The internet is full of hucksters telling you that learning to play the piano is easy. It's not, but it is fun. Every day I watch my students grow; the days turn into years. And, inch by inch, progress is made.
If I can help you on your journey, call me.
Revised August 2022
Restarting piano after a 4-decade hiatus? How to get started.
The hands will be slow. But they will improve. Patience is the key here. An analogy: You were at 18-year-old track star back in the day. You buy a pair of expensive running shoes, the kind that promise speed, endurance, and youth. First day out, you run 10K. It is glorious, next day you can’t move. Shoes go in the closet; you are back in front of Netflix. Oops, you’ve made a tactical mistake. Try this instead.
Have fun, if I can help, call me.
Listen to great music. A musical truism: "we are who we listen to".
Try this on your next new piece.
Depends on your goals.
If you would like to plunk out a few melodies, with minimal left-hand accompaniment, it is not too difficult. I would say a few months to a year you will be on your way. Factors that are important to consider though.
If you would like to play Classical piano at say grade 8, or early advanced level. Give it a decade from a standing start. In addition to the points above I would add the following: learn to love every aspect of the game. Do not skip a step: technique, repertoire, ear training, theory, history, etudes, etc. There are no hacks or shortcuts.
If you would like to play Jazz piano in a band, assuming you have already reached level 8 in abilities, give it a couple of years. All the points above are valid with the addition of a few other steps.
If I can help, please call.
Before the current crisis about 1/3 of my student body had their lessons online. Now it is everyone.
I've lost 3 students. Two lost their jobs, one didn't like online lessons. We all look forward to resuming once the virus moves on and they get back to work. Five new students have been added in the same timeframe.
I now meet my music coaches online now as well. Today with my "classical coach', last week with my "jazz coach". Every week with my drum coach.
I believe a number of students will remain online after the crisis lifts and the others will resume as they were.
If I can help you,
In short progress, you can learn, it will be slow and steady. Learning to play is a journey. I’m 45 years in, you’ve just started. Welcome.
Tips to keep the journey moving along
I teach many adults who are picking it back up later in life. Realising their dream to play Classical, Jazz, Blues, or Boogie Woogie with style and panache. Not to forget the few who want to play in a band.
Why do they restart? Beauty.
Regardless of why they quit, everyone returns filled with high hopes and noble intentions. I welcome them all to the studio where lessons are giving guilt free. And, enthusiasms are supported and encouraged.
Here is some of the titles they are currently working on.
An ideal student knows exactly what they want and why they want it. They have set time and resources aside to accomplish it.
An ideal student has read and respects studio policies.
Happy Student + Happy Teacher = Success
1. Communicate with your teacher your goals and aspirations.
2. Do your homework, consider that the so called boring bits are the important bits. I know, I take drum lessons. The new teacher is trying to get me to play quarter notes properly with the good tone and arm motion. This is requiring hours of concentrated effort. But, the musicians I play with can hear the difference already.
3. Participate in recitals. Everyone needs positive, self esteem building events.
4. Explore music outside of lessons: Sight read, attend concerts, listen to music, buy a music magazine, watch Youtube videos, attend a summer camp. (I'm going to Louisville Kentucky and Oxford England this summer for music training in both drumming and classical music).
5. Read Time Power by Brian Tracy. The best book on time management I know. Amy Chua's books are an interesting read for both parents and mature music students.
6. Remember musicians live to practice, performance is just the icing on the cake.
Piano Teacher and drumming enthusiast.
There are many ways to think about our musical development. Here is one way.
Level one: The student learns to control their hands. i.e. the hands do what they are told. This takes about 10,000 hours I’m told. I believe it. I’m about 1200 hours in on my drum studies.
This level is about technique, learning repertoire, ear training, theory studies, concert going, lots of repetition etc. All the stuff our teachers are teaching us. It is about learning to practice in an efficient manner. It is about patience, faith, and hope. And lots of focused time in the practice room.
Level two: The hands do what they are told. This is where professional musicians reside. They practice to maintain and refine their skills: keeping them sharp like a prizefighter.
Level three: Artistry, hands have something interesting to say and the ability to do so. Artists operate at a high level of creativity and skill, blending effortlessly, or so it seems to the audience, their ability to wow and amaze. Oscar Peterson, Lang, Lang, Stevie Ray Vaughan live here.
Get off the internet and go back to the practice room!
A tale of two adult students
I was thinking...
Hilariously absurd. Yet millions apparently attempt to teach themselves piano on-line. And, there are lots of folks willing to sell you a miracle DVD, book, subscription in your quest. No teacher needed they proclaim.
Some people spend a lifetime looking for shortcuts and online freebies, when a few short years of focused effort and disciplined practice with a professional teacher would lead to the results they seek.
My favorite is the "Play what you want promise" A common desire. But in order to play the latest chart topper a few basics need to be addressed i.e. how to get the dots off the page and into your fingers? No shortcuts here. A competent teacher can guide you through that little roadblock in short order. A competent teacher will want you to play the music you love. They also know the quickest way to get there: professional instruction, a willing student, lots of focused effort. Focused effort is practice, bench time, rehearsal, wood-shedding, what ever you call it, result=input, cause=effect, karma, you get the point.
The miracle is practice. The shortcut is work.
“Surrender to the expert”, great advice. Be teachable.
With that in mind I came up with these thoughts. The take away: your teacher probably knows best. Complete your lessons, then fool around following your own muse. Why?
People want to learn to play an instrument fast. (I included). We dream about performing the Moonlight Sonata, jamming the blues, or playing Christmas carols in just weeks. Two weeks would be ideal to quote Leo Babuata.
Search for “learn piano fast" in Google and you get 418,000 hits. The proprietors make wild claims and promises. Bunk, of course. Let us take a closer look at what it would take to play well.
Focused practice on the right things for a start.
Playing an instrument is primarily an athletic event. Physical skills take time and guidance. Of course, there are people who can guide you more effectively and quicker than others. However, few people can teach themselves past a rudimentary level. It would be like trying to achieve your black belt from watching Youtube. An absurdity.
Now assuming you have a competent teacher, in person or online, you have to learn effective practice habits. The habits of the pros. (I swear some people spend more time looking for shortcuts than the time it would take to learn properly in the first place)
Before you dive in with plans of practice marathons, I suggest you start slowly and build some good habits, habits that will raise the odds of success.
Step one: Listen to a competent recording of your pieces before starting to play. Then complete the assignment, and afterwards fiddle about.
Step two: Explore the instrument, improvise, and noodle about.
Step three: Add a little time each week to your practice sessions.
Step four: Inspire yourself by reading magazines for students like Keyboard, Pianist, Modern Drummer, Downbeat, etc.
Step five: Have faith in your progress. It is a lot of work to learn to play well. I practiced about 400 hours before I could play drums in an amateur band and not embarrass myself too much. Now I am up over 1000 hours in almost 3 years. If it takes 10,000 hours to reach expert status, at this rate I will be 80 years old. Nevertheless, I will be swinging hard. My goal is to add one extra hour per month to my practice schedule. Now my drum practice is about 6 hours a week. By the end of the year, I hope to have it up to about 12 hours a week. Which will cut the 30 years down considerably?
(In my forties, I studied and obtained my ARCT in piano pedagogy. I put in five thousand hours over 4 years of practice and study. I succeeded at it, and had an excellent finish, but the experience was the most difficult thing I ever did in my life, period. Berklee College of Music was a walk in the park compared to that experience.)
Final thought: Celebrate the small victories because it is the journey that counts.
These thoughts and acts will help tame the practice monster and give you some inner peace to help you persevere through the difficulties, defeats, and triumphs of learning to play well.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.