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How to learn to play the piano

By Alexis, published on 18/07/2017 Blog > Music > Piano > Superprof’s handy guide to piano instruction

Self-taught, with a teacher, in a music school: there are several options for those who want to learn piano. With all these choices for music instruction Superprof is here to help clarify things for you!

One important idea to note from the start: there is no easy answer. Everything depends on your piano goals, motivation level, work method, your background in music and your budget. But one thing is certain: if you’d like to progress rapidly and learn to play advanced piano songs, we’d highly recommend working with a piano instructor.

Read on for more information…!

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Learn to play the piano, beginning with solfege

Before putting your hands on the keyboard to play your first piano tune, you must be able to read sheet music. Piano training must therefore begin with solfege. 

Did you think you’d be able to escape this monotonous task?

While there are piano training methods that exclude solfege, know that you will be limited thereafter… In truth, to efficiently develop your piano playing, knowing how to read music is pretty much indispensable.

To make your piano training easier and more efficient, start with solfege.

Good reasons for learning solfege

If learning solfege doesn’t seem very motivating in itself at the beginning, think about these benefits that you’ll get out of it:

  1. You’ll progress faster on the piano with a strong base in solfege,
  2. You’ll be able to read all kinds of notes and music and won’t be limited in the types of piano music you can play,
  3. With a bit of experience, you’ll be able to write your own music and take a shot at music composition,
  4. You’ll gain independence in your piano playing,
  5. You’ll develop your musical ear (perhaps you’ll even be able to play by ear)!

How does one learn solfege?

Never fear, absorbing solfege isn’t as hard as you think…

Once you’ve started, you’ll develop automatic reflexes pretty quickly. After just a few piano lessons, you’ll be familiar with the basics, and you’ll progress quickly if you follow these tips:

  • Self-taught players: with a good and clear method, a metronome (for rhythm), and a bit of work and perseverance, teaching yourself solfege is possible,
  • Students with a private teacher: your piano instructor will teach you solfege during your music classes. You’ll normally begin with solfege exercises before playing,
  • Students in a music school: group solfege classes will teach you to read a piece of sheet music better. The curriculum includes note reading, note writing, and dictation…

Some indispensable solfege basics:

  • Distinguish between notes: whole note, half note, quarter note, etc…
  • Know your sharps and flats and even rests,
  • Read a staff in the key of G, then in the key of F (the C key is generally more advanced),
  • Learn about rhythms and measures.

With this basic piano instruction, you’ll be able to explore a range of music and become really comfortable playing those piano keys. Following this, you’ll be able to progress to playing piano chords with the left hand and intervals.

Optimize your natural talents to learn to play the piano

Children and adolescents are not the only ones who can learn how to play piano (and solfege)… You can begin at any age. But, as with any type of training, some people will be naturally better suited than others.

Scientists at McGill University in Canada led an experiment on the optimal personalities for learning music. Researchers asked participants to perform several musical tasks (with no prior music education, they had to play specific songs) to determine which zones of their brain were used.

The result was that those with a predisposition for memorization were better able to reproduce music pieces. This comes in handy when playing the piano!

Mozart in stone You may be surprised to learn about Mozart’s piano instruction.

While some music geniuses taught themselves to play piano, the large majority followed more traditional music instruction. In any case, even with a natural predisposition for music, true progress always comes with regular and strict practice.

To take full advantage of your piano instruction, it’s important to determine your optimal work method.

Here are some examples of famous piano players who show that there’s no ideal method or curriculum for learning to play piano, what counts before all else is one’s passion for music and the instrument:

  • Erik Satie was expelled from the Paris conservatory, where his teachers thought him incompetent,
  • Mozart only had his father as a music teacher.
  • Paul McCartney, self-taught on several instruments, is one of today’s most talented composers,
  • Art Tatum, the famous (almost entirely blind) jazz pianist and improvisation virtuoso, was largely self-taught.

Teaching yourself the piano: a good or bad idea?

It’s absolutely possible to teach yourself to play piano. Well, anything’s possible, right…?

To ensure an efficient experience as you learn how to play, you’ll need to gather these four “resources” for a start:

  • A metronome
  • A manual for beginner piano
  • A music theory manual to learn solfege
  • A book of sheet music for absolute beginners
  • A lot of determination and will

The big advantage to being a self-taught piano player is that your learn to read notes by producing automatic reflexes. There are also online piano lessons and tutorials that can augment your self instruction.

As you progress you’ll need to:

  • Purchase more learning materials that correspond to your level
  • Download free piano music on the internet to learn to read music
  • Look at piano tutorials on Youtube and Dailymotion
  • Consult online piano courses
  • Train yourself to play a song that you hear: this will improve your musical ear and help you play by ear

But everything has its downside. Here are some disadvantages to teaching yourself to play the piano as opposed to taking a piano lesson:

  • You aren’t structured or supervised, so no one will correct your errors
  • Your solfege attempts wont be heard by a professional
  • You risk taking up bad habits
  • The risk of frustration and discouragement is higher

It’s therefore possible to learn the piano alone, but you don’t have the best chances on your side. Taking music classes is the preferred means of learning and making regular progress on the keyboard.

Practice makes perfect Motivation and perseverance are key to becoming a true pianist.

Learn the piano with a teacher: the fastest and most efficient approach

Your private piano teacher will provide a structure for learning, while observing and encouraging you. He or she will teach you how to overcome challenges, which may also relate to other situations in your daily life! (who said learning a chord wasn’t practical?

The piano teacher, who is a professional with a love of music, will transmit this passion to you, increase your motivation, and enrich your playing. This will make it easier to learn music theory, play the key of middle C, and all those other less fun tasks!

Different formulas are at your disposal: private lessons (like the ones you’d book at Superprof, for example), a music school or a conservatory for higher education students.

And since you’ll be spending a lot of time with your piano teacher, at least an hour per week depending on the method you choose, it’s very important that you get along with one another. So choose a teacher who corresponds to your personality and objectives. And if you don’t find the right match at first, try again!

Where can I find private piano tutors? Don’t forget that a tutor might be the most important tool for learning piano.

Learn the piano with a teacher: music schools or private lessons?

Do you prefer to be guided by a teacher to take those first steps, or, in your case, first piano scales?

That’s great, but you’re now faced with another important question: private instructor or music school?

Pianist and fan Piano instruction can happen at any age as long as you’re motivated.

The first criteria is a practical one: location. If there is no music school located nearby, there’s a better chance you’ll find a private teacher in the area, or better yet, one who teaches you at your house!

If both options are possible for you, ask yourself these questions related to your work method and objectives:

  • What is your main aim for piano playing (as a hobby, to become a professional…)?
  • What type of class experience are you after (a personalized or very structured experience…)?
  • What type of music do you want to play (classical, jazz, variety, modern…)?
  • Do you prefer individual or group classes?

Your responses to these questions should be able to guide you to make a decision regarding your beginning piano lessons.

If you go to a music school, you’ll find:

  • Rigor and regularity in your learning programme,
  • A more traditional education,
  • Piano lessons and obligatory solfege training,
  • Group classes,
  • Exchanges with fellow students,
  • Exams to test ability and level of playing.

With private lessons, you’ll have:

  • A lesson that is adapted to your personal needs, aims and speed of progress,
  • Greater possibility in the style of music and tunes you can learn,
  • Flexibility in course schedule,

Generally speaking, the music school is for those destined to go to a conservatory for higher education and a career as a pianist or musician. It’s a sure means to acquire a very firm music foundation and know that piano keyboard by heart! If you are looking to learn to play piano for fun, or how to play your favorite piano music (other than classical repertoire), a private teacher might be the better option for your piano course! (Just beware of those free piano lessons.)

Practice makes perfect!

Whether you are learning to play piano alone or with the help of a piano teacher, practicing will play a vital role in your goal to become a piano player. In order to impact your playing and lead you to become a more advanced pianist faster, practice should be regular. That octave or major scale won’t teach itself!

So that you don’t lose motivation or direction, follow a schedule, such as one hour of playing every day or every two days (depending on your personal piano playing goals). Regularity is just as important as quantity. It’s better to play those black keys every three days than five hours every now and then!

Your piano playing won’t progress without training and exercises (those famous piano scales!). Sadly, there are no miracle solutions. Even if your piano teacher is Elton John, if you don’t practice several hours each week your progress will be little to none.

And afterwards, you’ll be at the same level of our Superprof, Antoine P. (portrait of a piano teacher). Goodbye easy piano songs, hello Chopin!

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