Can I Teach Myself To Play The Piano?

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As a piano teacher,  I have had a few parents at times disapprove of their children going on Youtube and learning piano songs. They are concerned because they think their children cannot learn to play the piano by themselves correctly.  In my experience as a piano teacher for over 20, years I would say yes you can teach yourself how to play piano songs with Youtube videos, books, apps etc.  However, to play the piano and really excel in technique etc, it would be in my opinion necessary to have some periodic feedback from an experienced teacher either online or offline.

 I think it’s great to have so much at our fingertips to learn new things by ourselves and I think we should take advantage of it!   I as a teacher like to occasionally check out what other people are sharing online when it comes to piano tutorials. It’s fun to learn new things and sometimes I end up joining some piano memberships which have been fun.  I get to dive in a little deeper into things I’m interested in improving.

There are different ways to learn how to play the piano.  Some people want to learn to play by ear, others want to learn note reading and others want to learn by rote


Learning By Rote

What does it mean to learn a piano piece by rote.   Here is what it says on wikipedia “Rote learning is a memorization technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it”.  Here’s what  says, “Students learn the piano by rote when they copy what their teachers play for them. Technically, the word rote means to learn something by mechanical repetition. Many piano teachers avoid teaching by rote because they think that it may prevent their students from learning to read music.”  

 For example when someone goes on Youtube and learns to play a song by watching, listening and copying someone else. This is where they are learning by rote.  If you are a new beginner, you won’t have much to show for all the time you have invested in learning a song by rote other than you can play 1 song. This is totally fine if that is your goal.  

 The next song you learn you will have to take the same steps.  You will have to watch someone play the song again and meticuously study and copy them to learn the song.  You possibly will learn some good listening skills which will be a plus. However, you will not be able to read and play music that is notated unless you take the time to study that on your own or from a teacher.

  I personally have done both and reading music is a pure joy to me compared to trying to watch and copy someone else play the music. However, I think we shouldn’t discard the enjoyment of a new student learning songs by rote.  I think they can be done simultaneosly if the student is interested. Learning a piano song by rote allows you to play something that you might be more interested and engaged with versus playing an easy piano song within your note reading ability.  Therefore I think learning some songs by rote as a supplement is beneficial while you are learning to read notes and rhythms. 

How hard is it to teach myself to play the piano?

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The answer to this question just depends on what you want to learn.  If you just want to play a few songs by watching Youtube videos and don’t really care too much about sound quality, I really don’t think it would be that difficult.

If you want to learn and read notes correctly, you would want to make sure you study a program that covers all the basics with some basic technique.  

However if you want to play some songs that have some technical ability involved, you would have to study the proper technique to be able to execute the technical parts with fluidity, beauty of tone  and ease.

For example, the first section of Fur Elise by Beethoven is fairly easy for people to learn by rote, however if they haven’t learned the proper technique, they won’t sound as good as someone who has.

The second section of Fur Elise I imagine would be too difficult for most begininng students to learn by rote. 

The third section of Fur Elise would be a little easier to play by rote than the 2nd section but still I don’t think you could make it sound beautiful without the proper technical training. 

What type of music should I practice to improve the fastest?

A lot of people would say classical music is where you will improve the most. Some would say a student should be playing the type of music they love or they will lose interest.  In my experience from teaching students for over 20 years, most students are not ready to play classical music or popular music in the very beginning. They should be playing mostly songs at their note reading and technical ability.

If try to give them some music that they love but it is quite a bit above their note reading and technical ability, they are excited at first until I start showing them how to play it.  Discouragement usually sets in and they don’t want to play the piece. They want to play something easier. For good reason–they simply haven’t learned the basic skills to be prepared to tackle the piece. Yes they can begin to play some of the more simple classical pieces by rote and start working on their technique but if I give them something too high above their level it only brings on discouragement no matter how great the piece sounds or how much they like it.  

 I don’t think it necessarily matters what type of music you play in the beginning. It  just matters that you start with the basics and some easy piano music. Our brains can easily process little bits of new information than larger amounts.  If too much is introduced to the brain all at once, it simply can’t take it all in and a lot is forgotten.  So don’t be afraid to learn how to play piano songs in the beginning that are simple. It’s okay to sound like a newby because you are a newby!

Don’t be in a hurry and gloss over basic piano skills but learn them well. It will make learning the piano seem effortless if you learn new concepts a little at a time.  I would recommend piano courses that moves slowly and gradually and provide a lot of material you can practice to apply the new skills you are learning.

You can always add a more challenging song to learn, that you can either learn by rote  or by note reading with the letters names and counting added to your music. However, if you skip the basics in note reading, theory, and technique and try to jump right in above your head, you will most likely figuratively speaking “drown” and want to give up!

Just think of a basketball player.  They usually can’t dribble the ball down the court at a fast speed until they can dribble the ball slowly in one place with ease and accuracy.  An ice skater can’t do a triple jump until they have mastered a single and then a double jump.  

It amazes me when students come to piano lessons and I am teaching them a 5 finger scale and they try and play it fast the first time.  When I tell them to go slow, they almost act like I am questioning their intelligence.

One of my past student’s refused to play slowly on their scale work and some of their music–I just kept telling them that they weren’t ready to play their music at that speed.  They just kept trying to go fast and then after multiple attempts of playing sloppy and not obtaining the results they wanted, they would listen to me and play slowly.

How Long Will It Take Me To Learn The Piano If I Teach Myself?

You might want to consider how long it will take you  to learn the piano if you teach yourself versus if you have a teacher that can help you.  Again this just depends upon what program or method you are learning and how motivated, and consistent you are with your practice. 

I love that you can go online and watch videos over and over again should you forget something.  However, can you ask the video a question? Usually not. However you can research and find answers to questions online.  Will this slow you down? Most likely. It’s nice to have someone that is knowlegable that can give you feedback and guidance along the way.

I know when I was building my first website, things were very slow until I got some help and then things sped up.  I’ll never forget a friend coming over years ago asking my husband for some help with Excel (software spreadsheet program).  He was at our house shortly and before he left, he said your husband just helped me figure out in 5 minutes what I’ve been working on all day.  So yes it’s nice to have some guidance if you are going to learn the piano by yourself to speed your learning process up, so you don’t learn the wrong technique, etc.


Where do I Begin If I Learn Piano By Myself?

I would definitely take advantage of online lessons. You can go onto sites such as Youtube and learn piano online free.  The problem here is that there is just so much information to sift through. How do you know where to even start?  There are also many “teach yourself piano” type books on the market.

I would only use this type of material as a supplement. I would definitely be focusing on a program that uses video training to go with the lessons as you want to be shown proper form and technique and hear if you are keeping up with the timing etc. This way you can hear how the music should sound and you will be shown how your hands, fingers, and body should be positioned.

I would not just learn from a piano app either as often this is computer generated and there is usually no piano technique demonstrated by a human person. Piano apps can be used as great supplements to your musical journey giving you a variety of mediums to work with. 

I would recommend joining a piano community where you have access to piano video tutorials and forums where you can communicate with like minded individuals.  Here you can share goals, struggles and successes with people who have the same interests that you do.

A piano community is even better when a real piano teacher leads the community and provides opportunities for students to receive feedback on their piano playing.   The main thing I love about learning piano online is the piano video tutorials. You can hear how you should sound and you can watch them over and over again in case you don’t understand or forget something. 


So I would absolutely say if you wanted to learn the piano by yourself in the comfort of your own home, there has never been a great opportunity and a wealth of material  is available to help you succeed.

I would just make sure you have some type of feedback from a piano teacher if you choose to learn the piano on your own.

If your goal is to be an accomplished pianist, you would want to make sure you start out with a program that the teacher knows about basic piano technique that gets you started on the right foot.

Please click here to learn more about me and my approach and my piano community for adult beginners at  Learn piano in the comfort of your own home but not alone!  Please enjoy one of my free tutorials on how you can use 3 simple chords to play hundreds of songs.   

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