Many people wanting to learn the piano aren’t really sure where to begin. This is quite normal for any musical instrument or in fact any new hobby. We often worry about whether we will be good enough to start, what equipment will we need, how much time is required and the costs.
So let me break it down to give you the answers to those frequently asked questions!
Do I really need to take lessons?
There are some fantastic pianists who are self taught, who can play from ear, who never read music and never took a piano lesson. There are others who have learnt solely from the internet, apps and playing along with recordings. Whilst these stories are of course awesome and inspiring, the significant majority of musicians don’t start this way and hire a music teacher to help them get started. In my experience many people who try the self-taught method find it very challenging and end up quitting quickly. This is a great shame as it wasn’t that they couldn’t play the piano it was the lack of support and clear direction to make great progress at the early stages.
There are lots of benefits of taking piano lessons with a specialist teacher. Your piano teacher was once a beginner so understands the challenges of learning the piano and will have helped many students make great progress at the early stages. The teacher will help your child with good posture and technique that avoid injuries, will select music that is progressive and will help with understanding how to play musically.
A good majority of music teachers have been to university and studied music at degree level and higher and will have played professionally. The time commitment to master the instrument at this level is huge and your teacher will have also had piano teachers guiding them along the way. Therefore your piano teacher will be able to help guide you through music performances exams, audition pieces and help with the process of applying for music at university.
Will I need an instrument?
The short answer is yes. You will need an instrument to practice on each week in-between lessons. It really is better if that instrument is in the house and you have instant access to it. You are more likely to be inspired to practice if you see the instrument daily and it is set up and ready to go.
What instrument should I buy?
You’ll get varying advice depending where you look. Ideally a good acoustic piano is the best instrument to start on but in reality not everyone has one nor the space to fit it in their home.
An electric portable keyboard, such as the Yamaha PSR EW310, is a great starting point for beginners, especially little children, and I personally love the Yamaha series of keyboards but the Casio brand is equally as reliable and good value. The keyboard you purchase should have touch sensitivity. This allows students to press a key and control the touch (volume of key depression), in much the same way as a piano. This is important for developing good piano technique from the start.
Portable keyboards are not normally full-sized. This means that they have 61 or 76 keys instead of the 88 keys a full size piano has. This will only really become an issue once you move away from the beginner books but a portable keyboard is still a good investment for the first year if you are unsure whether you will like learning the piano.
The great benefit of these keyboards is all the additional functions – recording, different instrumental sounds, rhythms and the ability to connect to music software on a computer. This means there are lots of great tools for experimenting and composing with. I always had a set of Yamaha keyboards in my secondary school music classroom and students loved playing melodies and composing their own pieces. You are usually looking at spending between $200 – $600 (depending where you live in the world) on one of these instruments.
Other benefits include; the ability to wear headphones for practice, it comes with an attachable music stand, the keyboard is lightweight and easy to move, and you can always buy additional items like a foot pedal, stool and x bar stand for the keyboard to sit on. Often music stores or on-line retailers sell all of this as a bundle package and it really is worthwhile buying it all rather than buying as separates at a later date.
For a full sized keyboard that doesn’t break the bank, I would recommend the Yamaha P45 portable piano. It’s around the $600 mark and will last you for years. I’ve have one myself and I loved it. It has been great for teaching Passionate About Music Education students in their home, out on location and online. It’s a full size keyboard (88 keys) and you can buy the keyboard stand for the keyboard to sit on. I would recommend the fixed stand rather than an x stand as it is sturdier and less wobbly. This will help with practising and will also mean that the piano is at the correct playing height.
I also love the fact it can transpose which means when I accompany singers I can easily transpose the part. Not a skill needed straight away but definitely one you will learn as you become a more accomplished pianist.
Again you can purchase all the accessories and I would highly recommend getting a good piano stool. Some piano stools do not adjust and this can be something to consider. If you can buy an adjustable piano stool they really are a good investment.
If you decide to buy an acoustic upright or grand piano then it will last you for a life time if properly maintained. You will need to keep the piano regularly tuned (once or twice a year) and this way the piano technician will be able to monitor the strings, pads and action to ensure the piano stays in great working condition.
I have a Yamaha concert grand piano and teach my Passionate About Music students from it. It also has a silent system which is perfect for practising the piano with headphones on – turning the piano from acoustic to electric. It is a great addition and many of the newer pianos and models come with this feature.
I would always recommend buying a new or second-hand piano from a piano shop as they will have had it serviced and maintained and can help with delivery and future care of the instrument. If you do decide to buy secondhand from the internet it can be easy to buy an instrument that isn’t good value or has internal issues. If you go this route make sure you seek some proper advice from a piano technician or music teacher before buying it.
Do I need to practice daily?
You do not need to practice everyday but you do need to practice between lessons. It’s really like going to the gym – if you go regularly you stay fit, your muscles become stronger and you enjoy the quick progress you make in becoming healthier. If you only go to the gym once a week then the rate at which you will see change will be slower. This is the same for playing the piano. It takes time and consistency to get good and this requires regular practice.
The best practice is goal orientated rather than time orientated. What I mean by this is when sitting down to practice really considering what you want to improve in the practice session. This could be specific bars in the piece, playing a section with both hands, mastering technical exercises, etc. Often when people practice for 30 minutes they just play pieces from beginning to end with the same errors. This doesn’t improve your playing as effectively.
Will I need music books?
You will absolutely need music books and there are thousands of amazing pieces and books out there to purchase – many between $10 – $20 each. Your teacher will guide you through the process and help you buy the right books. Often people want to download music for free and this is breaking copyright rules and does impact the livelihood of composers who create music for us to play. More importantly, it denies you from having a book of 30 pieces to play from when practising at home. You’ll be surprised at how many people still have their music books from when they were a child learning an instrument and it is great to revisit this music.
Can I play for fun or do I have to take music exams?
Playing a musical instrument should be fun and of course can be hard work at the same time like any other hobby. The amazing thing about music is that it is a life-long hobby and the skills you learn will never disappear. There are many people starting lessons in retirement and playing into their 90s.
There are some great external music exams and you may love the challenge and structure of working towards a specific exam goal. ABRSM, RCM, Trinity are great courses and have specific series of piano exams that go from prep to Grade 8 (or 10 for RCM) and then onto diplomas. For students passing grade 6 ABRSM and higher these exams are recognised by universities, particularly in the UK where the grades are converted into UCAS points. A great way for music students to be recognised for their dedication and commitment to learning an instrument. The ABRSM piano books, like the other courses, are easily available and come with audio downloads so that you listen to the piece being played by a professional and you can play along. We tend to offer this course at Passionate About Music Education but we also switch courses for students who want to go a different route.
Some learners do not like taking the exams and prefer the challenge of performing in recitals and concerts or even recording their pieces onto Youtube. Other routes include accompanying others, playing in bands or playing duets. This is also perfectly normal and there really is no right or wrong path for learning a musical instrument. The main thing is you enjoy playing the piano and feels a sense of pride, confidence and joy at your progress.
Do I have to play classical music?
Regardless of the musical genre or style you want to play, the language of music is the same. So if you play jazz, blues, classical or church music the way to read the notation, rhythms and musical terms will be the same. This is what makes music such a universal language and why learning to read music opens up so many doors to musicians who want to play different genres and styles of music.
If you have any questions about learning the piano please feel free to reach out to us at Passionate About Music Education. We have a wonderful team of dedicated musicians who are ready to help you.
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