You’re about to embark on a journey
You want to learn the piano. A word of warning: It’s not easy. Nothing that’s worth doing is easy. And it’s going to take you some time. But the rewards are well worth it! When you can sit down at a piano and play a piece of music with feeling and sensitivity, interpreting the writer’s intentions, even though they may have been put on paper two hundred years ago, you will have a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that is difficult to put into words. But you’re not there yet. You’re not even at the beginning. Let’s look at what’s involved…
The elements of learning a new skill
Different skills require learning in different ways. Imagine learning a new language. You could read a book to get started, learning vocabulary and grammar rules – at this point all the activity is in your brain. As you progress, you’ll start verbalizing the words and phrases, your mouth and tongue become involved. Then you’ll find it helpful to interact with another person and, at that point, your ears and facial communication abilities are brought into play. At various stages, different elements are mobilized and each one requires effort and practice. It’s the same with learning the piano.
So what are the components of learning piano?
You’ll need to learn how to read music. This is visual & brain work. Understanding how music is written down. It’s not especially difficult but there’s quite a lot to know, particularly as you progress. Following on from the above you’ll need to learn to instinctively identify notes when you see them on the stave. This is very much a matter of continual practice. The more you see them, the quicker you’ll become adept at it. Some of the teaching packages we review contain software to assist with this. You’ll need to develop a sense of rhythm, if you don’t already have one. Most people do but it may need re-awakening if it hasn’t been exercised for some time.
You’ll need to develop a level of dexterity that greatly exceeds that required to use a computer keyboard. But don’t worry, there are exercises that can assist with this. You’ll need to enhance your hand-eye coordination, interpreting the notes on the page and converting them, instinctively, into finger movements. You’ll need to develop a sense of pitch, ear-brain work this time. This, and understanding the fundamentals of western musical structure (it varies from culture to culture) will be crucial in developing a keen musical awareness. And…you’ll need to do all these things at once as you progress. Argghhh, I hear you say!
Well, don’t worry. Things aren’t quite as bad as they look. This is just the sort of thing your brain evolved to do in the millions of years before the piano was invented. Our brains are inherently plastic, meaning they are good at adapting to new behaviors and that continual repetition reinforces new neural connections within our brain.
When you attempt to learn something new, it helps if you understand what you’re learning and why. For the brain, context is very important, I remember being taught the Circle of Fifths in a very early piano lesson. I had no idea what it was for and promptly forgot it. Now, some years later, I can put it into context and so I understand what it’s for and why it’s so useful. As a result I find it easy to remember.
You’ll find the same with learning the rudiments of piano playing. If you understand what you’re learning and why, everything else will follow naturally. The learning resources that we endorse, although they approach piano tuition in several different ways, all take the idea of early understanding very seriously and therefore have a very good success rate. If you understand what you’re learning, you will not experience that familiar schoolchild frustration of ‘I don’t understand….’ and you will not lose motivation as a result.
There’s something else, and we’ve left it until last. Practice. They key to piano playing and developing the skills in the list above is practice. Practice, practice, practice. It just has to be done, there’s no way round it. In order to reinforce all the new stuff that you’ll be learning and to set those neural pathways in stone requires a good deal of repetition. It sounds tedious, but there’s a silver lining to this cloud. The more you practise, the better you’ll become and the better you become the more you’ll enjoy it.
We want you to be under no illusions. Learning piano, if you intend to take it seriously, is not easy. It’s a challenge. It wouldn’t be worth doing if it were easy, would it? But that is the joy of learning and mastering a new skill. Enjoy learning the piano and we can promise you, you’ll enjoy playing it for evermore.