How to Learn the Piano

You can do this!  Thousands of adults are now playing the piano that have never played before.  There are thousands of people that search google each month on how to learn the piano.  Many feel they can’t because they think they can neither afford a piano nor the lessons needed to learn.

That is simply NOT TRUE!

Five Methods to Learn Piano

1. Use a Self Teaching Music Book.

bk1        bk2       bk3        bk 4

This method is by far the cheapest.  You can purchase these books at any music store or click on the pictures above to order from Sheet Music Plus online.

Many of these books have a CD or DVD included with them.  They will give you a programmed learning experience that will enable you to learn the techniques to be able to play hundreds of your favorite songs.  The CD or DVD will demonstrate the things you need to learn and you can play along with it and repeat it as many times as you feel necessary.

Many of the CD’s or DVD’s will also provide backgrounds for you to be the soloist and perform along with the band.  That is really fun!

So – what’s the drawback.  There is no one to point out mistakes you may be making and no one is there to encourage you and help you when you feel stuck and not sure what to do.  But if you’re a good Do It Selfer you should be able to teach yourself piano.

2. Compact Disc Programs/Online Programs

You can learn from programs that have all the lessons on a set of dvd’s or from a series of lessons programmed online. Take a peek at this one from Legacy Learning Systems.
This method is not as good as learning from a real teacher simply because immediate feedback is not available. However, pre-programmed lessons can be given over and over until you get it.

Cost wise this is one of the best. However, you have to supply the motivation necessary to keep at it.

3. Computer Games

You can now purchase programs to learn music that are set up like computer games. With each game you play you progress through each round until you become very proficient. This is particularly good for children and for those who may have learning disabilities.

Here’s an example of a program that uses video games to teach piano.

Now anyone can play piano in minutes

4. Live/Video Piano Teacher Online

This is the second best method because while the teacher is not physically present, you still have the advantage of someone helping you that is watching your hands either through a camera or on a video that you send to the teacher. The reason this is not as good as the private teacher method is because the teacher can not demonstrate as quickly as someone sitting next to you. Communication is a little harder and therefore may take you longer to learn the fine points the teacher needs to convey.

Online popular piano lessons hugh sung

However, with this situation you may be able to hire a much better teacher than is available in your community. This is especially true if you live outside a city which would require considerable time and money just for you to get to the teacher or for the teacher to get to you.

5. Private Piano Teacher

adult piano
This is still the best method. Why? Because a private teacher is right beside you to encourage and correct any mistakes as soon as they happen. No delay. Immediate correction.  This is very important for a beginner since proper hand position and finger usage can make a huge difference in how well you can play later on, although the live video teacher can catch this.

You can find private piano teachers in practically every little town. However, all piano teachers are not equally good. Good ones will generally have at least 2 years of completion towards a bachelor’s degree on piano, or the equivalent of study from a recognized music conservatory. The better you become, the more important it is that the teacher be advanced both with the ability to play and the ability to teach.

Rates vary according to teacher, training, experience, and location. Like it or not, the best way to learn piano is also the most expensive. You are, after all, hiring a private tutor with their expertise as well as their time.

However, I don’t believe anything else beats a private piano lesson. Provided you and the teacher have personalities that will encourage your development the most, this is the best method to learn the piano.

One Important Requirement

You MUST have a piano to practice on – at least one like the one shown below which you can get for as little as $300.  I would caution you not to buy anything with less than 76 keys on it.  You will quickly outgrow anything that has less than 76 notes and unless you are a professional musician, most keyboards are a toy with just a bunch of sounds and rhythms that do not help you learn piano.  If you go to Amazon – read the reviews from people that have purchased this.

If you want something better, there are lots of choices.  If you want a piano that feels like a real piano, take a look at the Digital Pianos from Amazon and look for proof of the unit having a hammer action or weighted action that does NOT have springs. Usually these will cost at least $600. Anything under that may look great, but they have spring actions and the feel is not like a real piano.

I am always amazed at the number of people that show up for piano lessons and have nothing for either themselves or a child to practice on. You can’t learn to walk up stairs if there are no stairs. You need a piano to practice on.

So what are you waiting for? In less than 30 days you can be playing the music you love on a piano.

How to Read Music for Beginners

When we read a book or a document in any language we must first be able to understand the symbols on the page. Whether they are Chinese characters or English letters, when placed together they are representations of ideas. Music is the same. Written music uses symbols to represent musical ideas. How to read music for beginners must start with learning the symbols that represent the music.

There are many ways to do this. Most people learn by going to a music teacher that will use one or more methods, hopefully adapted to the way a person learns. When I hear that someone tried lessons and failed I wonder how many methods the teacher used before the person failed. Most of the time people start lessons, the teacher has their tried and true method, and nothing else is tried. The person is not a failure in this case – the teacher is.

Within the last 50 years there have been a myriad of methods that have come out that have improved music education drastically. Men such as Karl Orff, Shinichi Suzuki, Zoltán Kodály, and others have influenced how music is taught to the degree that we now have many programs that start almost when children are born. Programs such as Kindermusik, Music and Play, Rainbow Songs, Musikgarten, and Music Together. All of these programs emphasize singing, movement, and basic percussion instruments.

As well there are more and more lessons being taught either by programs deliverd on CD or online, either with an actual teacher or preprogrammed learning

Richard Gil, a music educator for more than 50 years has said, “Every child needs music. Music education does not just make children more musical; it unleashes their creative powers.”

Please view this talk by Richard to learn how important it is to start before reading music is attempted. However – don’t let this stop you if you have not given your child music lessons and they’re now 8 years old. Yes the time to start would have best been long before that, but the next best time to start is now. I have had students as old as 85 start with great success!

Music Lessons are a MIND BUILDER

Unleash Your child’s Potential!

Neuroscientists have found that playing a musical instrument is a unique workout for the brain. They have also stated…

NO OTHER ACTIVITY Provides this benefit like music lessons.

Not Dance
Not Painting
Not Yoga
Not Karate
Not Math
Not Physics, or Chemistry, or History, or Geography

Get the point yet?

What if every child had access to music education from birth? Watch this video to get a glimpse of the possibilities.

Most school boards don’t know this and instead of music being an extra curricular activity, it should be one of the most important aspects of learning in school.

Neuroscientists didn’t say you had to be good at it. They said that playing a musical instrument is a unique workout for the brain. If you want to be a concert violinist – you can do that – but at least 97% of students will NEVER be a concert musician. HOWEVER, because they learn how to play – and enjoy – a musical instrument, they will have an advantage over people that don’t in other very important areas in their life.

This video above also points out that it isn’t just children that can benefit from the study of music. We are starting to learn that the brain can learn at any age, something neuroscientists are calling neuroplasticity. That’s a big word that means the brain has the ability to reorganize itself by creating new neural pathways to adapt to new situations. We are, in reality, never too old to learn and music lessons can help us deal with life at any time.

Age to Start Music Lessons

Here are 6 guidelines that will help you or your child have a successful, rewarding experience learning to play a musical instrument. From years of experience these are practical tips I have discovered.

1. Age to Start Music Lessons
Adults can start anytime. Their main problem is to commit themselves to enough time to practice and not beat themselves up when they make a mistake. The biggest problem for adults is their self-esteem when they make a mistake. Mistakes are part of education. They tell us we need to change. Watch a child. When they make a mistake do they make a big deal of it – heck no – they just go on as if nothing had happened.

boy violin

You have to be careful with the start age for children. Desire and motivation are very important. I have seen 3 year olds that are very into music and others that aren’t ready until they’re 9 or 10. I know one young man that the parents couldn’t get to play the piano at age 6, tried again at 9 and still no go, and then at age 14 he wanted to play a grade 6 piece and shocked his parents by learning and memorizing it in less than a week. However, you also don’t want to wait too long though, because the teenage years can be very busy ones.

Some children, if put into lessons too soon, may feel overwhelmed and frustrated. I have taken children that have been in other programs where they have had bad experiences and turned it totally around. Children that are older than the suggested earliest starting age we find do very well. Here are some general guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.

Pre-schoolers

If you see your pre-schooler dancing with music or singing a lot of the time a group preschool music class will give them a good foundation in music basics which will help them in later private lessons. Usually private lessons are not good for this age group because their attention span is very short, their finger muscle co-ordination is still developing, and their hands and fingers are probably too small. However, if you think you have an exception to this, you may be right.  After all, Mozart was performing at age 5.

Pre-schooler Singing
Pre-schooler Singing

Piano/Keyboard

We normally start children on piano or keyboard at age 5 or later. At five and six we like to have the parent present in the lessons to make sure the concepts taught are practiced properly at home. The attention span is much better at this age and concepts better understood.

Guitar – Acoustic & Electric

The earliest I recommend starting on guitar is age 8. Guitar playing puts pressure on the fingertips from pressing the strings and can produce some soreness. As well, children under age 8 generally have small hands and may find playing awkward and uncomfortable because the guitar is large for small people. Bass guitar students are best started generally at 10 because the bass guitar is larger and the strings require even more pressure to play correctly.

Ukulele

Ukulele Student
Ukulele Student

If your child simply can’t wait until age 8, I have had kids that learn ukelele. It’s fun and it is much easier on the fingers as the strings are made of nylon instead of metal. It will prepare them very well for guitar.

Drums

The only limitation for drums is the size of the child. They have to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals. Try to find a drum teacher that teaches using two drumkits side by side so the child can sit beside the teacher and can be shown exactly how to do the exercises.

Drumkit Student
Drumkit Student

Flute, Clarinet & Saxophone

Generally age 9 is best for these 3 instruments. For Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone lung capacity is important and the size of the saxophone can be a problem. However, you can use a curved soprano sax for even the smallest student. That’s where I started. Clarinet and Sax also require a good set of front teeth and hands large enough to cover the holes on a clarinet.

Trumpet, Trombone, Baritone

Lung capacity is again important and size now becomes important for the Trombone and Baritone. But once again, age 9 is a good time.

Jazz Band
Jazz Band

Violin

Many students start on violin at age 3. However, I feel that the most productive learning doesn’t occur until the beginner is age 5 or older.  I have seen groups of children playing very well having started using the Suzuki Method.  This method is based on the idea that we learn to speak before we read.  However, I believe that as soon as they have the basics, they need to be learning to read music – otherwise they can become simply a non-thinking robot.

I believe, along with Shin’ichi Suzuki that learning music makes good citizens.  Mr. Suzuki said “If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”

Suzuki Violin Group
Suzuki Violin Group

Group classes are fun, cost less per hour, students learn to work together, and the ensemble playing tends to encourage students. They also learn to count better and read better than the average person in private lessons. However, in a private lesson it is hard for the student or the teacher to miss anything and each student can learn at their own pace and in their own way. As well, the teacher doesn’t have to try to keep the group together – sometimes slowing everyone down for someone having a problem with a concept. In private lessons the teacher can focus on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses and help them be the best they can.  The best combination would be to learn in both a group and private setting.

3. Take Lessons in a Professional Teaching Environment:
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional studio there is no distraction from t.v., pets, ringing phones, and siblings. With only ½ to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the teacher is teaching – not collecting money or making appointments. The focus is learning music.

 

Learn to Play an Instrument Online
Learn to Play an Instrument Online

4. Make Practicing Easier
As with any skill, improvement in music requires practice. Persistence is the winner. Parents need to be firm to make sure practice takes place every day. However, it need not be boring or time for confrontation. Here are some ideas that can make practicing easier.

a) Time – Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding will be required. Students will also be able to concentrate better. b) Repetition – Instead of requiring a child to practice 20 or 30 minutes, which may seem like an eternity to a child, have them practice a concept 5 – 8 times correctly each day. Time is then irrelevant and when they have done repetition number 4 they know they only have a few more to go. Concentration is thus improved and they have a goal that is not related to time. c) Rewards – Giving children a reward for a successful week of practicing helps – adults too. In our school we rewarded children with stars and stickers for work well done and for a good lesson. Praise tends to be the most coveted award – let’s face it, there is just no substitute for an honest pat on the back.

5. Use Recognized Teaching Materials
Music books aren’t like they use to be. We now have excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. There are books for very young beginners, for older beginners, and for adults who have never played before. There are materials to start at whatever level the student is at. Should you happen to transfer to another city, qualified teachers and schools will know these materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.

6. Music is for Enjoyment
A teacher’s purpose should be to give you the skills to enable you to enjoy the finest moments in life that music can provide. And best of all, you don’t have to be a professional to enjoy it. Keep this in mind so you don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children. Everyone learns at a different pace and key to the enjoyment of music is to enjoy the journey. We wish you success in your musical adventure.

Did I miss something?  Do you have ideas on this?  Frustrations?  Please comment if you do and I’ll try to help.

Success from Music

Why is there is a high degree of success among people who are, or who were, involved in music?

People such as the following:

Television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello)

Alan Greenspan – Former chairman of the United States Federal Reserve (professional clarinet and saxophone player)

Alan Greenspan
Alan Greenspan

NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, studied French Horn in college..

Former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.

Co-founder of Google, Larry Page, used to play saxophone in high school.

Condoleezza Rice – 66th Secretary of State of the United Staes, trained to be a concert pianist.

Condi Rice
Condoleeza Rice

Hedge Fund billionaire, Bruce Kovner, studied piano at Julliard

Stephen Spielberg plays clarinet and is the son of a pianist.

Stephen Spielberg
Stephen Spielberg

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell studied violin to become a professional.

Here’s why people receive success from music

Craftsmanship

With a good teacher most people will work hard to perfect the way they play a piece of music. Most teachers instill in us a desire for no mistakes, but putting our heart into a piece of music also gives us an emotional stimulus and reward.  Because playing is a reward in itself we learn to create good work in all we do and study.

Better Preparation for College

One of the benefits of music training is being better prepared for college or university. It is a fact that students who have experience with either music appreciation or music performance score higher on the Standard Academic Test SAT for entrance to higher learning.

Better Auditory Attention for Life

Playing Helps Hearing
Playing music helps hearing.

Because musicians must learn nuances in music when they play, it carries through to other areas, such as the emotional meaning in a baby’s cry.  As well, it has been learned that as our hearing deteriorates as we get older that those who have had music lessons are better able to hear what they want to hear in a crowd.  And – starting lessons older in life (as in retired) still gives this advantage.  So, retirees – take some lessons and improve your hearing.

Learn Positive Attitude

When children are taught music in their early childhood years music can help teach positive attitudes about learning. Learning music develops the whole brain and children’s imaginations are encouraged.  How many of us use music to change our mood so we think more positive thoughts?

Self Discipline

Because of the discipline required to learn music – even if it is only 10 minutes per day – we learn valuable lessons in disciplining ourselves by the requirement of constant practice in order to do well.   Music teaches us rather rapidly that if we don’t put in the time practicing on a regular basis skills are either not learned or decline.  The late great concert pianist Vladamir Horowitz practiced just scales alone for 2 hours every day – not to mention other practice.  Now that – is discipline.

Vladimir
Vladimir Horowitz

Throughout the study and performance of jazz music we develop focused habits of working, self-discipline, communication skills and fluency of professional vocabulary, teamwork, the ability to accept constructive feedback, and critical listening skills, to mention a few examples.

Think about it – who would you hire? The kid that spends two hours per day playing video games, or the kid that practices on his trumpet 30 minutes per day.

Creative Thinking

Students that study the arts are more likely to think creatively. This kind of education helps them solve problems with creative thinking, thinking that there may be more than one right answer. This is particularly true of people that play Jazz.

Steve Wozniak, the engineer that co-founded Apple computers, stated that when fresh new ideas came up it was people who had studied music that always produced the complete solution..

One of the first Apple I Computers
One of the first Apple I Computers built by Steve Wozniak

Spatial Intelligence

Spatial Intelligence can be improved with the study of music. Einstein stated that it was his study of music that gave him the idea for his theory of relativity. Spatial intelligence is very helpful for people doing advanced mathematics.  Heaven only knows what Einstein was doing when this picture was taken – he certainly wasn’t singing!

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Studying music is a huge key to success in life.  Our school educators need to know this.  Most of them did not take music.  So if this short article rings true please refer them to this page for a little convincing.