I was definitely a late starter! I didn’t play an instrument as a child and I didn’t come from a musical background.
When I was in my mid thirties, I had a friend who could play the piano beautifully. I used to sit in awe as she played classical pieces that she had learnt as a child. The astonishing thing to me was that she didn’t play much anymore.
I thought to myself, if I could play like that I would be playing everyday! I would probably even be writing and recording songs … maybe even be famous on YouTube!
Then it came to me…
I am going to learn how to play the piano!
And so my adventure began.
I work as a high school teacher. Everyday, I am surrounded by people trying to learn things. I’m always amazed at how one learning method works for one person and not another. Learning is not a ‘one style fits all’ kind of thing.
So, from the beginning, I realised it was really important to find the best learning method (or methods) that suited me personally.
Before we begin…
There are advantages and disadvantages with learning to play an instrument as an adult. Let’s quickly look at the disadvantages.
1. You have a life
Yes, this is a disadvantage. Kids have an enormous capacity for learning partly because that’s their main job. No responsibilities and few distractions is a luxury that few adults enjoy.
2. You have no one to push you!
I classify this as a disadvantage for most of us because it takes discipline to learn an instrument – especially when you play badly!
Enough of that.
Now for a few advantages of learning piano when you are older…
1. You want to play the piano
This is huge. There are very few kids out there that truly appreciate what a gift it is to play an instrument. Importantly, if you really want to learn you probably will!
2. You can choose how and when you will learn
I rate this very highly. You can learn the way that works the best for you. You can also do it at the pace that suits your lifestyle!
So, let's get started
1. Get a Piano Teacher
I put this one first for a few reasons.
I had the crazy idea that I should probably learn to play the piano a bit before I went to a piano teacher.
My piano playing friend thought differently:
So, I took her advice.
Here are a few questions that my teacher asked me at our first lesson:
1. What do you want from playing the piano?
Such a simple question. I wanted to play songs that I love and I wanted to be able to sit at a piano, after a day at work, and be able to play and relax. I also wanted to write beautiful music and live on an island… (still waiting)
2. How much time do you have to practice and learn?
“I have about 30 minutes a night”. Even as I said that I knew that I would have to make time for learning to play the piano.
3. What sort of music do you want to play?
I hate this question. R & B, pop and maybe some soul??? I think I’m probably the next Alicia Keys!
4. What sort of piano do you have?
I didn’t have a piano. We chatted about some of the advantages of both digital and acoustic pianos. Because I live in an apartment, we agreed that a digital piano might be a better fit. I liked the idea of being able to practice at night with headphones!
A simple program
We then discussed a few learning methods and made a simple program for me to follow.
It went something like this:
1. Buy a piano (the difference between acoustic and digital pianos)
2. Get an app to get started on the basics of playing piano (best apps for learning piano)
3. Choose a song that I (really) wanted to learn and;
4. Go online and watch videos on how to play it
5. Practice playing the song slowly – one hand at a time
6. Come back in two weeks for a progress report and some further advice
In the first lesson she also showed me how to sit at the piano and how to hold my hands. She gave me a few links to videos that she liked about playing piano ‘correctly’.
I left inspired and ready to take on the world.
Things have not always gone perfectly for me. I consider myself a good teacher but I have to admit I am not the ideal student.
Anyway, I bought a piano and chose a song I wanted to learn to play. I found a tutorial on YouTube and learnt as much as I could before our next lesson.
By the time we met up again I was going around in circles. Straight away, my teacher showed me how to relax when I played the song. I was playing the piano like a video game. She reminded me that I was playing music.
I have been playing for four years now and I still have a lesson every two weeks. I can’t count the number of ruts she has pulled me out of and the time she has saved me. To be honest, there is little chance that I’d have stayed with the piano without her encouragement and advice!
2. Take Piano Lessons Online
Although not the same as having a teacher guide and push you along, taking lessons online has lots of advantages.
- There is an online course to suit every imaginable beginner
- The cost of online courses is considerably cheaper that personal one-on-one lessons
- You can learn in your own time and pace (Lessons at midnight? Why not!)
The main difference between online courses and piano apps wasn’t immediately clear to me. Online courses typically use videos and printed material (download a .pdf) to deliver information.
On the other hand, ‘apps’ are interactive learning tools that you typically connect your keyboard to via Bluetooth.
I have tried a few online courses and I rate them very highly. The main thing is to look around and find a course that is perfectly suited to what you want to learn and how you want to learn it.
Here's a few online courses that I liked
This is where I would start out if I were you! Udemy are recognized as a great learning resource for all sorts of things. One of their strengths is the variety of courses on offer.
At the time of writing this article there were 1759 piano courses available! There is everything from beginners to advanced classes, classical to gospel and learning by notation/theory and even playing by ear.
Importantly, you can access most of the other online courses via Udemy and often get a discounted price.
- Playground Sessions (Online courses plus a great app)
This is considered to be one of the best piano learning resources out there. Playground Sessions comes with some great technology (cool app), heaps of videos and great instructors!
I found Playground Sessions engaging from day one. They track your progress and gamify learning with rewards. What’s more, they let you play along with bands, which is great for developing your aural skills and timing.
Playground Sessions has monthly, yearly and lifetime subscription options.
I have put this in here because they have a great free option for beginners. This is where I started so that I could get a hang of learning online. The two main trainers are very personable and their approach really helped me get a grip on the basics.
Note: It’s important to find a trainer that you enjoy, because you will be spending a considerable amount time with them!
3. Piano Apps and Bluetooth
Technology has come a long way and learning with Apps is a lot of fun. With MIDI and Bluetooth you can link your digital keyboard directly into the online learning resources and have them assess your playing in real-time.
Recommended article: Best apps for learning piano
Flowkey is one of the most interactive piano apps. The interface is very user-friendly and it takes you through the lessons and songs at a great pace. It also has an excellent 10-lesson beginners course to get you started. Nice!
Flowkey has a free trial that is worth signing up for to see if you like the program. If you do, they have 3 subscription offers that start at about $10/month. Good value!
Skoove is an enjoyable way to learn piano and comes with a great app and online lessons.
My favorite thing about Skoove is probably the focus on learning to play songs. Importantly, they also have a great selection of tracks to learn including songs by Coldplay, Adele, Ed Sheeran etc.
The Skoove app is pretty clever too. It analyses your playing and gives you useful feedback.
3. Simply Piano
Simply Piano is an excellent resource for learning piano (beginners to advanced).
The lessons are gamified in that you have to complete a section before moving on to the next stage. At the end of each section you get to play what you have just learnt with a backing track (band).
I find this sort of app effective for teaching me how to sight-read, but I get a little restless with the repetition and cheesiness. That may just be me. I also think I could develop a few bad habits because they don’t have videos of people actually playing (FlowKey does!).
There is a free version of Simply Piano available so it is definitely worth a try to see if you like it.
4. Learn your favorite songs via YouTube
As I mentioned in the beginning, it is often a good idea to choose several methods for learning to play the piano.
I use my teacher to keep me honest and help me with my technique and direction. Then, I use online courses and apps for exercises and practice. I compliment all of this by rewarding myself with learning a favorite song via YouTube.
It’s pretty remarkable how many great songs are available online for free. The best part is that real piano players are breaking the song into bit-sized chunks and putting lots of emphasis on the ‘feel’ of the song.
For me, this is where all the fun is. I didn’t start playing piano to rattle of scales and exercises, I wanted to play music. I understand that you have to walk before you run, but it sure feels good to play a song you love.
YouTube is also a great resource if you don’t want to use the online courses and apps listed above. As you would expect, there are videos on just about everything you could ask for, available for free.
5. Jam with friends
Ok, this isn’t so much about learning to play the piano as it is about how to get better at playing.
Once you have worked your way through some of the methods above, I suggest playing with other musicians. I found this a bit nerve-wracking at first but it did wonders for my playing.
I started ‘jamming’ with a guitarist and a singer after I had been playing for about a year. We didn’t get together to form a band or record an album (for that the world can breathe a sigh of relief). We just wanted to have a good time and learn how to play a few songs together.
So with low expectations, we agreed on three songs. I have to say, I have new found respect for actual bands! We were awful. The guitarist and I were both inexperienced, and it took us ages to get out of each other’s way and not compete to be heard.
But that’s the thing. I had to go through the pain of being awful to appreciate the pleasure of when we weren’t. After a few sessions we started to mold together. I discovered that often, what I didn’t play was just as important as what I did play.
I was also ‘forced’ to learn the songs so well I could relax while we played them.
Learning an instrument is a life skill that improves with age. I am so glad that I made the decision to learn to play the piano and that I have had the support and resources to guide me on my journey.
The main advice I would give to any adult who is about to begin learning piano is to manage your expectations. Take little steps everyday. Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t play as well as the 4-year-old prodigy on YouTube!
Remember, you are doing this for yourself. Playing the piano because you love to play is the best way to get better.
I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.