If you want to learn to play piano, you want to get going quickly and start making music right away.
One of the most inspiring stories about learning to play the piano fast is Ryan Gosling, who starred as an aspiring jazz pianist in the Oscar-winning film, “La-La Land”. In order to achieve his goal of playing live piano for the film, Gosling took two hour piano lessons five days a week for three months. It paid off, as his piano playing was one of the highlights of the film. So … can you do this? Without the private daily lessons?
It’s very achievable – and here’s how. First of all, decide what kind of music you want to play.
What kind of music do you dream of playing?
This is likely to be the type of music you love to listen to. Classic songs, R&B, jazz, blues, boogie, classical piano and contemporary classical such as “River Flows in you” by Yiruma are styles of music that sound best on the piano.
If you’d like to learn “River Flows in You”, try Skoove’s lesson here.
Learning to play classical is the most challenging as the music is complex and independence of hands is paramount. However, if you want to play the piano to a high level, learning classical piano music will get you there and be extremely rewarding. Start by trying out Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”.
Jazz can go from very easy to very advanced, depending on the type of jazz you see yourself playing. If you want to play music like that in La La Land, there are some great tips in this article.
Once you are clear about what you want to play, you can plan your path. If you use an App such as Skoove, it will take you through a well thought-out path to achieve your goal.
1) Learn the fundamentals first
If you have no experience playing the piano, first learn how to sit at the piano as well as the correct position of your arms and hands. This only takes a minute but it’s very important, especially if you plan to spend many hours at the piano.
Your hand should be in line with your forearm with fingers gently curving downwards. Watch this video and check your posture and hand position.
Next, learn your finger numbers. In your mind, number your fingers from one to five with both thumbs being ‘one’ and pinkies being ‘5’. When you see small numbers over notes, they are telling you which finger to put on that note. Doing this makes getting smoothly from one note to the next very easy without running out of fingers or having to jump or twist from one position to another.
Now have a go at playing “Lean on me” by Bill Withers:
2) Learn to read music
Start learning to read notes right away! This is the best way to learn so that you relate the notes on the page with the keys on the piano. Get into the habit of looking up at the notation rather than down at your hands. In early lessons this is easy because your hand doesn’t move once you’re in your starting position.
Learn five notes in the right hand and then five notes in the left hand in the same session. Many people focus for too long reading right-hand notes and find themselves struggling with the left hand. Learning both at the same time makes this a lot less likely to happen.
Learning to read music also involves learning note values – how many beats a note is worth. You’ll also learn about dynamics (whether the music should be played loud or soft) and articulations (whether you should play smoothly or with short, detached notes). Other instructions within music involve getting from one section to the next and which bits to repeat. All these things comprise “music theory” and you’ll find yourself automatically learning these things as you learn the piano.
💡 Check out this article about reading piano sheet!
3) Learn how to build chords
This is perhaps the best thing you can focus on in order to learn to play the piano fast, so spend a good chunk of time learning and practicing chords. A chord is a group of three notes, and most music is basically built with these chords. There are twenty-four basic chords to learn – twelve major chords and twelve minor chords.
Take a look at this article which tells you how to create chord progressions on the piano. They are all built in the same way – meaning the distance between each note is the same. If you learn to play all the chords and practice finding them quickly, you’ll be able to play a lot of songs on the piano in a very short time. You can use chord charts to play virtually any song. If you have a really good ear and can pick out a tune, or if you can sing, you will already be able to make a long list of songs to play really easily and quickly. If you can’t pick out a song by ear, learn to read music.
If this is your first try with chords, you might like this fun introduction with Chrome’s Music Lab!
Being able to find chords quickly allows you to play any song with a chord chart (usually written as guitar tabs) and even if you want to play classical music, you’ll begin to see those chords weaving in and out of the most beautiful well-known tunes. For instance, the first part of Beethoven’s Fur Else is mostly an A minor and E major chord.
Chords can be played with all the notes together at the same time or as Arpeggios . This gives a more flowing effect and is very nice used in songs such as Canon in D.
💡 If you incorporate the sustain pedal with the arpeggios, you will get a beautiful flowing sound.
4) Look for patterns
Music is usually built with many patterns. Chords are found all over music and you’ll sometimes see them as solid three-note groups, or else broken chords – meaning the three notes of the chord are played one after the other instead of all together.
Every song you know well, you know because of the patterns in it. You know how the chorus is going to go because – whether you realize it or not – you’ve memorized the pattern of notes. The verse is the same each time musically, even if the words are different. The chorus is often the most memorable pattern of the song. It’s the repetition of these patterns that makes us love a song and give us the ability to sing along.
💡 Have a look at “Une Comptine d’un Autre Ete as an example of patterns in music. Although this is an Intermediate lesson, you can follow the notes along on the “listen” segment while you see and hear the patterns of broken chords in the music. Notice there is a certain pattern in each hand, which fit together.
Broken chords are common in many songs, so if you learn chords you’ll be able to identify them within the patterns of music and that will make learning the song quicker.
5) Build dexterity
Beginning on the piano you might feel clumsy and awkward at first. Maybe your fingers won’t always do what you want them to. I’m amazed how many people hold their breath when they’re doing something challenging on the piano! Take some deep breaths and relax!
Practicing scales is one of the best ways to build dexterity. Scales are a ladder of notes going up and down eight notes. They are useful to build finger strength and also, to learn the pattern of black and white notes in each key (such as C major or A minor). If you learn a scale in each hand and then practice them hands together, you will raise your skill level faster. You can also do scales with hands going in opposite directions (called “contrary motion”). But scales are always optional if you’re playing for fun, and focusing on a tricky passage of music in a song you’re learning will also bring you great results.
💡 To learn more about developing finger dexterity, read piano exercises to make your hands stronger.
6) Learn what each hand does separately
If you’re learning a song that uses both hands, learn each hand separately and practice it over and over before trying the hands together. The better each of your hands knows the movements it’s making, the quicker you’ll learn the song. A good habit to get into is to play through each hand’s part separately until you get it correct three times.
Then practice the hands together. Here are 4 piano finger exercises that will set you on your way!
Putting the hands together is the hardest part of learning a song, so take it measure by measure. You may well find that you have to decrease speed and increase repetition. Patience is paramount here. Stick at it, and you’ll get it!
💡 Check this article out about improving piano hand coordination!
7) Slow practice
If you want to learn to play the piano well, practice slowly! It may seem counter-intuitive but it gets the best results rather than going too fast and making the same mistakes over and over, often without realizing it. Once you have have a song going along correctly at a slow speed, start to increase the speed a little bit at a time.
8) Tackle the hard bits first
When you start a practice session, it’s good to warm up with a song you already know or some finger exercises. But once you begin to practice a song you’re learning, focus on the most difficult bits and practice them over and over until they get easier. It’s more productive to do this early in your practice session rather than later when you might be getting tired or impatient. Skoove helps you with this as you can repeat a lesson as much as you want before moving on. Try it with this hit song by the Beatles:
9) Don’t always start at the beginning of a song
We tend to sit down at the piano, open our music and start from the beginning. But, like the advice about tackling the hard bits first, sometimes it’s best to start half way through a song or even toward the end. This is because if we always start from the beginning, the beginning gets better and better and the middle and end nearly always lag behind in fluency. So get into the habit of starting in the middle or starting near the ending and when you have done them a few times, then go to the beginning and enjoy playing the song all the way through.
10) Invest time to practice
Playing the piano does require commitment and the more time you commit, the faster you’ll learn to play the piano. It’s best to have a set time of day when you spend a certain length of time focused on practicing the piano. You can keep a practice log, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to practice each day. Keeping a list of goals – songs you want to be able to play by a certain date – is a great way to stay on track and achieve your goals.
💡 Get into the habit of using a metronome for one minute each practice session. A metronome helps you to control the evenness of your playing as well as your tempo (speed). If you get a metronome app, you can choose a drum track to play along to instead of a click which makes it more fun.
It might get difficult at times…
The idea that playing the piano is great fun isn’t wrong. However, there is a great deal of hard work that goes into it. A lot of that work can be fun if it’s approached in the right way, but do keep in mind that sometimes it might seem difficult.
Some of my students – particularly adults – tell me they don’t think they’re progressing they’re progressing, when they clearly are. I liken it to a child you see every day. As a parent you often don’t notice subtle changes and growth in your child. But when you see a child you haven’t seen for a while, you notice how much they’ve grown and matured. So, while you’re the one sitting at the piano, you may not always notice your improvements because sometimes they’re gradual.
There are hurdles to overcome when you learn the piano and you are likely to have moments when it feels too hard. You might feel you aren’t getting any better and it’s unrewarding. This is normal – you’re not alone! However, if you stick with it and push past these moments, the rewards are great. If playing the piano was really easy, everybody would do it!
There are many groups for amateur piano players such as New York Piano Group via MeetUp or Adult Amateur Pianist groups in London and Manchester in the UK. MeetUp.com has several groups listed. If there isn’t a group near you, consider starting one.
If it’s just not your thing to physically join a group of like-minded people, there are plenty of online forums with encouraging amateur piano playing members, and they often have teachers on board to give advice.
Either way, know that with a bit of effort, it doesn’t have to be a lonely occupation and sharing your triumphs and pitfalls is a wonderful part of the journey.
Play music you love, for sure. But don’t shy away from something because you think it’s too hard. Taking one hand at a time, one measure at a time, you will get there with perseverance. Playing something that’s slightly too difficult brings you up to the next level. You might not be able to put the hands together for quite a while, and when you do, you may not be able to get it to the speed it should be for a while, but as the weeks pass and you keep persisting, you will get there.
For some inspiration, have a listen to this Spotify Playlist:
Author of this blog post:
Georgina St George has been playing piano most of her life. She has a thriving piano school on the south coast of England. She loves to infuse her students with her passion for music, composing and performing. Her music has been featured on over 100 TV shows and her musicals have been performed in New York and London’s West End.