Usually I write about guitar stuff…

But I thought I’d switch it up and talk a bit about my piano experience.

I learned to play the piano much differently than the way I learned to play the guitar.

With guitar – I was (and am) self taught.  I took a month or so of lessons when I was 10, but they didn’t last.

I learned piano very differently.

I was probably about 20 years old and decided to take a piano class in college.  It was a group class with one instructor and we worked our way through a beginner piano book.

I loved it.

It was so different from guitar.

So let’s break this down with different piano examples.  Here are two beginner categories… see which one you fit in:

  1. Basic Piano Skills (as few weeks)
  2. Singing and Play Piano at the Same Time (a few weeks to a few months)

Before we start: The difference between traditional playing and “playing by ear”.  Many people can sit down at a piano and play a melody or even a complicated piece without having to learn to read music.  This is generally what is meant by “playing by ear”.  In other words, you listen to a piece of music and slowly begin to figure out how to play it by a sort of trial and error process.

For some, playing by ear is easy and natural.  For others it is very difficult.  Regardless, it is skill that can be learned and developed.  In fact, it should be learned and developed.  But it isn’t the end game.

Traditional piano playing involves reading music.  Learning to read music is like learning to read a new language with a new alphabet.  It’s a combination of language learning and math skills.  And it takes time to understand.  This can be a major barrier when learning to play the piano (or any instrument for that matter).   It is, however, necessary.

Basic Piano Skills

This is where I started, and this is where most teachers or classes will start.   During your first lesson or class you will most likely learn how to read music at it’s most basic level.  You’ll learn how the keyboard is laid out.  You’ll learn where the notes are.  You’ll learn some rhythmic patterns.

For some, this will be new and exciting.  For others, it will be tedious.

The good news is that once you understand these basic principles, you’ve got the tools to start learning quickly.

By the end of your first lesson you should be able to play some simple songs and melodies.  If you take lessons once a week and practice every day, you’ll be playing more complicated songs using both hands in just a few weeks.

If you don’t practice you won’t make any progress.

Singing and Play Piano at the Same Time

For a lot of people… this is the goal.  You want to be able to sit at a piano and play a song while singing a long.  It’s awesome.  It really is.

But it can be tricky.  Not only do you have to think about what keys you’re hitting and accurately play the piece of music…. you have to focus on singing the right words and melody.

There is a lot going on.

If you already have a solid foundation of music (let’s say you’ve been singing for years).  This level of playing will come much more naturally.

On the other hand, if you’re pretty new to music… it may be a bit more difficult.

My advice would be to pick a song and immerse yourself in it.  Learn the piano part.  Learn the vocal part.  Practice every day.  Go slow. Then faster.

A note about Practice

I’ve written a lot about how to practice.  Usually it’s focused on the guitar… but it doesn’t really matter what instrument… the methods are the same.

Make sure you are taking the time to practice deliberately.  In other words – don’t just sit down to the piano play Chopsticks or Mary Had a Little Lamb every time.  Practice the stuff that is hard.  That’s how you get better and learn faster. 

A note about Progress

In order to make progress when need to be able to measure progress.  And in order to do that, we need goals.

Too often people come to me and ask, “How long will it take me to learn the piano?”

I’ll say: “What are your goals?” or “Why do you want to learn the piano?”

They’ll respond with things like: “It looks fun”, “I’ve always wanted to play the piano”, or “I want a new hobby”

While these answers are admirable – they’re not specific.

When attempting to learn a new instrument, we need to have specific goals.  Here are a few:

  • I want to learn a specific song on the piano
  • I want to be able to play a song for my spouse
  • I want to be able to perform
  • I want to be a professional piano player
  • I want to learn jazz piano
  • I want to learn ragtime piano (my favorite)

You get the idea… you need a specific goal to work towards.  Not only with this keep you motivated and disciplined, but it will provide you with a metric to measure your progress.

The Best way to learn piano the fastest (online)

Obviously having an excellent private teacher will help you learn the fastest.  But not all of have the time, or can afford a private teacher.  Taking a piano class (like I did) is great as well.

The downside with both of these options:  They are expensive and can be time consuming.

If you’re looking to save money, I usually recommend YouTube for free lessons and tutorials.  Youtube is nice because it’s free.  But it can take awhile to find they right lessons and tutorials.  There also isn’t any quality control… anyone can throw up a video and call themselves a piano teacher.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more structure (but cheaper than an actual piano teacher) I usually recommend Playground Sessions.  This is pretty much the gold standard for online piano lessons.   There are a fair amount of online piano lesson services… but I couldn’t find any that I like as much as Playground Sessions.

I like them for a few reasons:

  1. They have lessons for every skill level (including a complete beginner to the piano). 
  2. They update and add new content every month (super important). 
  3. They teach you to play by using notation (i.e. reading music) AND by ear. 

The last reason is enough to give them a try.  Being able to read music (though tricky at first) will make learning piano so much easier…. and playing by ear make you progress even faster.

Let me know if you have questions, comments, or suggestions about learning to play the piano.  I’m a beginner like a lot of you so I’m always looking for new tips and tricks!!

Jake Posko is the owner of Severn River Music – proudly and happily providing in-home guitar, piano, drum and music lessons in the Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at jake@jakeposko.com