Chances are, you’re reading this article for one of two reasons.
Either you want to learn how to play the piano for yourself or you want someone else to learn, like your child for instance. Am I right?
You are also reading this article because you don’t know where to start or you want a second opinion, and that’s where we come in.
You have the dream, so we’ll provide the knowledge you need to achieve it. Just sit back, relax, and soak in the material that follows.
In the end, you’ll be ready to take action, putting your fingers to the keys and tickling those ivories. Let’s dive in!
At eight years old in the 90’s, I wanted to learn piano. My mother searched for teachers in the Yellow Pages (remember those?) and asked for recommendations from friends.
Once we chose a teacher, we scheduled 30-minute lessons and drove to (and from) her private studio weekly. We also bought an old spinet piano with quite a few quirks.
Three decades later, you no longer use the Yellow Pages and your options for learning have multiplied.
Thanks to the internet, you can avoid the time, expense and hassle of traveling to a studio.
Online courses, interactive apps, and live lessons through web chat and video tools bring lessons to your home, making learning the piano more accessible and convenient than ever before.
These developments carry terrific advantages, providing you with interactive, graphical interfaces that can accelerate your understanding and may be especially captivating for children.
“Play the keys as they light up on the screen!”
If you struggle to understand a lesson, you don’t have to wait an entire week for your next lesson, because you can replay the lesson on your computer or phone whenever you like, putting you in control of your learning experience.
Despite these advantages, technological innovations carry potential disadvantages as well.
Furthermore, learning piano via technology may diminish musical artistry, portraying piano playing as nothing more than a technical exercise rather than an adventure in artistic expression.
So, while technological platforms can make learning piano more interesting, learning from an in-studio instructor can make your journey more inspiring.
That being said, the choice is entirely yours and there is no one right answer. The question is not, “What is the best way to learn piano?” It is, “What is the best way to learn piano for me?”
You can’t drive without a car and you can’t play baseball without a bat and glove. In the same way, you can’t play the piano without a keyboard. But what kind of keyboard will you choose? An acoustic piano or a digital one?
Acoustic pianos stand out as the traditional choice, whether upright or spinet, studio or grand. They offer real mechanical action, give you fuller control of the sound, and produce superior tone and timbre.
So when you press the keys, you can “feel” the small vibrations as the felt hammers strike the metal strings, you can hear the acoustic reverberations of the sound, and you can shape the sound with the pedals as a potter shapes wet clay.
What’s more, when you play a nocturne by Chopin, you know that you are playing the kind of instrument that Chopin himself once played, guaranteeing a more authentic and intimate experience, the kind of musical experience championed by acclaimed musicians like Josef Lhevinne and Andre Watts.
Even so, digital pianos offer exclusive benefits that acoustic pianos fail to provide. They are portable and slim, whereas acoustic pianos are obnoxiously heavy. Digital keyboards do not need tuning, which can be expensive, and are immune to fluctuations in humidity.
They feature volume controls and headphone jacks that equip you to practice in privacy without disturbing people around you.
Many keyboards feature recording capabilities, allowing you to save and replay your performances, and they may even connect to your computer, enabling you to compose original scores through intuitive software like Finale, Sibelius, and more.
If you had asked me five years ago to choose the better piano option, I would have chosen an acoustic one without hesitation. Today, such dogmatism is no longer possible.
Digital technology has improved so dramatically that unless you plan to be a world-class musician who mesmerizes the crowds at Carnegie Hall, your digital options serve as an equally viable alternative for your musical exploits.
Once you’ve selected your instrument, it’s time to start learning for real. As you sort through your options, remember – there’s no one right answer!
In fact, even the best option for you will be imperfect. So let’s survey your choices together and evaluate the pros and cons of each one.
The following list provides you with a range of options, ordered by their degree of traditional or technological elements.
Self-Teaching, Do-It-Yourself Methods
- Following standard piano teaching curriculum
- Studying music theory and applying what you learn on the keyboard
- Playing by ear
- Taking private lessons with an independent instructor
- Taking private lessons through a piano education center
- Enrolling in standardized online courses
- Following videos and tutorials
- Utilizing software and apps
A Hybrid Method
- Taking private lessons online
At a glance, which of these options seems best for you? Not sure? Then let’s take a closer look.
Self-Teaching, Do-It-Yourself Methods
These DIY strategies for learning piano remove the “middle man,” saving you a lot of $’s while requiring you to exercise strong personal determination. Are you up to the challenge?
Following Standard Piano Teaching Curriculum
This is the most reliable and wholistic DIY approach because it adheres to established pedagogical (“piano teaching”) curriculum.
If you take this path, choose from mainstays such as Alfred piano methods, Bastien Piano Basics by Kjos, the Faber and Faber Piano Adventures series, and the Suzuki Method. Most piano instructors use methods like these and for good reason.
Music education experts have developed these methods, and these acclaimed curriculums have trained students successfully for generations.
Though each series will distinguish itself from the others by some sort of philosophical or pedagogical nuance, they all tend to follow a similar pattern.
Supplemental but optional resources may also be available, including books that feature popular tunes, Christian hymns, performance songs, Christmas melodies, duets and more. As you can see, this DIY method offers many resources.
The books in each series may cost you anywhere from $7 to $30 apiece, though you may be able to save some $’s by purchasing used copies through sites like Amazon or eBay.
By taking this standard curriculum approach, you will receive the most comprehensive DIY learning experience possible at a reasonable price.
Most of these curriculums provide helpful, thorough explanations for important concepts, enhanced by colorful markings and illustrations, helping you to overcome the absence of a teacher.
Even so, you will need to apply yourself diligently. If you don’t understand a concept, then you will have to resort to searching Google or YouTube or to finding a skilled musician who is willing to answer your questions.
Studying Music Theory and Applying What You Learn to the Keyboard
This strategy takes a more minimal approach than a full piano curriculum provides, focusing on music theory alone.
This means that you will focus on the written and structural elements of music, but not on the technique, style and practice of producing sounds on a keyboard (you will have to guess at these latter elements yourself).
To benefit from this approach, you will need some innate musicality and a heightened personal aptitude for applying and analyzing information in a practical, musical way without outside assistance.
As challenging as this method may seem, it offers some valuable benefits.
For one, it is highly cost-effective.
For nominal $’s, you can purchase the theory books alone from the established curriculums I’ve previously mentioned, while not purchasing the methods and technique books, too.
You can also opt to purchase a book devoted to explaining piano theory in a thorough and straightforward way, such as The Complete Book of Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences by Willard Palmer.
Besides affordability, this approach equips you to play the piano in an intelligent manner. You will learn to think carefully about the music that you play.
In summary, you should view this method as playing by ear “on steroids.” You will learn to produce musical sounds and songs, knowing what you are playing on the keyboard and why you are playing it that way.
But you will not learn how to sit, how to position your arms and hands, how to press the keys, how to pull off difficult progressions, and how to express yourself as maturely as possible.
Playing by Ear
If learning to play piano with music theory alone is playing by ear “on steroids,” then playing by ear is … well, um … playing by ear without steroids.
This approach will only satisfy the most experimental learner because you will learn nothing more than what you can discover for yourself, and even then, you won’t even know what you’ve discovered.
As you might guess, this stands out as the most affordable option because you will pay no teacher and you will buy no books or curriculum. (If you want some curriculum for following this approach, then check out Hear and Play)
But the greatest disadvantage of this approach is also clear – you will receive no help or outside assistance apart from yourself.
To play existing music by ear, you must listen carefully and repeatedly to the songs you wish to play. Then you must attempt to play those songs on your keyboard by trial and error, working out the melody first, then adding additional notes and harmony later.
To play new music, you must imagine the sounds in your mind first. Then you must experiment aloud to see if you can match those sounds on the keyboard.
For an even more barebones approach, just play around on the keyboard and see what comes out. Then keep on playing until you discover some sounds you like and go from there!
But if your musical goals are low, and you only wish to “plunk out” a few tunes here and there for some casual fun, then bookmark our webpage, save your money, and give this method a try.
If you find yourself wanting more over time, revisit this page to choose your next step. We’ll be here for you!
These traditional methods benefit from the personal guidance of an instructor.
Though these methods require additional $’s and time, they also provide a higher degree of accountability and insight along the way. Do you desire the payoff that this serious approach will provide?
Taking Private Lessons with an Independent Instructor
If you have money to spend and if you crave the mentorship advantages and personal accountability that a skilled instructor offers, then you should give serious attention to this time-honored approach.
So, how should you begin?
You can follow a similar approach using The Royal Conservatory teacher finder tool.
For a more grassroots approach, you can consult an online resource like TakeLessons.com, which provides informative bios and a map of pre-screened teachers in your area.
You can also try the “word of mouth” approach, asking your neighbors, colleagues, or friends for recommendations.
If you are involved in the homeschooling community, your local co-op may be an excellent source for “word of mouth” referrals.
Certified MTNA instructors may also provide quality referrals if you ask them to recommend former students of their own who may be available to teach you lessons; though these instructors may not be listed in the certified directory, they may be just as skilled as their certified mentors and – best of all – they may be more affordable as well.
Private instructors provide you with distinct advantages.
Though they will likely use a standard pedagogical curriculum (like Bastien, Alfred, Faber and Faber or Suzuki), they will adapt these materials to meet your individual needs and pace of learning, providing you with personal accountability by monitoring your weekly practice routine.
They will also offer personalized advice and answer whatever questions you may have, combining standardized curriculum with customized, supplemental resources.
What’s more, some teachers can provide you with performance opportunities like occasional group masterclasses and public recitals, expanding your personal development.
With all of these advantages in view, the greatest disadvantage (and obstacle) to this approach will be cost.
In addition to purchasing printed materials (see Following Standard Piano Teaching Curriculum), you will also need to pay your instructor.
You should anticipate rates ranging from $30 to $60 or more for a weekly 30-minute lesson. 45- and 60-minute lessons will cost more.
You should also account for travel expenses. Instructors who travel to their students’ homes usually charge an additional fee to cover their travel costs.
If you travel to your instructor’s studio instead, you should account for your own travel expenses. Additional fees may also apply.
Taking Private Lessons through a Piano Education Center
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a music school or education center. This option resembles Lessons with a Private Instructor in many ways.
In some cases, these centers may grant you access to a broader array of cutting-edge resources as well as to more performance (recital) and group-learning (master class) opportunities than an independent, private teacher may be able to provide.
If you value collaborative, group learning, but still need intensive, individualized instruction, then this option may be for you. But before you sign on, be sure to ask some important questions.
How does the education center screen its teachers? Are they certified by the MTNA or some other reputable board?
Not all learning centers are created equal.
Do they make public resumes, CVs, or bios for their teachers available for prospective parents or students to review beforehand? While some centers screen their teachers very well, others may hire college students with minimal music skills on a part-time basis.
Also, be aware that a piano or music education center may be costlier than a highly-qualified independent instructor. In addition to paying their teachers, these centers also need to cover the costs of general administration, promotion, and facility management.
For an example of what a learning center like this can offer, check out Keys to Success, a reputable music-learning hub in New York City.
You can also check out Sage Music School, a comparable learning outlet. Then search Google for comparable options in your community and request a tour of the facility and a private test-drive, consultation session.
Like the Traditional Methods, these approaches retain the “middle man,” but they differ by replacing a personal instructor with technological tools instead, utilizing internet and software resources to guide you on your journey.
Though these options offer a more engaging learning experience than ordinary DIY methods will do, they still require a strong degree of inner tenacity to keep on watching (the videos), keep on clicking (your mouse), and keep on pressing those keys. So, do technological tools inspire you to do this?
Enrolling in Standardized Online Courses
We live in a world of proliferating online education. To learn new things, we no longer need to attend a brick-and-mortar classroom. We can log on to our computers to receive our education instead. These innovations extend to learning keyboard skills.
Piano for All is one such online venue. This innovative platform is “designed to take complete beginners to an intermediate level faster than any other method.”
For a one-time payment of $79, you receive 9 e-books, 500 audio files, 200 video lessons, email support, and lifetime updates.
Ultimately, this program teaches you to play in an improvisational way (a sophisticated version of “winging it”). It does not teach you to tackle pure sight-reading (like playing Bach or Beethoven). But if improvising is your goal and you are a visual and audible learner, then Piano for All may prove significantly more helpful than reading a printed book on music theory.
For a more comprehensive approach which focuses on traditional piano playing, I recommend the reputable online platform Zebra Keys.
This free resource offers an extensive array of step-by-step pre-recorded video “lessons” with a human instructor sitting at a keyboard. Some videos also include helpful, graphical visuals for how to play chords, scales and specific songs.
In addition to these videos, you will benefit from a variety of other tools and resources, such as downloadable sheet music, a “note trainer,” “interval ear trainer,” informative articles, and more. Best of all, it’s all free!
But if you’re using a digital keyboard anyway, you’re an audible and visual learner, and you have a strong determination to succeed, this resource may outshine the standard printed curriculum approach at no financial cost to you.
A paid and newly-developed alternative to this approach is Hoffman Academy, offering a plethora of resource, including personalized daily practice instructions and fun interactive games. You should take a peak!
On one hand, learning the piano through standardized online courses requires a measure of DIY determination because this approach fails to offer the accountability and personalized input that an in-studio instructor provides.
On the other hand, this approach offers a flexible, reputable format enhanced by helpful video demos and an array of auxiliary tools – something that a standard, printed curriculum cannot provide.
Practice makes perfect, and no curriculum can do your practice for you.
Following Videos and Tutorials
Learning keyboard or piano skills this way resembles standardized online classes, but it differs due to a more bare-bones approach. Rather than offering a multifaceted toolset, this approach centers exclusively on sequential, prerecorded video presentations.
To be sure, you will find many free options for learning keyboard skills on YouTube. As you would expect, teaching quality will range from terrible to excellent.
To learn basic piano theory and keyboard skills, the Piano Keyboard Guide is promising.
The video instructor, Mantius Cazaubon, also offers an array of focused keyboard classes at Udemy for as little as $18 per class. You will find other worthwhile video-learning options at Udemy as well.
Before you commit to a free YouTube or paid Udemy track, you should explore your options at Lynda.com as well.
This is a growing, professional video-training treasure trove provided by LinkedIn Learning offering a promising set of options. To sign on, you must subscribe for as little as $25 per month.
Beyond this, other independent options include sites like Piano in 21 Days (which focuses on teaching you to improvise and use chords to play popular songs) and Playground Sessions, and the list is growing every day.
Playground Sessions platform has been around for more than 7 years, and today it’s one of the most reputable piano learning software out there.
It doesn’t just offer video lessons, but is actually a combination of two approaches, since it uses video lessons together with the piano learning software which brings back that interactive element to the learning process.
The software was co-created by the legendary Quincy Jones (all-time most nominated Grammy artist) and includes lessons for all levels – from complete beginners to advanced musicians.
One of the main features of the platform is that you get to learn music theory using famous contemporary songs as well as all-time classics.
Aside from hundreds of lessons, you will get a very extensive music library with hundreds of songs of virtually any genre.
Just pick the song you want to learn and follow an interactive music sheet as well as a graphic on-screen keyboard that will show you the exact keys you need to play and the fingers you should use.
Before you enroll in any of these courses, first evaluate any video previews and comb through the information on each site to be sure that the option you’re considering suits your goals and style.
Each resource tends to target a specific niche, such as keyboard basics, improvisational style, playing popular tunes, etc. If possible, look for online reviews to see whether previous users have enjoyed a positive experience.
Utilizing Software and Apps
Learning keyboard skills through software and apps incorporates videos and other features, as the previous online learning methods will do, but they do so with a special twist.
With variations, these options teach basic keyboard concepts and enable you to play a wide range of popular tunes. Many of them do not teach comprehensive music theory, sight-reading, improvisational style, or sight-reading skills.
Nevertheless, these software alternatives stand out for two noteworthy reasons.
First, they provide dedicated software and apps across popular operating systems, including Windows (via Microsoft store), Mac OS (via the iTunes app store), Android (via Google Play), and – in some cases – even Steam, making these learning resources available on your computers, tablets and phones.
These programs also feature plug-in connectivity enabling you to sync your electronic keyboard to your phone, tablet, or computer.
This enables your device to “hear” what you are playing and provide constructive, interactive feedback along the way, with corresponding, onscreen visuals such as finger hints, misplayed notes and hand assignments.
Online videos cannot provide this feature. Furthermore, some of these options (such as Synthesia) even offer support for lighted keyboards, illuminating the keys to your song in real time.
If you choose one of these options, be aware that the combination of electronic keyboards with a software driven approach tends to portray learning the piano as a technical and digital experience, which threatens to diminish the value of musicality.
In a limited way, many video classes overcome this challenge because the instructor often records from an acoustic piano, providing the student with a more sophisticated and expressive experience. So, if musicality is a goal of yours, then you should consider a different approach.
A Hybrid Method
This approach is gaining in popularity because it weds the advantages of a personal instructor with the benefits of technology. Are you looking for the “best of both worlds” and ready for a cutting-edge experience?
Taking Private Lessons Online
The advent of online web chat and video conferencing technology has opened up a new wave of possibilities for keyboard instruction.
Using Skype and comparable platforms, students are now able to enjoy live, responsive lessons with high-level instructors in real time, offering most of the benefits of an in-studio instructor.
All you need is a webcam, microphone, internet connect, and piano or keyboard on both sides. You can even use an acoustic piano!
With additional research and through word-of-mouth sources, you may even find some private, independent options such as Distinctive Music Studios.
Finding an online instructor is somewhat exciting because your search will not be limited to your geographic location. Within your search parameters, you might even find a teacher on the other side of the country or the other side of the world!
Expect to pay an average of $34 for a 30-minute lesson, $47 for 45 minutes, and $62 for an hour. So, before you choose your instructor, evaluate your options carefully, utilizing built-in ratings systems and online reviews.
Overall, this option works best for students who desire the benefits of personal mentorship and who desire a serious, comprehensive approach to playing the piano.
This hybrid option works especially well for serious students who are unable to travel, who experience difficult weekly schedules, and / or who have no quality piano instructors available in their local community.
To answer this question, you have to explain what you mean by “learn the piano.”
If you want to play “Hot Cross Buns,” then you can do that in less than a day (click here to learn how). But if you want to play the renowned Piano Concerto #3 by Rachmaninoff, then you will need to study for more than a decade, practicing diligently for hours a day with the guidance of world-class instructors.
Chances are, you’re aiming for something in between these extremes. If learning to play the melodies of popular tunes is your goal, then you can do this in weeks or months.
If you’re aiming to play the melodies and harmonies (with both hands) of standard, midrange classical pieces, then you can expect to study for multiple years. Furthermore, the farther you intend to go in your learning, the more seriously you need to consider taking lessons through a traditional approach or a hybrid web-conferencing arrangement.
Whatever the case, you need to practice faithfully. And did I say that you need to practice faithfully?
At a minimum, reputable voices will encourage you to practice 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. More serious students will need to plan for more. Are you up to the challenge?
No magic in the world will teach you to play, but the end result of your diligence will be magical indeed both for you and for all who hear you play!
Congratulations! You’ve made it this far, which means you’re that much closer to fulfilling your musical dream. So let’s recap before you step forward in your journey.
You now know the pros and cons of acoustic and digital keyboards. Acoustic pianos offer amazing musical qualities, while digital keyboards offer incredible convenience and cutting-edge features.
You also know the advantages and disadvantages of your learning options.
DIY methods make learning the piano affordable and convenient, but they prevent you from diving deep.
Traditional methods offer unparalleled personal mentorship and the highest ceiling possible, but they also cost the most bucks.
Technological methods offer accessible, visual, and graphical resources that are engaging and far more affordable than traditional methods, but they are handicapped in getting answers to your questions and feed a depreciated sense of musicality.
Finally, an innovative hybrid approach makes many of the advantages of private lessons available through live video-conferencing online, but it still requires some serious $’s.
Isn’t it amazing that you have so many options? Now it’s time to assess your goals, interests, finances and resources. What combination of keyboard and learning method(s) meets your needs and suits your style best?
Still have questions? Want to add some ideas from your own experience? Care to share what you think about what you’ve read here? Leave a comment below.
Also, please consider sharing this article with your friends and spread the joy of music. Thanks for tuning in!
About the Author – Thomas Overmiller
Thomas is a NYC-based writer (and husband, and father of six young children) who has devoted his life to pastoring Faith Baptist Church in Queens.
He interest in music began at 8 years old and he continued lessons through his senior year of college.
During middle school, he earned annual honors in the summer music festival of Indiana University, and he has taught private lessons using various curriculums and methods. As opportunity allows, he plays the piano for church worship, and he leads a weekly children’s choir.