Why play the piano?
Do you sometimes yearn to play the piano? Perhaps you didn’t have the opportunity when you were growing up and wish you had? Or maybe you had some lessons and gave up? Maybe you’ve never had time and now finally you do? Perhaps you have plans to create your own music and want to improve your understanding of how music works? Maybe you just want to have fun?
The health benefits of playing the piano are great
Playing the piano offers improvement of dexterity, an increase in brain function, the exercise of reading notes, the challenge of memorizing, and ultimately, the ability to do different things with each hand at the same time. It’s also good for mental health, reducing stress and increasing relaxation.
Children who study a musical instrument are likely to be smarter than those who don’t and it can greatly enhance their life. This is especially true in their teenage years when it gives them a positive social setting – such as playing in a band or orchestra – and increased self esteem at a time when confidence can take a nose-dive.
What kind of music do you see yourself playing?
This is likely to be the type of music you love to listen to, although if you’re into grunge, metal or hip-hop, those styles don’t always translate well onto the piano. However, classical, R&B, jazz, blues, boogie, contemporary classical such as “River Flows in you” by Yiruma all do well on the piano.
If you’re keen 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”.
Blues and boogie tend to use the “12 bar blues” which is a set pattern of chords that doesn’t change. It’s quick and easy to learn and great fun to play. Have a go at “Feel the Blues” here.
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 have a teacher, they will make a plan of lessons for you to follow. If you use an App, they can also take you through a well thought-out path to achieve your goal.
First things first – have you got a piano to play?
If you’re an absolute beginner, it really doesn’t matter what kind of piano you play on to begin with. If you have a second-hand keyboard, that will do fine. Try some beginner lessons on it and see how you get on.
If you need to get a keyboard, check out GumTree and Ebay to start with. If you feel the urge to get an acoustic, you can also go for a good used piano or go to your local dealer for advice. Renting a piano is a good option too. Many dealers will rent with the option to buy with a reduction in price after you’ve rented for a few months. Check out our guide to choose between an acoustic and an electric piano.
How to go about playing the piano?
Depending on your preference of how you learn best, you can do one of two things – or a combination of both. You can find a local piano teacher and take lessons. Or you can learn from an app. To get a feel for it, and whether you’re going to enjoy it, why not start with a few beginner lessons on Skoove?
Basics of playing the piano
Make sure you use the right seat at your piano or keyboard. You don’t want a chair with arms – or a bean bag! A piano stool is designed to be right for most people, but if you’re particularly short or tall, you may need an adjustable seat. Your feet should be flat on the floor, your back straight and your arm at a 90 degree angle.
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 number over notes, they are guiding you as to 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.
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 forever struggle 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.
Learn to play chords and arpeggios
A chord consists of three notes that are related to the same key and create harmony together. Playing with chords is a really efficient way to learn the piano – both playing and understanding the theory behind them. If this is your first try with chords, you might like this fun introduction with Chrome’s Music Lab!
Being able to quickly find chords 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 the notes can be “arpeggiated”, meaning that you play them one after the other: lowest note first, then the middle note, then the top note. 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 arpeggiated chords, you will get a beautifully sustained, flowing sound.
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.
How and when to practice
It’s best to make a schedule. Practicing the piano is like brushing your teeth. It has to become a habit.
If you’re not in the mood, go to the piano anyway. You can explore some chords, make up a tune, pick out a tune you know, or do some lessons on an app. If, after a few minutes, you still aren’t getting into it, go do something else and try again later.
Play even if you’ve only got two minutes. I often play in my coat, standing up, waiting for my husband to get ready to go out. (I find that if I play a very fast piece, he’s ready sooner…) I might get two minutes but if I do that 5 times in a week, that’s an extra ten minutes I’ve been at the piano that week.
Don’t wade through a whole piece that you’re learning. Take one chunk of the song and focus on it for a while until you feel you’ve progressed, then move on to the next chunk. If you need some guidance, here’s a great article on the art of practice.
Get into the habit of using a metronome. A metronome helps you to control the eveness 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 musical.
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, 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 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