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How to start learning piano

Bron, in Music lessons
Sep 02, 2020 | 5 min read

So you’ve decided to learn piano! Congratulations – making the decision is the first step in this exciting and rewarding journey. Not sure how and where to start as a beginner? We’ve got some tips for you:

1. Name your inspiration: Why do you want to learn piano?

You’re most likely here because you’ve been inspired already. Maybe it was a song or an artist, it could be that you’re swept away by the vast musical possibilities of the instrument, or perhaps you simply love the sound. 

Whatever it is, ask yourself, Why do I want to learn piano? – and try to identify that inspiration, even if it’s a vague feeling in your gut. 

Because – without discouraging you – learning piano (or any instrument) will have its challenging moments. And when you run into frustrating – and temporary – hurdles, recalling these inspirations will help you zoom out and refocus on the bigger picture. 

2. Name your aspirations

Your inspirations will help identify your aspirations: Do you want to play Stevie Wonder songs? Do you want to learn to improvise? Do you want to become a concert pianist? Do you want to explore electronic sounds for writing purposes?

Even if it’s something like “making beautiful music”, identify what makes something beautiful to you.

We’ve listed some things you should probably prioritize in your learning, based on genre:

Learn the concepts of Meter, Beat, Tempo, Time Signature and the common language for rhythm in Western music
While you can learn by ear, it’s helpful to be able to name the pitches and understand how they work in relation to each other, i.e. scales, tonality and chords.
3. Chord Progressions
3. Read music
3. Jazz scales

And of course, your goals and inspirations can change along the way, and that’s okay! Just whenever you hit a wall, don’t forget our Soundbrenner mantra: Musicians aren’t born – they’re crafted from practice.

Ultimately, your growth as a musician is about developing your own artistic taste and sensibilities.

3. Choose your instrument

Obviously, you’ll need an instrument to learn piano! There are plenty of options out there and it can get overwhelming, but here’s our breakdown.

There are mainly 3 categories:

  1. Digital Keyboard – sometimes called Electric Keyboard. Physically most minimal. Sounds are synthetic or sampled. Comes with adjustable volume and often with other features like different instrument sounds, metronome, and even drum tracks to play along with.

Two important factors:

1) How the keys feel – The keys on an acoustic piano offer some natural resistance – and the way you play with that resistance lends variety and nuance to your sound – loud, soft, harsh, smooth, etc. 

Digital keyboards can replicate that resistance and sonic response to varying degrees. The closest (and more expensive) replicas will have hammer action, which copies the actual hammer mechanism of an acoustic piano, or weighted keys. There are also semi-weighted or unweighted options: Semi-weighted keys have a lighter and quicker feel, which could work better for playing with more modern sounds. Playing unweighted keys is the cheapest option, but they won’t be able to give you color.

2) Number of keys – literally how many notes you can play on the keyboard – and it will affect the length of your keyboard.

The full range has 88 keys (7 octaves) and can give you satisfying low bass notes or twinkly high notes. The next largest has 76 keys (6 octaves), which will suffice for most songs, especially beginner ones, and a decent option if limited by space or cost. You’ll probably run into the lower and upper ends with most pieces with 61 keys (5 octaves) or fewer, but hey, you know what they say about a creative limit… 

  1. Digital Piano – Sturdier than the digital keyboard, designed to emulate the acoustic piano. More expensive. Will have similar features to Digital Keyboard, like different sounds and adjustable volume.

Unlike the digital keyboard which would be placed on a separate keyboard stand, a digital piano often comes with a sturdier frame with pedals attached. It has the full range of 88 keys and will feel and sound pretty close to an acoustic piano, with hammer action, although the sounds are still sampled at the end of the day. Digital pianos will often have similar digital features to keyboards as well.

3. Acoustic – The traditional, stringed instrument. Wooden hammers strike the strings when the keys are played, which makes the sound you hear.

At the end of the day, no digital instrument can truly replicate the tactile vibrations of an acoustic instrument! (And you know we’re all about the good vibrations.)  But, with technology moving quickly these days, some digital instruments may feel and sound better than a low-end acoustic piano. 

If you end up going with a digital option, do try to get your hands on an acoustic piano every now and then (at a music shop, practice room, community center, etc), so that you know what your digital instrument is trying to replicate. 

N.B. You might also see Stage Pianos around – those are tailored for live performances and we wouldn’t recommend them for beginners.

Digital Keyboard
Digital Piano
Pros- Portable and takes up less space
- Comes with features and sounds
- Can wear with headphones for nondisruptive practicing
- No maintenance required
- Full 88 keys
- More compact than acoustic piano
- Comes with features and sounds
- Can wear with headphones for nondisruptive practicing
- Solid feel, close to acoustic
- No maintenance required
- Most authentic
- Superior tone and dynamic range
Cons- Variable sound quality and feel
- Need additional accessories such as keyboard stand and sustain pedal
- Not very portable
- Sound is still sampled/synthetic
- Difficult to move
- Requires maintenance, like tuning

4. Be your own teacher (even if you have one already)

With the various ways you can learn piano these days – private teachers (in-person and online), YouTube tutorials, apps, or even books – it comes down to what works best for you. Each has its pros and cons, with varying degrees of personalized guidance, convenience and cost, and all of them are valid ways to learn piano.

However, no matter how you’re learning, when you practice alone, you only have your own ears to rely on – and that’s when you become your own teacher. 

Being your own teacher means actively listening to yourself, to constantly reflect on and evaluate your playing – and learning to do so is an essential part of your journey as a musician. 

You’ll have to ask yourself: Does this sound good? Or more specifically, is this quality of sound what I want? Does this section need to be more rhythmic, or can it be more relaxed? Or simply hold yourself accountable and say, I need to fix this problem spot.

But remember, what’s “good” is totally subjective – some opinions might be more popular and conventional than others, but ultimately, what sounds good is your call. Teachers can offer their evaluation, and teach you how to play “better”. However, ultimately, your growth as a musician is about developing your own artistic taste and sensibilities – through active listening, influence from other artists, and your imagination.

5. Learn practice techniques and strategies

Now you know what adjustments you want to make, but how do you get there? This is where practice techniques and strategies come in. 

In addition to general practice strategies, like practicing slow with a metronome, a piano-specific strategy is separating your left and right hand coordination.

If you’re working through a difficult passage, practice each hand separately before putting them together. Get to a point where it’s ingrained into your muscle memory – that way, it’ll be a breeze when both hands come together.

Developing good fingering is also fundamental. 

6. Please don’t stop the music

Finally, learning technique and theory might get overwhelming – but just remember, you’re making music here! Don’t forget to enjoy the sounds, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms you’re creating.

Learning the piano is an incredibly rewarding experience, and we hope this empowers you to take further steps in your piano-learning journey. We’re sending you all the good vibes!

  • Check out more practice tips here

Soundbrenner is a company dedicated to help musicians stay focused on what truly matters: their music. Click here to find out more about our products.

Got a question about the Soundbrenner wearables? Reach out to us at [email protected], we’re happy to help!

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