If you ask any adult to name some things they wished they’d done when they were young, learning to play the piano or any instrument would probably be somewhere near the top of the list.
If you still want to learn to play piano, don’t fret, because the good news is, it’s never too late to learn.
But the real question here is, can you teach yourself piano?
Yes, you can teach yourself piano. Many pianists are self-taught. By learning about piano notes, keys, chords, and musical theory combined with daily practice and dedication, you will be able to learn piano by yourself.
There is no need to enroll in costly and time-consuming piano lessons…
The best way to teach yourself piano is to follow these 10 simple steps and you’ll be on your way to fulfilling a life-long dream in no time!
10 Steps To Teach Yourself Piano
- Find a keyboard or piano to practice on
- Study basic piano concepts
- Familiarize yourself with the major keys
- Study the basic chords
- Identify the melodic patterns
- Know the proper finger positions
- Learn piano notes and how to read sheet music
- Consult media (like books, video, YouTube) for instructions
- Practice your skills
- After all your efforts and you still cannot learn, hire an instructor
1. Looking for a Keyboard or Piano to Use for Learning
The first step in the journey to teach yourself piano is to look for the right instrument for which to learn on.
There is an incorrect notion that you need to own a piano to learn to play. But, there are ways of learning without purchasing an instrument, as pianos and keyboards can be very expensive.
You can always try to ask your family, friends, church, and school organizations to use their pianos for a short while. If you don’t have access to those, there are also places you can rent instruments or studios wherein you can pay for schedules to use the piano.
Should you choose to buy your instrument, first decide on a budget, and then use that price as a guide to shop around and make your purchase. Respective of the budget, your options will be either a traditional acoustic piano or an electronic keyboard/digital piano.
Need a keyboard or digital piano to start learning? Check out my list of the best Yamaha keyboards and digital pianos here!
Be sure that when you decide on a digital keyboard, it should have a ‘piano mode’ that recreates that real piano sounds and tones. The keyboard should also have eighty-eight keys if you want to have the same feel of the piano.
There are also beginner keyboards that have a facility or function that assists you in playing the piano. They have educational materials that come with the instrument, and others employ lighted keys to show you which note to play next.
On the other hand, when you buy the traditional acoustic piano, make sure that it is properly tuned. It would be most advantageous to have all the keys in the correct tune to accustom you to the different notes.
2. Studying the Basic Piano Concepts
The basic piano concepts are the most important lessons any piano instructor worth his salt will impart to his/her students. Similarly, we shall use those to begin our lessons.
- Acquaint yourself with the instrument. Concentrate on the physical as well as musical (sound) properties of the different keys: the sharps (black keys at the right portion of the keyboard), the flats (black keys on the left part), the middle keys, the high tones, and the bass tones.
- Find the location of the “middle C” key and become familiar with it. That key is the single most vital key position and the foundation of all piano learning. It is the white key located at the keyboard middle, slightly left of two groups of black keys.
- Study the fundamental keys. The white keys are known as the “naturals,” and these are the “C-D-E-F-G-A-B.” The black keys, known as the “accidentals,” are the ‘sharp’ and ‘flat’ notes that emanate when you press these keys. An “octave” (a group of eight notes) includes five incidentals, either flats or sharps.
- Understand the ‘music language.’ There are a lot of available materials that can familiarize you with the different musical terminologies and nuances. You can check the internet or your favorite bookstore and library.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Major Keys
All new students of music learning the piano for the first time must learn the major keys. The most common method is the ‘numbering system.’ So, starting from the middle C, Cm=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7, and C (higher) =8.
Many people use this method and learn simple songs immediately. A popular example is “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” and it goes as “3-2-1-2-3-3-3.”
Some people prefer to study the major keys by using the ‘scaling method of learning.’ That is a somewhat higher form of learning and will be discussed in a separate article. The scaling technique is mainly playing around the major keys with a subtle structure to it.
I suggest concentrating on a major key per week, keeping in mind the specific notes belonging to that major key. With continuous practice, you’ll even be able to recognize in which key a particular song is created.
4. Studying the Basic Chords
You can begin to learn the standard and primary piano chords, even if you are still unable to read music.
As we have mentioned the major keys earlier, we also have major chords (and minor chords). Chords are made up of different keys, with the major chords using the root key, the third key, and the fifth key.
On the other hand, the minor chords use the root key, the flat third key, and the fifth key. There are twelve major piano chords and twelve minor piano chords. You can easily search for these on the internet so you can familiarize yourself with them.
After that, you can move to the ‘advanced chords,’ examples of which are the augmented, diminished, sixth, seventh chords, and many others. But since you are just starting to teach yourself piano, it’s better to begin by focusing on the major and minor chords for now and just move further as you progress.
The internet is an excellent source for teaching yourself to play the piano. There are hundreds, if not thousands of self-help guides on playing chords at your fingertips.
You can also download chord sheets from various websites, which are very clear and easy to follow.
5. Recognizing Musical Patterns
As you teach yourself piano, you will start to notice the existence of musical patterns. Most songs have repeating chords making up the entire melody.
The ability to identify trends allows you to learn and play music with ease. It also enables you to recognize the baselines and themes of most songs.
You will also notice that each song has its unique and particular pattern. Several music instructors refer to these patterns as ‘vocabulary of music,’ and consider them as fundamentals of understanding music altogether.
There are patterns in all aspects of music: rhythm patterns, tone patterns, and also such a thing as ‘patterns of left-hand accompaniment.
You can even try to recognize patterns when listening actively to music. Pick out a song that you like and try to identify the different patterns running through its melody. Now, try to play those patterns on the piano while listening to music.
Keep those patterns in mind, because you will encounter them again in other songs and music pieces.
6. Knowing the Proper Finger Positions
One of the most critical factors in learning to play the piano is the positioning of your fingers. You must know the proper places where your fingers should assume.
A great way to learn this is by playing scales. We recommend first playing the major scales, and then trying the minor scales.
You can also apply the numbering technique we discussed earlier. This time assign your thumbs as number 1, the point fingers as number 2, the middle fingers as number 3, the ring fingers as number 4, and the pinkies as number 5. That applies to both your hands.
Alright, let’s practice with a simple scale pattern. Using your right hand, apply the finger numbering “1-2-3-12-3-4-5,” upwards, then “5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1” downwards.
Remember to cross your thumb under the middle finger to play the second “1” upwards the scale, and the same downwards, but this time cross the thumb under the middle finger on the second “3.”
Next, use the same scale on your left hand. Then, repeat the exercise, alternating between your left and right hands. Afterward, you can put them together and play scales using both appendages.
This exercise will help you to learn to place your fingers properly and efficiently when applied to songs from songbooks and music sheets.
7. Learn Piano Notes & Reading Music
The ability to read musical notes and other elements is crucial in learning to play the piano. It’s not that difficult once you have all the basics (earlier discussed) figured out.
First of all, you have to learn the terminology of the right-hand staff (treble clef) and left-hand staff (bass clef). A simple and useful way of remembering correct finger placement is mnemonics, as in “Every Good Boy Deserves Food” or “E-G-B-D-F” on the right (treble) clef.
Aside from reading notes on the page of a music sheet or book, you also need to learn rhythm. However, rhythm is an advanced lesson that can be tackled at a later time.
All the above mentioned essential steps in teaching yourself piano – learning major keys, music pattern recognition, studying correct finger positioning, and chords – will all come into fruition as you progress to learn music reading.
You should be able to accumulate ample knowledge in recognizing patterns and various aspects on the whole. Undoubtedly, you will understand piano notes and sheet music more now than had you tried to learn before knowing the fundamental aspects of the piano.
When you have enough confidence to play the piano while reading music, you can then try songs or music pieces of various degrees of difficulties. There are numerous websites available on the internet that offer a free download of a vast selection of music.
You can also opt for more original music to learn and play that sound more challenging than they are to perform! You can thus impress your friends and family with such pieces of music.
8. Consulting Various Media for Instructions
You can resort to a plethora of instructional media in various formats like video DVDs and CDs, books, online resources (YouTube), as well as many others. Those materials provide a useful learning tool to help you in achieving your goal of playing the piano.
There are self-contained adult piano lessons for beginners that include books, audio, and video instruction materials.
You can also check out the online and video piano courses and materials to learn to play the piano. They come either free or at a reasonable cost. Free materials are also as comprehensive as the paid ones, and they include information on music reading, clef interpretation, notes, rests, time signature, and others.
9. Practicing Your Skills
Much like any endeavor you have in life, practice makes perfect. We recommend practicing every day, about half an hour each day. If you can’t find the time, a minimum of three days a week.
The best place to start your practice is by hitting the scales. That would help you in finger positioning, make your playing more fluid, and develop your music reading skills.
Also, try to learn and play straightforward and simple songs that you fancy. Never think that you are not ready to play songs yet. There are so many songs that are easy to learn and play.
You can even practice piano playing without being physically in front of one by studying notes and sheet music from previous lessons in your free time.
Remember to pace yourself when learning how to play the piano. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Setting too high an expectation leads to frustration when it is not achieved and can cause you to give up easily.
Always think that slow progress is improvement nevertheless. And whatever pace you are at, learning is the most important thing.
Many people tend to fall into a lack of motivation, especially when frustrated. You can avoid that by playing your favorite songs, or at least those that you like. Asking a friend or relative to listen to you play once a week can also motivate you. That can also boost your confidence in performing in front of an audience, albeit a tiny one.
Another form of motivation is to record yourself playing weekly. You can even make a video of your performance so you can see your movements as well as hear your performance. That can provide you a way to gauge your progress and determine areas for improvement.
10. Hiring an Instructor
When all else fails despite giving it our best, sometimes we need someone to guide us on our journey. If you’re struggling with the teach yourself piano process, you can always hire an instructor online or in person.
A teacher is there to commend your achievements and also to correct your errors. A teacher can also teach you things correct on the first try, so you don’t form bad habits along the way in learning to play the piano, and then have to do away with those habits later.
If you prefer a “live” teacher to give you instructions physically, you can ask family, friends, schools, and churches for referrals. Or you can search the internet for possibilities and recommendations.
You can even refine your searches to include only piano instructors within your vicinity. One highly recommended website to check out is takelessons.com.
If you are not so comfortable with face-to-face instruction, then you can opt for online piano lessons. These lessons are perfect companions to your self-study in piano playing and are categorized into different proficiency levels matching your current experience and skill level.
They have “starter,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” levels in piano instruction that are straightforward and easy to follow.
Set up a frequency or schedule to see your teacher. The typical rate of most students is once per week. Because you are on a self-instructing mode, you can have lessons less often, say, two times a month, mainly to ask questions and review your performance.
One of the best reasons for hiring an instructor is maintaining discipline. When teaching yourself piano, not all of us can sustain a strict regimen of practice sessions on our own.
There will always be that tendency to postpone or even cancel lessons on a whim. If you have an instructor to see regularly, you will be urged to practice for the upcoming session.
Another advantage of having a piano teacher is the motivation it provides you to learn. You always look forward to showing your teacher (who, in essence, is another person or audience) what you have learned so far. Instructors can encourage, give advice, and critique to help you improve your whole experience.
A piano teacher can also guide you in keeping the correct tempo and pace in learning a challenging piece. Furthermore, he/she can assist you in considering which musical pieces you most likely would be apt to learn and play in the right stride.
Finally, a piano teacher can show you a whole new musical world that you wouldn’t know yourself. He or she can present you with other musical genres in addition to popular music: jazz or classical music.
That can add to your musical range and introduce you to great musicians and composers to broaden your horizon in music.
Teach Yourself Piano Final Thoughts
Learning to play piano, or any instrument for that matter is such a rewarding and fulfilling experience that regardless of your age or current musical ability, you shouldn’t let it hold you back.
Life moves fast, and if you hold onto the thought that “I wish I’d learn to play piano 10 years ago,” soon another decade will go by.
Even being in my late-20s (although I did start the drums when I was 8), I’ve had the same thought of wishing I’d learned another instrument when I was younger. But I’ve come to realize that even if I started learning a new musical instrument today, there’s plenty of time left to learn.
Even for those further on in life, say at 40, if you start to teach yourself piano today, by the time you’re 60 you will have amassed over 20 years of experience!
Plus age is just a number! The old saying, “You’re only as old as you feel” is true, and actually has scientific backing behind it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re too old to do something.
At the end of the day, learning to play the piano is about enjoying a musical journey and the gratification you receive from playing it.
Don’t be fooled in thinking that you receive more joy and pleasure after playing for say 20 years, this is often not the case, I tend to find the early stages of learning a new instrument more satisfying and enjoyable, that feeling you get when you master your first song is irreplaceable.
I hope you’ve found these 10 simple steps to teach yourself piano useful 🙂
Now a fitting quote from American race car driver Mario Andretti…
“If you wait, all that happens is that you get older.”
Happy learning! – Will
Struggling to teach yourself piano? Check out my list of the 8 Best Online Piano Lessons That Actually Work to get some additional help and speed up the learning process!