Learning to play the piano is a huge commitment and not just because you need a large space to house the instrument!
It can take a few years to learn to play the piano well and there are a couple of different methods and schools of thought on the best way to learn piano.
Antiquated ideas may put some more casual learners off. In modern times, people are moving away from that often stereotyped one-on-one strict piano teacher caning the back of your hands for playing sloppily, and instead many are seeking a more DIY route.
The good news is with technology evolving ever more rapidly to a place where it ‘almost’ knows no bounds; there are new ways and means to explore for learning instruments.
Where once we relied on spotting a good ad in the paper, we can now easily download an app to help us out!
Everybody responds differently to different learning styles. There are a lot of factors that go alongside choosing how you approach learning to play piano as an individual.
If you just want to be able to play a few easy piano songs to accompany yourself singing then the recommendations would be less stringent than someone who wants to play classical piano and pass all of their grades.
Because needs differ heavily from person to person, we have laid out some different learning pathways you can take and highlighted the benefits and drawbacks of each to help you decide what will suit you best!
Which Instrument Should I Choose?
First things first, you are going to need to decide on an acoustic or an electric piano. This could be a keyboard if budgets are more restricted.
The traditional route may be to get a full-size acoustic piano but not everyone has a home accommodating enough for such a big addition. An upright acoustic piano takes up the least amount of space and learning traditionally with an acoustic has its benefits and caveats.
You can play more expressively with the real deal and it’s great to feel the pedals working under your feet.
However, in addition to their space-hogging problems, they are also pretty loud and you might find your practice hours restricted if you want to respect the neighbors.
When digital pianos first hit the market, it is fair to say that they weren’t up to scratch. A real piano was better, hands down, its superior tone was no contest.
But as time has gone on they have improved tenfold. Many replicate the touch response of real keys allowing you to play with expression, most have synthetic pedals and many have fully weighted keys too.
For the most part, bad opinions on digital pianos boil down to snobbery and regurgitating things somebody heard from someone. These days the leading piano brands are manufacturing some impressive models that compete with an acoustic piano, such as Yamaha’s digital pianos and keyboards.
When you factor in some of the things you can do with a digital piano that you can’t with an acoustic, some of the leading models get bumped up to better than an acoustic piano level.
Digital pianos tend to be a little more compact and you can pack many away for storage. Many come with a selection of tones you can choose from to give your piano a few different voices.
This may simply be a range of piano sounds, such as a bright upright piano, a concert hall grand piano with a generous helping of reverb, or an old slightly out of tune ragtime piano. Alternatively, you may have a range of organs and other instruments to make use of.
With a digital piano, you are in control of your volume levels and you can often hook up a set of headphones and practice without bothering anyone. Some will have a built-in metronome or even a set of drum tracks to accompany you whilst you play.
Other benefits that a decent digital piano or keyboard can provide could be a digital display screen that tells you the note you are playing. Some even have a bank of songs you can learn, with notes displayed on the instrument. Some have their own teaching and practice modes which could be beneficial if you decide to go it alone without a tutor and teach yourself piano.
The keyboard is the cheapest way to go. A decent one will have touch response and full-size keys and is more than suitable to learn how to play piano at home.
If you are taking traditional piano lessons with a tutor and have access to an acoustic piano regularly, a keyboard is fine to use at home for most exercises. Just make note of the differences and adjust your playing for each.
If you take the DIY approach and only have a keyboard, you might find it a bit more of an adjustment to translate the skills you have learned to an actual piano.
Best Way To Learn Piano? – What Are My Options?
Once you have an instrument at your fingertips, you need to think about how you are going to learn best. There are 2 distinct choices you can make on your path to learn piano.
Having someone that can hand down their skills to you is typically considered the best method. This method for the most part is in the form of traditional private lessons with an instructor. There is often a lot of music theory imparted alongside practical learning and playing and the course will have a decent structure to ensure you progress in small steps.
The pieces you play are generally classically lead and you can be graded for your playing. This gives you a good idea of your level of capabilities and you always have someone to pick you up on problem areas and give corrections.
You could seek out a private tutor to come to your home or you can visit them. Other ways to learn from an instructor are to visit a music education center. If you are school age you may have a resident piano teacher on campus.
Some piano tutors are not strictly traditional in their teaching methodology; you can get more relaxed tutors who will teach you basic chords and help you learn to play contemporary pieces.
Self-Taught Piano Methods
As it sounds, this is the go it alone path of self-taught piano learning. You can purchase books to help study some basic theory to apply to your playing. You can still follow a standardized curriculum.
Alternatively, you might be the type of musician who can learn very quickly playing by ear. This can often be the case if you have previously learned another instrument and have a little theory already.
Being self-taught although a do-it-yourself pathway doesn’t have to be entirely unassisted. As we mentioned technology is a real game-changer. There is an armada of technological resources that can help a self-taught musician with any instrument. Here are 10 easy steps to teach yourself piano.
Tech Assisted Methods For Self-Teaching
There is such a variety of ways to learn with tech at the core. The majority of us are never far away from one device or another so it makes perfect sense to adopt a technological approach to learning piano.
You can enroll in an online piano course with a curriculum to follow, some even provide standardized learning and grading. In that way, you aren’t missing out on the structure of a traditional face to face lesson with an instructor.
But you of course don’t get the same feedback, there are pros and cons which we will delve into later on.
You will find plenty of competitive apps to help with piano techniques and exercises, many that teach a decent amount of basic music theory. Some are interactive and can be hooked up to your digital piano or will listen to your acoustic piano via an internal mic.
We have reviewed several of the major platforms and you can read our 10 best online piano lessons guide here for more info.
A lot of these platforms and software apps are centered around video tutorial lessons. At the end of the day, being able to see something really helps most of us learn.
There is no reason why you can’t learn completely from video tutorials. YouTube has a wealth of content available with some content creators starting from absolute zero in their beginner videos.
However, the quality of the content is wildly different from channel to channel and you need to know if the tutor has some credentials. If you are taking a DIY approach, do plenty of research and window shop before you find a channel to stick with.
Best of Both Worlds
Of course, both the assisted methods and self-taught methods have their own drawback which we will explore when we look at the pros and cons of each below.
In reality, there is no reason why the best way to learn piano wouldn’t be to explore both routes in a hybrid fashion. In fact, many private piano teachers work with their students utilizing some of today’s modern tech resources already.
Hybrid Learning (private online tutoring)
You can often find an online personal piano tutor who will give you everything a regular tutor can give, providing support and advice and teaching from a standardized curriculum. You still get the benefit of lessons tailored to your level as an individual allowing you to progress at your own pace and lessons focused on what you need in order to improve.
They rely heavily on technology as they are taught remotely but if the last year has taught us anything it is that employment and education are ready to move online
Which Is The Best Way To Learn Piano For You?
Ultimately, which is best for you is dependent on so many things no one can truly advise you. You may even find you start with one and it doesn’t work so you have to explore other avenues. But, there are a number of factors you can consider, and then by weighing the pros and cons of each, we can narrow things down to a pretty good suggestion.
- How much free time do you have?
This is a pretty relevant question. Hiring a tutor will put you on their timetable. If you have lots of free time, you’ll be able to practice yourself in between regular lessons.
The same is true for self-teaching, if you have lots of free time you can fly through online course content at a quicker pace. If you don’t have a lot of time, apps might be best with their shorter lessons and break-down exercises.
Some have a game-like quality and you can improve by spending just 10-15 mins a day. This makes them easy to fit in around a busy life. Online methods are probably best if you have a busy and slightly irregular schedule.
- How serious are you?
Are you likely to be more of a hobbyist or are you looking to get all your grades someday? If it is the latter, then a traditional approach is probably better with a tutor who can correct you before you pick up bad habits. You need a good attitude and a fair amount of discipline to go through your piano grades but it is nice to have a proper gauge of your abilities.
If you don’t fancy traditional private tutoring, you could consider an online tutor or at the very least pick an online course to study at your own pace that bases its curriculum on standard practice.
If you have a much more relaxed approach and aren’t fussed about a linear course then there are some fun apps to try. You also might like the video tutorial route, especially song breakdowns that can get you playing a few tunes to show off with.
- What is your budget?
Unfortunately for many of us, budget is a limitation that often plays a part in our decision making. For something extra-curricular like learning to play the piano, the choice you make in how you progress may simply boil down to how much cash you can spare each month.
A private tutor can cost anywhere between $30 & $50 per hour. Likewise, an online private tutor can average out at $34 for just half an hour and can be as much as $60-$75 for an hour.
Online courses are sometimes priced individually with a one-time fee depending on the school. Online lesson platforms are generally subscription-based and cost between $10 and $30 per month. As you can access the features for as many hours as you like this could be the cheaper option.
YouTube videos are free (ignoring your data bills) but the better YouTube instructors generally only post limited stuff on their channel keeping some content private for those who want to show support and pay a subscription to their private websites. These subscription prices generally match the online company subscriptions above.
There are also paid apps and free apps to download but the content again is typically a little more limited. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.
Pros & Cons Of Each Method
A personal tutor can give you personalized feedback. They also have real-life experience with being in the position you are currently in and can educate accordingly.
There are a number of ways to find a good tutor. You can search your local area for private advertisements and sometimes word of mouth.
TakeLessons.com is a good site to take advantage of, it lists pre-screened teachers in your area and gives you a little bio for each of them.
Of course, you might find you have no local tutors within your local radius. Or that they are simply booked up. This is especially true if you are looking for a contemporary teacher; there are generally fewer of them than there are traditional classical piano tutors floating about.
A good tutor will typically be certified; this could be an MTNA registered instructor or some other recognized body of certification. They will more than likely teach from a standard pedagogical curriculum such as Alfred, Bastien, or Faber.
If you have the luxury of choice in your area then you should look for someone with a few years of teaching already under their belt and at least a handful of students. A good tutor should be able to adapt their teaching to the individual and provide supplementary lessons to assist with things you are finding difficult.
You get a wider amount of knowledge and you will only progress when you have learned something to a sufficient level. It is easier to grasp musical theory with someone who can explain it until you understand and you are free to ask questions and more importantly get the answers you need.
A tutor can help with posture and musicality which are often ignored with technological approaches to learning the piano. A tutor can be the pricier path to playing the piano but you are paying for expertise and a tailored learning plan. You also have to factor in travel expenses with your budgeting.
- Feedback, guidance, and interaction
- The curriculum can be uniquely adapted to you
- You can ask questions
- You won’t learn incorrectly
- Possibility to be graded
- The schedule is less flexible
- You may be geographically limited if you learn in person
- You will probably need to travel
- You may only be able to afford an hour or 2 per week
- It can be very costly overall
Learning At An Educational Center
If you are lucky enough to live close to an educational center that provides piano lessons then you could have access to a wider set of resources than a solo piano tutor may have to hand. They are well funded and teach a little more outside of the box.
The majority teach from a recognized curriculum, with many preferring Suzuki as a course outline provider.
With an educational center, you are again limited in terms of scheduling but many provide multiple classes for each level.
They often vet their instructors providing very skilled tutors. You tend to learn at a good pace and have personalized feedback. You can get your questions answered and the topics on offer are wider than that of an online platform. Generally, everything including theory, technique, posture, and musicality is covered.
Collaborative learning may be your preference, you will learn at the pace of the class which can help push and motivate you. You have other people to discuss the things you learn with and bounce ideas off. For some students, an element of competition helps to motivate them and work at their best potential.
Group learning can be beneficial in many ways. You might feel less apprehensive about learning if you are not alone, sometimes a one-on-one lesson can be daunting. However, the opposite can also be said for some, the fear of playing something in front of more than one person can be more of a worry. So it is totally down to the individual.
One of the other things that could sway you either way with an educational center course is that you will likely get to perform with a small audience for gradings and end of semesters. This is a unique opportunity, but for some, it could be too big of an ask.
Although most of it is taught as a group, you will still have access to most of the benefits of a private instructor. You can share doubts and get advice and resources to help you as an individual with anything you find tricky.
Educational centers may also provide specialized courses such as masterclasses or short-term specified courses on techniques or styles of music.
When choosing a decent center for learning you should make sure that they provide a good course outline and that tutors are listed with recognized qualifications. If their site provides CV’s or bios that is encouraging.
Sage Music School is a well-respected provider that has centers across the states you might want to take a look at. Many of them will allow you to come for a taster day at certain times of the year to see if it is the right course of action for you.
You should note often you have to pay upfront for the semester or full year and it can be a little more expensive than a private tutor because the centers have to account for administration and facility costs as well.
- Group class setting
- Collaborative learning benefits
- Personal feedback
- The curriculum is nationally recognized
- Ability to ask questions
- A competitive incentive to practice
- Demonstrations of practical skills
- Specialized courses are sometimes available for intermediates
- Limited places
- Geographical restrictions
- Requires travel
- Can be pricey
Remote Online Tutors
Learning with an online tutor requires you to be able to video conference, but it provides everything a face-to-face tutor can give you from the comfort of your own home.
Because the lessons are video communicated, you can record them and play them back again if you need to. However, you do need a reliable stable internet connection or they can be subject to tech issues. You may have to spend a little upfront for online tutor access. A decent mic is required or the sound and communication will really suffer.
Many of these tutors are self-employed so you might have to dig to find the better ones especially as so many have moved online.
You still get personalized feedback and the benefits of someone experienced guiding you. However, their corrections will only be verbal; they can’t physically move your hand to correct it.
Finding one is less restrictive though as you are not limited to your local area but mainly only by language and time zones. This means you are more likely to find teachers with different styles explored.
Some follow curriculums while others teach in their own way or tailor lessons especially for you on what you want to learn. Some may teach theory and sight-reading while others may throw away the books altogether and teach you ‘note for note’ in person.
You have a lot of options if you are paying for their time and there is a much bigger pool of teachers to choose from. You are therefore more likely to find the teacher with a style that suits you best. But you might have to try a few.
- No geographical limits
- No travel required
- You can record lessons to play again
- Tailored lesson plans
- Little more flexible on the scheduling
- No physical adjustments when correcting you
- There can be tech issues
- Sound can suffer
Online Piano Lessons & Apps
Although online courses and apps give you the freedom to learn piano from your own home and at your own pace, they require you to motivate yourself a little more. They utilize a mixed medium of teaching methods. Having a variety can be beneficial but not all of the methods employed will work for everyone.
Having online access without a time restriction gives you longer to learn something and if you don’t understand something, you don’t have to wait a week for your next lesson. You can replay it to death if you want to, something which even the most patient of tutors may not be thrilled about.
However, because you are left to gauge your progress and don’t have the benefit of a skilled set of eyes observing you, it is possible to learn to play your instrument incorrectly. You get next to no feedback and can’t ask any questions.
Some try to provide a ‘feedback’ system like Simply Piano. Their interactive sheet music has a traffic-light style color-coded system that tells you if you played the right note at the right time.
Most also employ a reward system of badges or points and mark your progress by checking exercises you have completed off of a virtual tick-list. But in all honesty, this doesn’t replace a tutor’s guidance. It is basic at best and with rhythm and tempo, it can be off by quite a lot depending on the platform that you choose to subscribe to.
True, some courses provided try to cover things in their beginner lesson content such as posture and correct fingering and you can learn pretty well in a DIY manner. The biggest problem is that you can only learn what is available to learn.
It is fair to note that some of the intermediate level content with online providers jumps all over the place so in the end you may be left with gaps in your musical knowledge.
Disadvantages aside, the tech route can often be much more interesting, so if you have less of an attention span or are less disciplined as a learner it might be the better option for you.
Many tech-assisted courses have an extensive song library that you can learn from. That way you get to pick what you want to learn to play whereas a piano tutor and a set curriculum will dictate that for you.
Most platforms are highly competitive so a large number of genres are covered. They also include a variety of popular favorites that allow you to learn to play in different playing styles picking up techniques attributed to the genres along the way.
Some sites teach the song as a lesson broken down with information explained and teaching alongside. Others simply provide an interactive piece of sheet music and let you play along in a ‘Guitar Hero’ style.
On the subject of Guitar Hero, some online lessons have their own unique notation for their interactive scores. Instead of learning traditional music theory and how to read the music you can play the songs to simplified highly visual renditions.
Depending on your goals and the type of learner you are, this can be both a good or bad thing. Ultimately learning to sight-read traditional sheet music notation sets you up better for the future giving you the skills you need to play just about anything.
But the simplified ‘Guitar Hero’ gameplay way of learning could be less overwhelming and make all the difference in whether or not you continue learning.
Almost 70% of piano learners give up when the sheet music gets tougher and most quit when the hands are expected to play more demanding things simultaneously. The simplification could work well for some people but it will leave your repertoire restricted to all that particular platform has to offer in its song library and nothing else.
We live in a technological age so we might as well embrace it. Being able to view and practice exercises in different ways can be a big advantage and being able to play a quick finger exercise game or muscle memory testing game for ten minutes after an in-depth piano theory lesson is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.
Likewise, these lesson delivery styles are more fun for younger learners and definitely a good place to start in terms of kindling an interest in the instrument with them.
Some of the more basic apps have a virtual on-screen piano for your tablet, this could be a good starting point for children as it means you don’t have to fork out on a piano they might lose interest in next month. This might be worth a look at as a sort of a try-before-you-buy-solution for parents.
- More flexible and versatile
- Less of a commitment
- You can replay what you want and pick your pace
- You can learn in a song-based manner from many genres
- Much cheaper in the long run
- No personal guidance
- Some tougher topics can get confusing
- You need to motivate yourself more
- Typically ungraded
- Can leave gaps in knowledge
- Expression and musicality is usually ignored altogether
Sensible DIY Options
If you want a DIY route with a solid curriculum then we recommend Pianoforall, it is a platform “designed to take complete beginners to an intermediate level faster than any other method.”
Check out our comprehensive Pianoforall review here!
Users receive 9 e-books, 500 audio files, 200 video lessons for a one-time payment of $79. There is plenty of email support, and you will receive lifetime updates from them with purchase.
The Hoffman Academy also provides a more traditional syllabus and you also get personalized daily practice ideas and interactive games.
Many of the online piano lesson options available utilize video lessons, none better than Playground Sessions. So if you aren’t progressing with YouTube browsing and want a video-centric platform, it might be a good choice for you.
Co-created by the legendary Quincy Jones, with 7 years under its belt it is one of the most reputable options out there. It uses video lessons combined with interactive piano learning software and provides lessons for all levels.
You learn music theory with a mixture of contemporary and classic songs. You can read our full Playground sessions review here.
Playing by ear
Learning to play by ear is one of the cheapest DIY routes you can go down, but the skill will only take you so far if you aren’t blessed with some pretty great natural ability.
It does work as a method for anyone who has self-taught themself a different instrument and already has a naturally good understanding of pitch.
As methods go, it really isn’t fool-proof. Some people find they think they are playing what they are hearing, but, in actuality, it is a rendition. Their chord inversion might not be right, making hand movements more complicated.
It skips the music theory all together so the big disadvantage is you will probably only be a mediocre player at best unless you have some real Rain Man-like capabilities.
That said if you have great ears and natural talent you can certainly get to pub-gig level without studying, and playing by ear is a great skill to have further down the line when you have learned the fundamentals in a traditional setting anyway. So if you can’t find or afford lessons, it is worth a shot unless you are tone-deaf.
To play music by ear, you need to listen carefully and repetitively. It is a trial and error process to duplicate the sounds. With straightforward songs, it is not so tough, and most musicians can manage to play naturally by ear to a fair degree.
It is nowhere near as quick as pulling up sheet music or tablature for learning a song with everything set out in front of you.
- No corrections
- Easy to get things wrong
- Harder to stay motivated
- Not ideal for beginners
Free DIY options
Other than finding a few good Youtube channels with a wealth of content your other free choices may be downloadable apps.
Another alternative is Zebra Keys which is a free resource ideal for DIY piano learners with a low income. They provide step-by-step pre-recorded videos with instructors and graphics and cover a variety of content.
Best Way To Learn Piano – Final Thoughts
Finding the best way to learn piano is ultimately down to you. Hopefully, the ideas presented here will help you whittle out what it is you are looking for as an individual.
All pathways have their advantages and disadvantages and at the end of the day, money could be the real decider.
There is plenty to say about traditional piano lessons, they give you an advantage over those going it alone, but in modern times we are all turning to tech, and currently finding a tutor to visit might be far from feasible.
An online piano lesson platform with a good mixture of resources and the right balance of music theory and practical song-based study could be the answer!
Some provide the option of a private tutor for an extra fee. Most of them have free trial periods so test the water and try them before you buy to see which one you prefer.