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How to Learn to Play the Piano Alone

By Brentyn, published on 04/09/2018 Blog > Music > Piano > Learning to Play the Piano Without a Professional Teacher

“There are eighty-eight keys on a piano and within that, an entire universe.” -James Rhodes

A recent research report conducted by Trinity College London reveals that 76% of children aged 5 to 14 say they know how to play a musical instrument. This is a huge increase compared to 41% in 1999.

More children and of course adults are learning musical instruments such as the acoustic and bass guitar, clarinet, flute, violin and the piano.

Learning the tunes, melody, rhythm and basics of the piano can be done in many ways: at a Conservatoire, an association, private or public music school and private one on one lessons with a professional piano player…

However, these aforementioned methods have the disadvantage of either being difficult to integrate into or too expensive. Moreover, as an adult beginner, it is difficult to find classes at music schools or Conservatoires.

With all that being said, why not teach yourself how to play the piano?

In this article, you will find some helpful tips for successfully learning the piano as a beginner without taking professionally taught lessons.

Certain Pitfalls to Avoid When Learning Piano Alone

playing the piano It is very important to find reliable sheet music, preferably from a music store to avoid making mistakes that are harder to correct later on. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Let’s start by saying how difficult it is to learn the piano and read sheet music alone. However, if you have already started attempting this great feat, you are to be commended because your motivation is off the charts!

You are going to need this motivation constantly throughout this journey as well as rigour, passion and determination.

Do Not Just Buy Any Book of Piano Methods!

The first thing to know is that the songs you play and what you play on will not make you a good pianist.

Thus, the only essential thing really needed to learn the piano is to own a piano or at least a synthesizer or keyboard. 

Therefore, before going to your nearest music store to buy the newest book of fashionable and recommended piano methods, sit behind your instrument and let your fingers run over the black and white keys. You probably already know how to play a simple melody without ever having taken a piano lesson explaining music theory.

Beware of the Free Sheet Music Offered on the Internet!

Generally, when you want to learn the piano alone, it is not with the goal of becoming a world-renowned pianist but simply to play some classic tunes and have some fun.

When having nowhere else to look, it is often common to rush onto the internet to find the score of your favourite movie and learn to play it.

Enthusiasm is great when learning a new instrument, however, free sheet music often contains errors in rhythm, measurement, notation and piano fingering. So you risk learning something false that will difficult to correct because of incorrect media files!

On the contrary, a paid music score will be edited by a professional piano teacher and you will, therefore, ensure a quality piano score.

In this situation, do not hesitate in going to a music store to get advice from a professional.

Respect the Correct Finger Positions!

The most common error for a beginner is to not respect the fingerings of a score. These are the numbers printed above or below the notes to ensure correct hand position. They all correspond to one finger:

  • Thumb,
  • Index,
  • Middle Finger,
  • Ring Finger,
  • Little Finger (or commonly known as Pinky Finger).

Not respecting the correct position of fingers is, unfortunately, a common mistake. We do not necessarily pay attention at first and yet it is extremely important!

If you are not careful from the beginning, you will adopt bad habits and not be able to achieve the fluidity and speed required on some songs. This can stunt your progress and cause you to become discouraged.

Neglecting the Rhythm

The metronome is not there just to look pretty! You have to learn how to use it as soon as you learn the first piano chords.

Rhythm is extremely important because that is what will make the difference between a successful professional performance and an amateur one.

It’s the rhythm that makes you want to clap and dance when you listen to rock, pop or jazz music. 

Practice makes perfect! Working on the rhythm will minimize the false notes and make you more comfortable during improvisation sessions.

Therefore, after deciphering and understanding the metronome, make it a habit to work on rhythm even at a very slow pace.

Skipping Important Steps

As a beginner, you often want to go too fast.

Be realistic because learning music theory and playing complete songs on the piano takes time, especially as an autodidact. Do not try and play complicated pieces from the beginning. You may become discouraged and this will stall your progress.

Master one concept or method before moving on to another. Slow and steady wins the race!

Is it Possible to Learn the Piano Without a Teacher?

the right moves Finger positioning and flexibility is difficult to learn without the help of a professional piano teacher. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Learning how to play the piano without the play of a professional teacher, unless you call yourself Beethoven, Mozart, Bach or Chopin, requires a lot of work!

When one is alone, the method and organization are of paramount importance. 

One must at the same time organize his own piano lessons, play melodies and observe himself to be able to correct his mistakes.

This is not an easy task. The organization and planning of classes are normally part of the skills a professional piano teacher possesses.

Without some beginner classes from a music teacher, you may not start to learn the right way.

Here are some faults that may occur while teaching yourself piano:

  • Fingering mistakes are common and can be easily corrected by a teacher. But as an autodidact, you have to be extremely conscientious of your finger positions while playing a musical score.
  • The misunderstanding of rhythm: hence the importance of investing in a metronome.
  • Bad posture and positioning of the hands and wrists: a music teacher will correct you from the beginning in this regard, alone, it will be more difficult to notice. Do not hesitate to film yourself and make sure your posture is correct.

It is possible to learn the piano alone but it is a multi-tasking endeavour to correct your own mistakes and at the same time learn the piano smoothly.

Difficulties During Autodidact Learning

Learning to read piano sheet music without having already learnt music theory is already complicated but self-taught students will ask themselves additional questions.

Where to Start?

For beginners, it’s best to choose a piano method to follow. Ask for advice in a music store or institute to choose the right method for you.

Do not neglect to buy a booklet of the basics of music theory and a book of simple music scores to get started with. 

Instructions from a piano textbook are helpful but watching videos of piano playing tutorials is so much better! There are many online piano lessons available for autodidacts who want to learn in a more engaging way.

There are several essential things to know in the beginning when learning the piano online:

  • Improving finger flexibility and getting them to move more smoothly,
  • Practice the left hand and then the right hand,
  • Practising your scales; the right hand first and then the left hand, then try to move both hands simultaneously,
  • Work on practising several octaves,
  • Try to practice some agreements.

Learn songs that suit your level. In the beginning, it is highly recommended to play songs from movies than the most famous pieces of classical music.

Evaluate the Difficulty of a Piano Score

As a complete beginner, learning music theory can be complicated and so can knowing if the piano score is too difficult for your level.

Here are some tips to know which piano scores are suited for a beginner:

  • The length of the piece: in the beginning, it is better to play rather short songs from a range of different music styles.
  • Finger gaps and hand movements: avoid notes that are too far apart. As a beginner, we do not yet have the necessary flexibility in our fingers to reach far away piano notes and that is completely normal!
  •  The rhythm: choose a simple binary rhythm symbolized on the score by a C, 4/4, 3/4 or 2/4.
  • The tempo: avoid tempos that are too fast at first. These are usually marked on the piano score by many 16th notes or triple quavers.
  • Musical accompaniment and independence of both hands: choose songs with a light accompaniment, that is to say, few notes using the left hand.

How to Continue Progressing

After having reached a certain level, you will surely feel stagnant and will not know what to do to continue progressing at a brisk pace.

When this occurs, it would be extremely beneficial to take some lessons with a particular music teacher. Professional music teachers offer new and practical exercises in addition to correcting you on certain points that may be problematic.

A private piano tutor is able to take notice of your progress to reassure you and give you other ideas. This is a great way to learn the nuances, expressions and reinforcement of the fingers.

Hiring a professional piano teacher is a breath of fresh air that will revive your motivation and commitment!

Piano Pieces that are Accessible to Learners

playing songs Imagine played beautifully by John Lennon is a classic song that can be quickly mastered by a beginner piano player. (Source: Visual Hunt)

To progress, it is important to choose songs that you will enjoy playing and listening to.

Here are some piano songs suggestions that are completely accessible to beginners learning alone:

  • Let it Be by the Beatles,
  • My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion,
  • Letter for Elise by Beethoven,
  • Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen,
  • My Baby Just Cares For Me by Nina Simone,
  • No Surprises by Radiohead,
  • Imagine by John Lennon,
  • Dream On by Aerosmith,
  • Breakfast in America by Supertramp,
  • Angie by The Rolling Stones,
  • Someone Like You by Adele,
  • Back to Black by Amy Winehouse.

Definitions for Playing Piano Alone

Learning the piano alone also means acquiring new vocabulary terms.

What does Adagio mean?

Adagio simply means soft in Italian.

What is a cannon? 

A cannon is two or more voices that play the same melody in a deferred manner.

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