Learning piano is fun and rewarding, but it also takes a lot of dedication and practice.
In my opinion, you need two things to learn piano: good instruction and consistent, quality practice time.
You are in charge of practicing consistently and regularly, but you can’t be in charge of delivering quality lessons.
This guide is on learning piano at home – while it is possible to learn piano by yourself, I stand by my opinion that nothing beats a great teacher.
Teachers give you immediate feedback, they push you to be better, they give you structured lessons, and they give you individualized lessons. Nothing compares.
On the flip side, taking lessons is expensive, and for many people with hectic schedules – it just doesn’t work.
Luckily, there has never been a better time to learn piano from home.
Here is what you need to know to get started.
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Get Your Own Piano Or Keyboard
The first step you must take on your piano-playing journey is acquiring a piano or keyboard.
It is essential to have an instrument to practice on at home. I have had students over the years try to learn without having an instrument to practice on – it just doesn’t work.
The key to learning any instrument is consistent practice. Learning to play piano is no different.
Having a piano in the home encourages you to sit down and play – both to practice, and just for fun in your spare time.
In a recent post, I described the differences between pianos, synths, and keyboards.
When you’re starting out, I would recommend getting an entry level keyboard. They are cheap, portable, and you can practice with or without headphones.
That said, the better quality you can afford, the more fun you’ll have practicing. Better quality means the keys work more realistically and the sound the keyboard produces will be more satisfying.
You could also opt for an upright piano in the home. You can sometimes find upright pianos for free or a few hundred dollars. Find someone to move it into your home, and you have a great instrument to practice on!
Whatever you decide, the point is to get an instrument. That’s the first step.
Learn From A Lesson Book
People have been teaching themselves piano from a book for decades – and in fact, most teachers use books as a sort of curriculum for their students.
Learning from a lesson book has its benefits. Here are a few:
You Can Learn In A Structured, Measured Way
Lesson books are structured like lessons, and are often meant to be used in lessons.
If you start learning piano from YouTube tutorials, you’ll likely skip over some important points.
For example, a lesson book will start with proper technique at the piano. It will teach you about fingering and how to sit. How to hold your hands.
When you are starting out, these small details are crucial. Habits formed early on are hard to break.
Don’t waste time fixing bad habits. Start out with good habits. A lesson book can help you build your good habits while learning piano basics.
Working Your Way Through Books Gives You A Sense Of Accomplishment
Lesson books are like little courses.
Working your way through an entire book will give you a feeling of accomplishment. The books are broken up into little chapters, each teaching you a different concept.
As you work through the book, you’ll master these various concepts via exercises, but also through learning entire songs.
If you work through an entire book, you’ll have learned several songs, mastered a few exercises, and generally expanded your knowledge of the instrument.
You may find yourself working through different parts faster and slower, depending on how much time you can commit and how easy you find certain concepts. Either way, finishing the chapters and the books will feel good.
It’s like graduating from one book to another!
Most Lesson Books Have Accompanying Video Material On The Internet
These days, most lesson books have accompanying material on the internet. Usually this includes videos of people playing songs from the book, or even full lessons that accompany the course material.
For most students, these visual accompaniments will be helpful.
It’s always good to hear someone else play the song you are working on (it’s much easier to hear if you’ve made any mistakes while learning it that way).
Many Lesson Books Have Accompaniment CDs Or Songs
Sometimes, beginner songs are a little… dull.
They can feel too simple to be fun while you are playing them.
That’s why many lesson books come with CDs that have accompaniments to the songs you’ll be learning – all of the sudden you’re not just playing a simple song by yourself, you have a band to play with!
These accompaniments are great in many ways. They’ll keep you honest; if you can’t play the piece of music at the proper tempo, the accompaniment will not wait for you. You need to know your stuff to play along!
If the book doesn’t come with a CD (many of us don’t have CD players anymore) check online. There may be accompaniment MP3s available there.
You Can Learn Music Theory
Probably the single most important thing you’ll get out of learning out of a lesson book is theory.
Learning songs by ear or from tutorials does not teach you theory well.
Sure, you may pick up patterns or a few fundamentals here and there, but you won’t lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of music theory.
Music theory is not scary. It’s a scary word, but the concepts are not scary.
Playing, improvising, and writing are all easier if you understand what chords you are playing, why you are playing them, and how it all fits together.
Lesson books teach you theory slowly. They introduce theoretical concepts while mixing in new songs, so that it doesn’t feel like a dull theory lesson.
You Can Still Learn Whatever You Want Outside Of Course Material
For the above reasons, I like learning out of a book. You move at a good pace, you learn theory, and the lessons are structured. That’s good.
Your learning does not have to stop at the books!
You can still take YouTube tutorials and learn pop songs. You can definitely learn songs by ear! You can jam with a band! Do whatever you want!
Playing an instrument is fun, so do what makes it fun. Having a mixture of pure fun and structured learning will feel good.
Best Piano Books For Adult Beginners
Here are a few recommendations for piano lesson books. All of these books are well-respected.
Anything by Alfred is good. Ask anyone who's played piano – if they didn’t learn with Alfred, they at least know the name.
All of the piano pieces are well-arranged for beginners. They are simple, but beautiful and satisfying to play.
This lesson book is designed to be used with a teacher, but so are most lesson books. Alfred’s books are so well-thought out that you’ll be able to self-direct the learning.
There are also lots of videos on YouTube of people playing the various pieces and discussing the lessons.
Another one by Alfred – this course is designed for the self-directed learner.
This book is an adapted version of the above book. It includes a CD with audio lessons on it. It has study guides to introduce new concepts and lessons.
Basically, it’s trying to take some of the things a teacher will show you and compensate for them.
I learned to play piano with Faber. These are some of the most popular piano lessons books out there.
While I used this book under the guidance of a teacher, the book has clear and simple instructions for the self-guided learner.
You start with finger numbers and patterns, and work your way out from there.
The new versions have both CD and online accompaniments.
Online, they also have lesson videos, designed to take the place of a teacher.
My only complaint with these books is that some of the songs you learn feel a little too beginner. They try to get you playing different styles, which is cool, but some styles just don’t translate as well.
Learning Piano Through Online Lessons
Now is the best time to learn piano at home. With the advent of piano learning software and internet lessons, you can get structured lessons that are comparable to a teacher’s lessons in the comfort of your home.
Some of the following services even have the option for real in-person lessons via video chat.
Most of these services are software lessons – so you’ll have install the software to take the lessons. I’ve included a website lessons as well. Software lessons tend to be a lot deeper and have a lot more features, because they don’t have the limitations of websites.
Piano For All
Piano For All is a course designed to teach beginner and intermediate piano students. It’s simple but effective. There’s no software, no fancy games, just instruction.
The course is large. Over 200 video lessons, 500 audio lessons and 10 sections. A typical lesson comes with a PDF of course material and a video lesson.
The video lesson has someone talking to you, explaining concepts, their hands on the keyboard, and two different light up keyboard views.
It’s an affordable course, at only $49 for the whole thing. That’s the price of just one regular piano lesson!
ArtistWorks is one of the best online websites for music lessons. You can learn several instruments on the site, piano being a focus.
Basically, you can take lessons from renowned musicians and work through the courses they've designed.
The best part about ArtistWorks is their Video Exchange program.
Basically, while you are taking video lessons, you can take videos of yourself playing what you’ve learned and get personalized feedback from instructors.
You can access the video lessons anytime, and when you feel ready, send the video and get feedback!
These lessons are $23 – $25/month.
Playground Sessions is piano learning software. You download the program, and then download lessons onto your computer.
There are a wide variety of lessons for all skill levels and many genres.
Along with lessons, Playground helps you learn full songs. Playground has a huge library of piano arrangements with accompanying videos.
Playground starts at $9.99/month.
Flowkey is a new piano lesson app. Its main focus is helping you learn songs.
The app is kind of designed like a video game. Activate the microphone on your computer or iPad, which will allow the software to give you feedback as you play.
While you’re learning the song, there is slow motion mode, fast mode, and the app will listen to you play the whole time. While it listens, it can tell you where you’re making mistakes, so that you can work on them.
The app has a free trial which is a great way to get started. After that it’s $12.99/month for three months. It gets a little cheaper if you commit to a year, and there is a lifetime option as well.
Learning By Ear
Learning to play piano by ear is possible.
I have done a great deal of learning by ear, and I have many musician friends who have basically taught themselves piano on their own and can play competently.
The problem is, you need some sort of musical foundation to learn by ear effectively.
It will be a lot easier to learn by ear if you already know another instrument, for example.
A basic understanding of chords and common chords in pop songs will make it a lot easier to learn pop songs.
It can be pretty discouraging to sit down and slowly pluck away at melodies. Already knowing how to apply chords to melodies will help a lot.
Learn By Practicing With A Band
A ton of my piano learning has been done in a live performance setting.
I joined a band in high school and all of the sudden my interest in keyboard went way up.
So much of my keyboard playing has been learned just by making mistakes in the rehearsal space, going home, working on it, and then coming back to another rehearsal.
Again, learning like this is probably only helpful if you already have a foundation of musical knowledge, but it’s still a valid and fun way to learn.