Beginner Basics: How to Teach Yourself Piano
One of the most common questions our teachers get asked: can I learn to play piano by myself? Yes! While we believe the best way to learn piano is from an expert instructor, we’re also in full support of students who prefer self-learning.
Piano’s one of the most versatile instruments, so learning how to teach yourself is a skill that will serve you in other areas of life. If you’re truly committed to playing this instrument, use this learning guide to get started.
Step 1) Get Your Own Piano or Keyboard
You can’t learn how to teach yourself piano if you don’t have one! Even if there’s a public place where you have access to a piano, it’s far better if you have one in the privacy of your home. That means it’s time to make an investment.
Acoustic pianos typically range in price from $2,000 to $10,000 or more for some high-quality concert grand pianos. Obviously, as a beginner, you don’t need a grand piano, but you’ll at least want a quality instrument to practice on. Acoustic pianos are large and heavy, and require regular tuning to remain playable. Even though these aspects seem like downsides, nothing can truly replace the sound and feel of a real piano.
If the cost is an issue for you, however, a digital keyboard is a totally acceptable place to start. A full 88-key version starts at about $150. Remember, you’ll also need a keyboard stand, piano bench, and sustain pedal. The more features you want (UBS drive, sound effects, internal metronome, sample songs, etc.), the higher the investment will be. Most importantly, don’t be tempted by inexpensive, low-quality keyboards. Insist on weighted keys, which is the key to achieving different dynamics in the music you play.
TakeLessons Live is perfect for beginners. It’s an online learning subscription where you get unlimited piano classes in small group settings taught by an expert pianist. Sign up for a free 30-day trial.
2) Start by Finding Middle C
So your keyboard is all set up and you’re excited to get going. If you have no musical background, you may feel overwhelmed by looking at all those keys – but don’t worry! A great place to start is by finding middle C.
Think of middle C as home base, the place where all beginner pieces work off of. To find middle C, sit down in front of your piano and position yourself at the center. The black keys are arranged in sets of two and three. Middle C is the white key just to the left of the grouping of two black keys near the middle of the keyboard. Place your right thumb on Middle C, pointer finger on the next white note (D), and your middle finger on the white note next to that (E). Using these three notes, you should be able to play Mary Had a Little Lamb by ear (start with E, D, C…).
Before you can expect to play more than Mary Had a Little Lamb, you need to pin down some good resources that explain how to teach yourself piano. The Internet is one of your best resources, but certainly not the only one. Here are some helpful resources to get you started:
DataDragon: Learning to read music is not quite as simple or straightforward as finding Middle C. It’s an ongoing process you must focus on each time you play. DataDragon can help with this; the various lessons cover time signatures, types of notes and rests, counting, sheet music symbols, and more.
OnlinePianist: Chords (multiple notes played at the same time) and scales (a succession of notes played one after the other) are the foundation of piano playing. This resource teaches you how to play every major and minor scale on the piano as well as a huge variety of chords. As you click through the options, keep in mind that the major and minor chords are a great place to start.
Hanon exercises: It’s important to build finger strength and improve your musical aptitude. Hanon exercises are an excellent resource for this. The link provided here lets you download a free PDF version of each exercise, as well as play a sample so you can hear how the exercise is supposed to sound.
MusicNotes: When you’re ready to start playing actual songs, MusicNotes is a great resource to find sheet music for your favorite songs, in a variety of difficulty levels. A free one-page sample gives you a feel for the difficulty of the piece before you pay for the entire song.
The Upside of Combining Self-Learning with (Private or Group) Lessons
You may think you now know how to teach yourself piano, but just like a New Year’s resolution, you may only keep it up for a couple of weeks. Working with a private piano teacher can make a drastic difference in your motivation and the speed at which you progress. Your teacher can provide:
Individualized instruction: Even with the above resources at your disposal, it’s difficult to know if you’re doing everything right. Are you playing that chord with the correct fingers? What if the tempo is off? Is your bad posture the reason you find it tough to play for more than 10 minutes at a time? No matter how many tutorials you watch or samples you listen to, many of these questions will remain unanswered unless you have a teacher at your side.
Accountability: What are the odds that you will hold yourself accountable to complete your music theory work and Hanon exercises needed to become a better pianist? Without a teacher to report to, you may find yourself skipping these important steps after just a few weeks. Your technique is bound to falter and you may find pieces more difficult to learn without a rock-solid foundation encouraged by a piano teacher.
Motivation: Anticipating your next lesson and having a desire to show your teacher how much you have improved is a huge motivational tool. Even the concept of paying for a teacher is a good motivator to sit down and practice. If you’re teaching yourself, you could easily lose your drive if you get stuck on a tricky piece. There are only so many words of encouragement you can give yourself, but a teacher can whip you back into shape.
Correct pacing: You may be eager to jump into music that is well beyond your skill level. But if you find that learning a particular song is incredibly difficult, you’re likely to get frustrated and give up. The right teacher will know how to pace you so you’re always challenging yourself, but not to the degree of complete frustration.
A broadened perspective: Perhaps the only reason you want to learn how to teach yourself piano is so you can play Christina Perri and Adele songs. However, a teacher can open your eyes to the beauty of other genres of music to round out your repertoire. With the right teacher, you’ll learn about composers you may have never considered on your own.
If you find that learning how to teach yourself piano isn’t allowing you to progress the way you want, try TakeLessons Live or find a piano teacher near you and commit to lessons. You might be surprised how much you improve!