Learning the piano yourself - Advice and counsel

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon May 02, 2005 8:14 am

Although most visitors to this Board would probably counsel most students to avail themselves of a good teacher to help them learn piano, there are some well-motivated students who may feel that they don't have the time, money or access to private teaching to be able to take private lessons. We have written on this topic on our Learning to Play page, but much more could, and probably should, be said. For those who are training themselves at home or are contemplating such, what advice would you give? What are the "do's and don'ts"? Is software alone adequate for the beginner or should it be supplemented? At what point should a home learner transition to private lessons, recognizing that private lessons are always preferable? If you are learning on your own, what would you like to know to help you? Should a home learner take an occasional lesson to help monitor progress and correct technique and interpretation? This topic can go in lots of directions, all of which should be interesting, so let's hear what YOU have to say.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue May 03, 2005 8:03 am

Well, I'll add my tired old refrain again: LISTEN to a variety of good music as often as you can; it's the only way to learn the language really well. And anyone can do it on his own.

Dr. B.
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Tue May 03, 2005 8:09 pm

Interesting topic.

About a year before I started taking piano lessons, I purchased a small key board and the three “Alfred Adult Piano” books. I followed the books step by step and practiced religiously. I managed to learn a few pieces and thought I was progressing well. However after about a year, I realized I wasn’t really making much headway. I was playing the correct notes, using proper dynamics etc., but something was missing. I knew my playing didn’t sound the way it should, but I didn’t know why.

I decided to enlist the services of a piano teacher to see if that would make any difference. I found a very well qualified teacher and with books in hand, went for my first lesson. (Talk about a humbling experience) In that first 45 minute lesson I learned I was holding my hands too low over the keys, using the sustaining pedal incorrectly, playing alberti base unevenly and so on. I also discovered “scale practice” which I had not even tried before.

It took me a long time to break those bad habits and learn proper techniques.

That was seven years ago and I have been taking piano lessons continuously ever since. For me the money and time has been well spent. My teacher has helped me reduce tension in the left arm, taught proper reading techniques, assigned specialized practice where I needed it, taught me when and when not to use the metronome and so on. The list is endless.

Dr. Bill mentioned that by listening to a variety of good music as often as you can, anyone can do it on their own. That may be so, however speaking for myself, I am certain I would not have advanced to where I am today without a teacher. I may not have needed continuous lessons, but I certainly needed some instruction.

I have not tried any of the software packages.

AFlat
:D
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Postby 70-1109548524 » Wed May 04, 2005 12:12 pm

Way back in 99' or 98', my parents bought me a cheap Casio Keyboard and a teach yourself beginner book. A week later, we packed our bags and went with Dad for his two month training. I couldn't bring my keyboard, so I brought my teeny tiny piano that I'd had since I was about five. Dad brought his guitar, and we'd have long discussions about music (we were both just learning) and he'd print things off the internet for me. At the local library, I checked out a few Talc Tolchin tapes about playing the piano. I learned how to read notes, play a few basic scales, and play melodies on my toy piano.
After we moved out of our apartment into our house, I'd proved how serious I was about music, so my parents bought me a piano. A month later I started lessons. I already knew about the circle of fifths, sharps, flats, etc. My teacher was amazed. I played Bach's Minuet in G in a recital after 10 lessons!

I think I was lucky because I only had the piano a very short time before my lessons started. My keyboard didn't have weighted keys or a decent pedal, and I can't imagine what bad habits I would've acquired if I'd had to adjust to a "real" piano on my own.

I'm not sure what to say about software because I've never used it. I learned from Talc Tolchin's tapes how to properly turn my thumb and hold my wrist up, sometimes I'd play along with him. I'm not sure if computer programs do that, and I don't think going back and forth between computer and piano is such a good idea.

Dr. Bill and A-Flat have already said listen to good music, so I'm just going to add a suggestion. When I first started listening to classical music, it all sounded the SAME and was BORING. It took me a LONG time to find what I liked. To not go down the same path I did, I'd suggest listening to movie scores. They sound modern, but most are made with the same instruments as classical music and often steal from classical works. They're very good for learning the "feel/mood" of long, wordless music. (If you don't want to buy any movie scores, just listen to the end credits of movies you watch, if you can.)

Remember: HAVE FUN!!! :p
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed May 04, 2005 1:19 pm

Folks, I never meant that anyone could learn to play the piano on his own--far from it! I meant simply that anyone could avail himself of LISTENING.

If it all "sounds boring" at first, I'd venture to suggest that the fault is more with the listener than with the music. By that I mean that perhaps we often simply hear rather than listen. We're surrounded by so much background music everywhere that we hardly even know it's there sometimes, and we're about as conscious of it as we are of wallpaper.

Worthwhile music (and I don't mean only classical) is communication, and you have to give it your attention the way you would read a good book or converse with someone who's saying something important to you. You can't expect to get much if you just let it wash over you while you're concentrating on something else. Give it a chance, and be receptive.

Dr. Bill.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu May 05, 2005 7:37 am

Assuming that a person has some knowledge and appreciation of the piano literature and wants to give himself some basic piano training, what would be a good strategy for doing that? After all there are many good software packages, videos and books available to help learn to play. What should such a person look for in learning aids? When should they transition to private teaching? How can they know that they have problems with technique of the sort AFlat described? Does training yourself, rather than using a private teacher, do more harm than good, even assuming it is done using the best materials available.
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Fri May 06, 2005 6:44 pm

I have very little knowledge on the issue of training aids available, therefore I won’t pass judgement on their usefulness.

However, I would say that if a person is serious about learning the piano, then it is of the utmost importance to have PROPER instruction at the very beginning. It is much better to learn proper techniques etc. at the very beginning, rather than later. (I read somewhere that it takes at least twice as long to unlearn a habit, than it does to learn it) That sounds about right to me.

I would also recommend that care be taken to hire a qualified teacher, as opposed to the next door neighbor who played piano twenty years ago. A well qualified teacher will know exactly what to watch for as well as what to listen for. Proper body posture, hand positioning etc. can be very important.

After the initial few lessons to get started, I suspect that some people could do quite well on their own. But I suspect that an occasional lesson would benefit most everyone along the way. It is very easy to develop bad habits without being aware. As an example, after seven years of continuous lessons, my teacher assigned me a new piece from grade seven RCM. I found one of the left hand positions in this piece a bit challenging, and as a result, I would raise my left shoulder somewhat to help facilitate my left hand placement. I was totally unaware I was doing this. After my teacher brought this to my attention, I stopped doing it and the playing of this particular phrase became easier.

Have rambled enough. I will be watching with interest to see what others have to say.

AFlat
:)
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Postby Beckywy » Fri May 06, 2005 7:03 pm

I guess it depends on the student of what they want to learn and how far they want to go. If they just want to play chords, some easy pieces, and know enough to pick out tunes on the piano - that's what the self-taught systems are for. Comparable to the guitar- lots of kids want to learn to play the guitar - but mainly what they hear on the radio.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby Tatyana » Fri Jun 17, 2005 11:10 am

i'm a self taught student and I would say the basics are easy to grasp and I self taught all the way to Mozart's, Mendelsohn and other classical composers but I only know how to read sheet music! This is were the hard part comes in because I sorta play in church and it is really dry, so I'm searching for something tok spice it up like improvising with glissando's and all that awesome stuff people add. The problem with learning by yourself is that I'm afraid to expirement and improvise; I go strictly by what I know is right such as reading sheet music. Now I'm trying to teach myself gospel piano (great! it's a whole new greek world.) I would say learning by yourself only works for certain people and I guess I'm just one of them. Although I admit it's a lot harder because you have to break a path for yourself instead of being a follower and assistance would make life a lot easier for me. Either way my advice would be learn by yourself along with a teacher since if you get stumped just ask for help.
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Postby Tatyana » Fri Jun 17, 2005 11:22 am

Is software alone adequate for the beginner or should it be supplemented?[quote]
May I ask what is this software that Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor posted int his first post? As far as I know I don't use that. Is there something I should know that would help me especially with freestyle church music?
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Jun 19, 2005 7:16 pm

Guest wrote:Is software alone adequate for the beginner or should it be supplemented?
May I ask what is this software that Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor posted int his first post? As far as I know I don't use that. Is there something I should know that would help me especially with freestyle church music?

I was speaking generally of the great volume of software for piano and music learning that we have reviewed. You can find summaries of and links to our software reviews on our Piano Software Reviews page. I don't know of any learning software specifically devoted to "freestyle church music," though many of the learning programs provide examples of well-known church music in their repertoire and training choices. Presumably, any software that helps one learn to play properly should help with any genre of music to at least some degree.




Edited By Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor on 1119230255
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Luxasia » Wed Jun 29, 2005 3:27 am

I am 38 years and just started to learn how to play ( 1 year+). Like Aflat, I started by buying the 3 alfred adult self teach books and just completed the second book. As a self learner, I do not know where my playing technic is correct and I also tend to go through the pages/lesson quickly as no one is to monitor my progress. Somehow, I felt something is missing. This led me to take a 3 month intensive course from a music school nearby and there is where I noticed that some of the things I played was wrong.

It helps to have someone qualified to monitor, assist and correct you from time to time. I am still learning by myself now and will suplement with those short programmes offred for adult to correct my playing as well to add up some spices to playing. My teacher told me that I'm probably in grade 2-3 equivelant.
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Postby Chris X » Sun Jul 03, 2005 11:53 pm

I learned by myself roughly for three years before taking lessons. At that time, I wanted to learn how to create simple songs to play on electronic keyboard and synthesizers. I used to play in bands, and I enjoyed gothic and techno music. Being self taught was alright for that situation, and since I already knew how to read music on the guitar, learning how to read was not too difficult either.

At that time, I was also starting to gain interest in popular classical pieces, and I began working on them. When I started taking lessons, I began to learn that there were a lot of deficiencies in my playing. I had timing issues, played with next to no marking (i.e. dynamics, phrasing, etc), and my technique was very limited. I still have technical issues because there is a lot that I have learned on my own incorrectly.

I will list some of the excellent aspects I have learned while taking lessons.

how to learn
how to practice effectively
how to monitor technique/use effective hand movement
how to avoid injury
how to be imaginative and faithful with the score
how to approach a piece/ select the right one
meter and timing

There are many more aspects I could list, but that may take many pages.
:D
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Postby opera » Mon Sep 26, 2005 10:37 pm

I am brand new to PEP and so glad to have found such an informative site. I was wondering if there are any piano methods for beginners out there, that any of you would recommend. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Tue Sep 27, 2005 5:35 pm

opera,

Welcome to the board.

I have hyperlinked a page below from the main part of "The Piano Education Page". There are several articles there which I think you will find interesting. You will notice one article at the bottom of the left column entitled "Learning to Play on Your Own". Most of these articles are quite informative.

Learning to Play the Piano

Let us know how you make out.

Regards,

AFlat :D
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