Today we're going to look at how hard it is to learn piano.
The first instrument many people learn is piano – but this is not necessarily because it’s easy.
Playing piano proficiently takes many years of practice, and hours of lessons.
It takes a lot to go from playing a few notes at a time, to playing chords in one hand and melody in another, to playing opposing melodies in both hands, and then to be able to improvise – well, that’s something else entirely.
That said, even for adults, I believe piano is a great first instrument.
In this guide, I’m going to take you through the things that make playing piano a great first instrument, the challenges you’ll face, and factors that contribute to how easily you’ll be able to pick up the instrument.
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What Makes Piano A Good First Instrument?
If you’re someone who wants to play an instrument for the first time, I believe piano is a great place to start.
It may be less “cool”, but I personally think it’s a better starter instrument than guitar.
There are a few things about the piano that make it a little easier to start on than other instruments.
Here’s what I mean:
Piano Offers Instant Gratification
The best thing about the piano is that when you press down a key, a sound will occur.
Even the most inexperienced player can play a C, and it will sound like a C.
You (usually) don’t need to tune the piano – and if you do, you certainly don’t have to tune it very often.
An inexperienced player can quickly start to pick out melodies to songs, and even play whole songs with one hand.
When I taught guitar, it would take some students weeks just to produce notes that didn’t buzz and squeak.
Trying to pick up a trumpet for the first time is a similarly discouraging experience – you must learn to create proper embouchure, learn to blow properly to produce a note, and then learn to change your embouchure to alter partials.
Sit down at the piano, press a note and you’ll be on your way.
Learning Piano Gives You A Solid Musical Foundation
The piano covers a wide range of notes – greater than any other instrument.
The notes are laid out intuitively, one beside another.
The guitar’s layout is comparatively unintuitive.
Sharp and flat keys are easy to distinguish, and scales and keys are easily explained, as everything is right in front of you.
There is no doubt that learning piano gives you a good understanding of music theory.
It Improves Your Coordination For Other Instruments
If you eventually want to learn guitar or bass or even drums, learning piano will help.
To play piano, you must develop independence in your left and right hand.
This type of coordination strengthens your musical brain and prepares you to take on other challenges like fingerpicking a guitar.
What Makes Playing Piano Hard?
Okay, so playing piano is a great introduction to your musical life.
As I’ve said, it’s not because it’s easy, it’s because the piano is just a great foundation to lay for yourself.
What makes piano hard?
I think piano is easy to learn, but incredibly difficult to master.
With the right equipment and some instruction, anyone can learn to pick out a few chords and melodies, and it won’t take long.
Playing an easy piano song or two is far from un-achievable.
Having finesse on the keys is a whole other ballgame. In fact, I think it's one of the most challenging instruments to truly excel at.
Playing Chords & Complex Movements In Your Non-Dominant Hand
The first hurdle that players will encounter is the amount of work your non-dominant hand will have to do.
If you’re right handed, playing chords in your left hand may prove challenging.
Even playing scales with your non-dominant hand is weird – you must cross fingers over one another and follow a pattern. It feels strange.
Playing Different Parts With Both Hands
Generally, whatever the student’s dominant hand is, is the hand that will get trained to play faster.
This becomes an issue, because you must start putting your hands together.
Most teachers will train students to play pieces hands separately, and then put them together.
This is fine, but if one hand gets neglected, a student will never be able to truly excel at the piano.
A good pianist can play a melody in one and accompany themselves with the other hand. And then switch them. You should have fairly equal dexterity in both.
Jazz players will improvise in one hand, and play chords in their other hand. Many jazz players will also be able to play a walking bass line, add in chords, and improvise.
It’s hard. It takes practice.
Reading music quickly is a barrier for some students.
If you start young, reading music becomes a second language – like reading a book aloud.
But this can be discouraging to an adult learner.
It’s not hard to figure out how to read the notes, but being able to take the notes and put them on the piano with the right rhythm, and with different notes in your right and left hand is hard.
If you work at it, you can absolutely become a good sight-reader.
To get more confident reading music, start slow. Start working on the piece, and get it memorized. Practice it with the music in front of you and without. Try to associate the notes you are playing with the notes on the page.
Gradually, you’ll get faster.
Playing By Ear
Unfortunately, playing by ear is not always easier.
Playing by ear on guitar is often easier than playing on piano, because the chords used on guitar are often the same across songs and genres.
Piano is tough to start learning by ear, because there are just so many notes.
There are a ton of ways to play a C chord. You can play it in three different inversions, different places on the piano, different notes in the left hand, and you can add all sorts of extensions (7s, 9s, 11s, 13s, etc.) that complicate things.
Picking out simple melodies isn’t too bad, but trying to learn a whole piano piece by ear is not always easy.
Again, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. You’ll notice patterns across genres, and you’ll develop your own style as well.
Having To Learn Boring, Basic Songs
Finally, the hardest thing about playing piano, is that you must start with the same basic, sometimes boring songs that everyone starts with.
Five note songs with one note at a time in the left hand.
“When the Saints Go Marching In”, “Happy Birthday”, “Heart and Soul”, really basic versions of classical songs like “Fur Elise”.
This is frustrating to many learners. It’s not what you imagine yourself playing, but it is part of the process.
Guitar may be hard to get a sound out of at first, but at least you can play a full song and accompany yourself with three chords.
To reassure our readers: you will not play simple music for long. If you put in the time, practice your simple songs, and master them, you’ll move on to cool songs in no time.
Factors That Contribute To Learning Piano
How hard is it to learn piano? Well, it’s not an easy question to answer.
There are things about the piano that make it easier than some instruments and harder than others.
Beyond the pure characteristics of the instrument, there are various factors that contribute. Here are a few factors that will contribute to your learning process:
Learning With Or Without A Teacher
In my opinion, the fastest and best way to learn piano is with a good teacher, in person.
Many do teach themselves piano at home.
While it's an option if you don't have the budget for lessons, it will take longer.
A good teacher is better than any online course.
A good teacher will help you develop good habits. You need to learn the correct posture, the correct hand position and how to figure out the correct fingering for a given piece of music.
A good teacher will help correct bad habits. As you learn, it is natural to attempt to skip steps and cheat a bit. Teachers will see these mistakes, identify them, and fix them.
An online course could never do that.
Teachers will help you make stylistic corrections that an online course never could. Are you playing at the proper volume? How is your timekeeping?
Above and beyond all that; a teacher will hold you accountable.
Showing up to a lesson unprepared sucks. It’s embarrassing and your teacher will call you out on it.
Having a teacher will keep you progressing at whatever pace you should be progressing, keep your technique in good shape, and keep you motivated.
Your Drive & Commitment
There are two factors that will decide the fate of your piano journey: commitment to practice and time available to play.
You must commit to regular practice.
20 minutes a day is better than four hours once a week.
Generally, you should be able to commit 30 minutes a day to practicing.
That said, if you simply can’t find 30 minutes, I do not want to discourage you. 10 minutes is better than nothing. Twice a week is better than never.
Just realize that the more time you commit to playing and practicing, the faster you will progress.
Having A Background In Music
Do you have any musical experience?
Even just playing a bit in band will help. Having musical parents helps too.
The biggest hurdle for someone who has never played anything before will be learning the musical language.
Learning to read music and speak the musical language (talking about keys, scales, etc.) takes time, as does learning any language.
Nonetheless, you can learn basic songs, even while your musical theory is developing.
The Keyboard You Are Practicing & Learning On
Most beginning musicians learn on beginner instruments; it makes sense. Why drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on an instrument you don’t yet know how to play.
In my opinion, playing on on anything less than 73 keys is doing yourself something of a disservice.
You can get away with a smaller keyboard for a time, but you’ll soon run into the literal physical limitations of the small keyboard.
Same goes for very cheap digital pianos – they are weighted so lightly, that it can cause technique problems for beginning students.
If possible, either practice on a real upright or apartment sized piano. Next best thing (and sometimes better, depending on the condition of your real piano) is a 73 or 88 key weighted digital piano.
If you take lessons and practice regularly for a year, you will be able to read music and play piano. You’ll definitely be able to accompany your singing and play some basic, but cool sounding songs.
You will not sound like Oscar Peterson, Glen Gould, Elton John or Dr. John.
These people are masters – it’s more than just playing the right notes, it’s the feel, the dynamics, the rhythm, the swing, the time, the soul.
Playing like that takes years.
You must start somewhere.
Playing the piano is not easy, but not much worth doing is easy.
How Hard Is It To Learn Piano – Conclusion
My advice to you is this:
- Get a teacher.
- Talk to your teacher about your expectations, what you want to play, and how fast you want to get there. Set your expectations and your goals.
- PRACTICE MORE.
- Set time in your day to make it a regular and enjoyable part of your day.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. Making music is art and beauty first, skill and performance second. You’re learning a beautiful life skill. Be committed and stick to it.
- Whether you initially find playing piano easy or hard, have fun! Playing is a blast. Playing for people is even better. Relax, and enjoy the ride!