opportunities to perform.

Church organ music isn’t the only source of extra repertoire, however — just as there are significant orchestral piano opportunities, the organ is often required, too. This includes not just for works such as Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony (which also has a spectacular piano part!), but many choral works, including Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and the most common favorite of choral societies worldwide, Handel’s Messiah.


While the organ does have some similarities to the piano, keep in mind there are several separate skills involved. If playing the organ interests you, it may be worth finding a private teacher who specializes in the instrument once you’ve learned the basics of the piano. Working with an expert who can guide you along and teach you the correct techniques is a big part of your success as a musician. Whatever instrument you choose to learn — have fun!


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How Yamaha’s New Electrified TransAcoustic Reinvents the Modern Piano


As technology progresses, so does the music industry. Here, Tulsa, OK teacher Chris F. explores Yamaha’s latest contribution to the world of music-making…


The acoustic piano’s design has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. The electronic keyboard, on the other hand, has had a rich and transformational history over the years, as technology has evolved and improved. What started with the “Denis d’or,” an instrument developed in 1793 with 700 strings that were temporarily electrified to enhance their sonic qualities, later on gave way to electronic combo organs, the portable synthesizer, and finally the modern-day keyboard that many beginner piano players learn to play on.

Today, many companies continue to advance these instruments. Yamaha, for example, has recently achieved the impossible. The Japanese company’s piano division recently demoed the U1TA PE Professional Upright Piano, a revolutionary approach to digital keyboards, at the 2014 NAMM show.

Yamaha’s TransAcoustic – A New Approach

The U1TA (otherwise known as the TransAcoustic, which translates to “beyond acoustic”) looks like a normal upright piano with a small electronic module attached underneath. What makes this piano unique is that it bridges the gap between acoustic and digital piano playing. The U1TA PE utilizes “TransAcoustic” technology, Yamaha’s new method of using the piano’s soundboard as a speaker for the onboard digital sounds stored in the attached module. This means that the piano keyboard notes are produced via the soundboard as digital sounds. The acoustic/digital process also causes the strings and the entire piano to resonate with these digital sounds.

The U1TA has three main modes. First, the piano can be played completely acoustic without the electronic module on. Second, the electronic module can be activated, combining digital sounds with the acoustic piano tones. And third, the piano can be silenced, prohibiting the hammers from touching the strings and turning the instrument into a digital keyboard or midi controller.

The real miracle that the U1TA has accomplished is the marrying of the acoustic and the digital. What makes an acoustic piano a treat to play is the enveloping sound that resonates the instrument and the body, nuances that a digital piano simply cannot offer. The U1TA brings this acoustic character to its digital sound library, including various electric and acoustic pianos, harpsichords, and pipe organs. Despite this incredible technology, the lackluster digital library is too generic to live up to its authentic sound production. The grand piano sample might be the only worthwhile voice that comes with the U1TA. Supplementing the digital library with quality tones down the road, however, should be easy enough.


The Future of the TransAcoustic

There is no doubt that once this technology can be more cheaply manufactured and installed on existing pianos, it will redefine the concept of the acoustic piano. The addition of sought-after digital tones, such as specific piano modelers, Hammond tones, and Rhodes tones to the digital library would make the U1TA the ideal acoustic piano. But everything comes with a price. At $16,000 the U1TA won’t be a reasonable purchase for the average player. The real value of the U1TA PE Professional Upright Piano, however, is how it could redefine the art of piano making.

Readers, what do you think of this new technology? What’s next in the evolution of keyboards and pianos? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!

ChrisFChris F. teaches guitar, piano, music theory, and more in Tulsa, OK. He has been active in collegiate percussion ensembles, marching and concert bands, various choirs, chamber music groups, jazz combos, an award winning jazz big band, bluegrass combos, drum and bugle corps, and private lessons on several instruments, as both a section leader and as a teacher. Learn more about Chris here! 


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Piano playing at Palewell

7 Common Reasons You’re Not Improving at the Piano

Piano playing at Palewell

Feeling stuck? Read on as Memphis, TN teacher Kevin F. shares how to diagnose your struggles and find the right fix…


You’ve had it. You’ve been playing the piano and working on a particular piece for six months and have gotten nowhere. There’s a good chance you’re suffering from one of the following reasons for not improving, so let’s take a look at common problems and their common fixes.

1. You’re not practicing enough. There is a great propensity among musicians, beginners especially, to rush through their music a few times a week and call it practice. Unless you’re a small child, anything less than 30 minutes a day probably isn’t going to cut it.

2. You’re practicing too much. Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking, practice too much!? Yes, you can practice too much. Our brains and bodies are fantastic organs and machines, but after a while they still get tired. Once you get tired, any attempt to practice is an exercise in futility.

3. You’re not practicing the right way. This one is much harder to understand, but if all you do is play each piece once through (as best you can), you’re doing it wrong. There are lots of other ways to vary your practice, such as doing hands separately, starting at the end of the piece, varying rhythms, and so on.

4. You’re not staying focused. If you want your practice to mean something, you have to truly focus on playing the piano. Turn off the phone, put the kids in another room, whatever you need to do so you can focus. Better a 30-minute, focused practice than three hours doing five other things at the same time.

5. You’re playing a piece not appropriate for your level. There are two sides to this: either you’re playing stuff that’s too easy, or stuff that’s too hard. The first doesn’t challenge you at all, the second gets too frustrating. I believe the average pianist learns a piece in two to six weeks. Full memory may take a bit longer, and your mileage may vary.

6. Your technique is faulty. There are often simple little tricks of the pianist trade that you might not learn without structured learning, or maybe you learned to do something that is impeding your ability to do other things. Fingerings come to mind first, but there are others. Which leads me to the last point…

7. You need a piano teacher, or a different one. There are plenty of people who are self-taught, but if you keep hitting roadblocks in your development, a good teacher can help you in many ways. He or she can provide insight, technique, and performance suggestions, as well as accountability. Or, it is possible you might need a new teacher if you feel like you aren’t learning anything from your current instructor anymore or that your styles clash too much.

If you looked through this list and feel like you’ve tried all of the solutions, it might be that you have hit a real ceiling — so I’ll give you one last free tip: take a break and come back later. Now stop making excuses and make music instead!

Kevin FKevin F. teaches piano, music theory, songwriting, and various academic subjects in Memphis, TN. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Harding University and his Master in Music from Azusa Pacific University. Learn more about Kevin here!



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5 Contemporary Pianists You Should Be Listening To

Mitsuko Uchida – http://www.allmusic.com/artist/mitsuko-uchida-mn0002172392/biography, photo by Richard Avedon

Beethoven and Mozart aren’t the only famous pianists you should be listening to! Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her recommendations for contemporary piano players to check out… 


The world’s getting smaller. Everything is global now. One great benefit is that the world gets to share music in ways that have never been seen before. Contemporary pianists from all over the world are keeping beautiful music alive and interpreting it in new and exciting ways. Listening to the piano is not only fun, but it’s a great way to feed yourself as an artist. Here’s a list of five contemporary and famous pianists that you should be listening to.

Lang Lang

Born in China, Lang Lang began playing the piano at the age of two, studying with a college professor at three, and won a regional piano competition at five. Now he performs and teaches globally, and is one of the most famous pianists in the music world. His intuition and sensitivity is clearly evident in his playing. Here’s Lang Lang’s “Ave Maria”.

Mitsuko Uchida

Born near Tokyo and raised in Europe, Mitsuko Uchida has built an amazing career of performance, scholarship, and conducting. She has appeared with the world’s best orchestras and honored with numerous awards. Below is her interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major. Notice her incredible attention to detail, especially dynamics and texture.

Pavel Zarukin

Now an elementary music teacher, Dr. Pavel Zarukin studied piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in St. Petersburg, Russia. His energy and flawless technique have made him into a well-respected figure in the world of piano.

Diana Krall

Said to be the best-selling jazz artist alive, Diana Krall is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and pianist. Take note of her careful and thoughtful touch on the keys in this unexpected rendition of the Mamas and the Papas classic “California Dreamin’”.

Martha Argerich

Considered one of the greatest pianists of the latter part of the 20th century, Martha Argerich was born in Buenos Aires to Spanish and Russian-Jewish parents. She won two big piano competitions the year that she turned 16. Below is her moving interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major.

All of these artists may play the piano, but each of them brings his or her own special specific talents to the keys. A couple are sensitive and intuitive, others are clean and technical. Perhaps the greatest benefit of listening to many famous pianists is learning that we’re all different when we play. That’s why they call it art.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!



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Why Learning Piano Theory is Important for All Musicians

2784995695_22c1d7ba7a_bStruggling to understand music theory? Try heading over to the piano — seeing a visual representation can help a ton! Here, Lowell, IN teacher Blake C. shares how to get started…


Many musicians avoid learning music theory altogether because it can feel much like learning a foreign language; as a result, many musicians enlist in the anti-music theory organization. I will admit it – I was a member of the anti-music theory organization in my early years, declaring that music theory corrupts the instinctiveness of musical ability and creativity.

In time, however, I’ve uncovered numerous reasons why music theory is a necessary evil. The three top reasons are: composition, improvisation, and rehearsals. The first two reasons came about because I was fed up with not understanding which notes worked with other notes when I was trying to write a song, and even more frustrated when I tried to improvise on the fly. The third reason I realized when I began to feel like a knucklehead during rehearsals when the keyboardist and bass player were discussing chord progressions, and I had no idea what the heck they were talking about.

Still, it can be difficult for some instrumentalists – especially guitar players – to comprehend music theory. One thing that helped me along the way, though, was putting down my guitar and taking my music theory books to the piano instead. Within minutes, my understanding of music theory began to expand rapidly.

No matter what instrument you play, if you’re struggling with learning music theory, take a step back and head to a piano for a quick lesson.

An Introduction to Piano Theory

To begin, take a look at the keyboard image below and notice the repeating notes in each octave.

figure 1

Music theory is a way to explain harmony, melody, and rhythm. Using the piano keyboard to learn simplifies it because of the instrument’s layout. A piano keyboard is divided up in half steps, octave after repeating octave, which instantly eliminates the guess work. There are no surprises found on a piano keyboard – each octave repeats the exact same format.

Piano Theory and Range

Another factor illustrating the importance of piano theory is the range of the instrument. Think about chord progressions, for example. As you develop your skill on your respective instrument, you’ll eventually be able to identify these chord patterns quickly. However, many instruments do not offer a range as great as the piano. You’ll be able to aurally appreciate chord progressions in a wide range of octaves with the piano.

Those chord progressions also represent harmony. The piano, unlike other instruments, offers you a chance to more completely understand the music theory behind harmony. A flautist, on the other hand, often begins with a more limited understanding of harmony than a pianist does, since the flute is a single-line melody instrument.

Using Piano Theory to Understand Enharmonic Notes

Similar to harmony, using a piano will help you understand how enharmonic notes – two note names with identical pitch – align in music. In the image below, one octave of the keyboard is provided and includes the note names for the white and black keys.

Figure 2

The keyboard notes on the piano are easily understood because they are repeated in the exact same pattern from one octave to the next. Having a visual representation of these enharmonic notes makes it much easier to understand (and then apply to your own instrument).

Using Piano Theory to Understand Key Signatures

The final point I will cover is how the piano simplifies learning the key signatures.  Early on in your music theory studies, you will learn the formulas to create scales. You read correctly – formulas. For instance, the formula for a major scale is whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. To visualize this, using the image below, begin on the first ‘C” on the left and then move up one whole step to the “D” note. Continue using the formula for a major scale to continue up the keyboard until you end on the next “C” note. If you correctly followed the formula, the only notes you would have landed on were natural notes, without accidentals (sharps or flats). The key of “C” has no sharps or flats in the key or the key signature.

C Major

Next, using this last image below, begin on the first “D” note and follow the same formula. If you followed the formula correctly, you would have landed on two black keys during your progression up the scale – F# and C#. For this reason, the key signature for the key of “D” has two sharps – F# and C#. Simple!

D Major

Taking into consideration the simple layout of the piano keyboard, the wonderfully large range, and the piano’s ability to produce harmony, you’ll see these are three big motives to learn piano theory. Best wishes in your musical endeavors, and remember – a quality TakeLessons.com music instructor can help you reach your musical goals more quickly and correctly.

BlakeCBlake C. teaches songwriting, singing, and guitar lessons in Lowell, IN. He specializes in classical guitar technique as well as modern rock and blues styles. Blake has been teaching for 20 years and he joined the TakeLessons team in July 2013. Learn more about Blake here! 



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