This blog post is adapted from a free LIVE online piano workshop by Piano Picnic. These workshops are held each month and are centred around a different hot topic in the piano learning community. Register here to receive access to future workshops.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Quora: a social media platform for questions and answers. The most popular question that I find is asked over and over again is the topic in this blog post. Here we’ll look at How To Learn Piano Without A Teacher by exploring:
Comparing Traditional vs. Online.
How to identify your goals as a pianist.
How to choose a path to achieve those goals.
How to set yourself up for success.
How to sustain momentum.
HOW I CAME TO THIS REALISATION...
I’m a piano lifer! I’ve always played the piano since I was a child, I did the classical grades, exams, recitals and competitions throughout my adolescence. But when I started studying and working full-time as an adult I didn’t progress in my piano learning at all! I very rarely practised and I was just stagnant.
The thought of going to a teacher to get things going again filled me with dread because in my situation I was spending 2.5 hours travelling to and from work each day, then 8 hours at work, get home to make and eat dinner, sit down for a few minutes and then think about getting up and travelling again to a teacher? I had no energy for that, let alone the fact no teacher would see me at 9pm!
“This can’t be it for me!”, I thought. There has to be a way to fit piano in my life so that it doesn’t fade away completely. I began practising my piano for 10 minutes a few days a week, and then in the weekend for a longer session. I wasn’t doing lessons but I was teaching myself cover songs on the piano. I slowly got back into it and this reinvigorated me enough to take a solo album challenge where over the course of a month I made my own piano solo album, little by little, each day.
When I came to develop my piano course I knew it had to be something that worked for people, not against them. So I took this experience, of just doing a tiny bit each day and applied it to learning the piano. Once I looked into it, I found that micro-learning - the act of having short punchy lessons is a thing!
The ‘micro’ trend is being used in many different facets of people’s lives: micro-habits = the idea of making small, incremental changes to your daily routine, micro-training = short burst workouts for athletes. The idea of less is more is helping people do the things they want to do without it being too big a commitment and interfering with their daily lives and it works for learning the piano too.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?
There are a few different reasons:
Some people don’t have time or work irregular hours.
Some can’t travel or are too far away from a good teacher.
Perhaps you can’t make a full-school term commitment (10 lessons usually).
Some can’t afford private lessons.
Maybe you are struggling to find a teacher that you feel comfortable with, or there aren’t any suitable teachers where you live.
Many people prefer to go at their own pace, or
Just prefer to teach themselves.
Whatever the reason you don’t need to feel like there aren’t any options for you, there are.
COMPARING TRADITIONAL VS. ONLINE LEARNING
The traditional method of piano learning is when you attend a weekly appointment with your chosen teacher, normally at the teacher's choice of venue (their home or studio).
THE PROS OF TRADITIONAL LESSONS
An in-person teacher can tell you when you are doing it wrong (& right) in the room, at the time.
A good in-person teacher can change a lesson in the moment to cater for unique situations.
A registered teacher can submit you to an official examination board for graded exams.
THE CONS OF TRADITIONAL LESSONS
You are locked into a set time and place each week, usually for 10 weeks.
If you cancel a lesson for whatever reason it can mean you still pay for that lesson regardless.
You need to spend time travelling to the lesson so that a 1/2 hour lesson is much more than that with travel time included.
In most cases, you are committed to a full school term of ten lessons and expected to pay at the end of a term in a lump fee.
You may only learn piano technique and reading, and seldom being taught to understand music as a whole.
It is rare that you would be taught such skills as songwriting, improvising or learning songs by ear. The focus of traditional lessons is to play set pieces from reading sheet music.
The online method of piano learning (as taught by Piano Picnic) is a carefully structured lesson plan of video tutorials, cheatsheets, eBooks, songs and exercises, interactive quizzes and a support community. Learning is at your own pace and in your own time from your device or computer.
THE PROS OF ONLINE LESSONS
An online community of pianists for support and advice, not just one teacher.
Completely self-paced - you learn at your own pace, as quickly or slowly as you want to go.
Your schedule - take your lesson whenever and wherever suits you.
Video critiques - mean that you can get feedback on your playing.
Pick and choose courses or songs based on what you want to play rather than a prescribed exam syllabus.
Study offline with downloadables: cheatsheets, eBooks, backing tracks and demos to practise with.
THE CONS OF ONLINE LESSONS
Some people simply prefer to sit beside a teacher and spend that one-on-one time and get in-person feedback. While online Skype lessons can imitate this process well, any disturbances in your home like WIFI intermittency can interrupt the flow of the lesson. But if you are taking online lessons via a pre-produced course then you can stop and start your video lessons as you please - something that isn’t granted in a private teacher lesson.
IDENTIFY YOUR GOALS: What is it that you want to achieve?
There are lots of different reasons someone might want to learn the piano. Aside from classical grades (via the traditional learning path), there are a ton of other reasons for wanting to play piano that are just as valid:
Play like a specific pianist hero like Elton John, Alicia Keys, or Einaudi.
To play by ear.
Read sheet music, so that you can learn from the classic composers.
Write songs, composing your own music on the piano or programming using keyboards.
Impress others with fancy techniques.
Play jazz piano, or any specific genre that you love listening to.
All these reasons for playing are different goals! So you need to think about the reasons why you want to play, where you want to end up being, and write them down as your goals. This is what helps you to choose your learning path.
CHOOSING A PATH
This is the important part about learning piano without a teacher. I want to emphasise this point very clearly YOU CAN’T LEARN THE PIANO FOR FREE! That means no YouTube and here’s exactly why:
It has no clear learning path - no direction, no steering toward your goal.
There’s no way to see your progress - other than how many videos you’ve watched.
There’s no guarantee of your progress or success.
No money has changed hands - meaning that you have not made a significant commitment (your brain knows it and will undermine your discipline at every opportunity!)
Too many distractions - YouTube has something like 80 million videos available to you and they’re all vying for your attention. This is not an environment conducive to learning .
4 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
Does this learning path promise the results I want? - see: your goals.
What’s my learning style? Ask yourself: How do I learn best? Is it from reading lots of text with pictures, or is it from watching videos or having a tutor on video presenting to me directly.
What appeals to me, what do I find motivating? If you are wanting an online tutor to present videos to you, or there is a personality presented with this course, is it a personality that you like? It sounds superficial, but if you find someone’s presentation to be dry or too fast-paced, it may hinder your ability to pay attention or be motivated by that tutor in the long run.
Will it suit my schedule? What does this course require of me as a time commitment in order to deliver results.
Once you’ve identified all these things, you have a shopping list for the type of course that you need to achieve your goals.
SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS:
Preparation, Direction, Discipline...
Preparation: Know what to expect for the journey with my free introductory email course Prepare To Play.
This is a key element to piano learning and so many people don’t even know it exists when they jump into their first piano lesson. In this course you’ll learn about the five major obstacles pianists face and how to overcome them. Email lessons are delivered to your inbox each day as well as beginner tip videos to help you prepare for sitting at the piano.
Direction: Know your goals and how you’re going to get there. Choose an appropriate method that promises the results you want to achieve.
Discipline: Put a practise schedule in place that works for you, be realistic!
Use the method of micro-practice which consists of short practice sessions each day. They’re doable and much easier to commit to. This method doesn’t discourage longer sessions, you can have these whenever you feel inspired and have the time, but not at the expense of your daily micro-practices.
This method also reduces the likelihood of injury and strain usually brought about by marathon jams. It also helps avoid burnout where you run out of motivation and tire your mind: daily short bursts of focus mean highly concentrated sessions rather than drawn-out, tiresome practices you’re less likely to feel enthused about.
The key to sustaining momentum in your piano progress is to actively seek out inspiration and support:
Inspiration: get a hero, go to gigs, find new music, hook into fan groups, get excited.
Support: join a community that is on the same path as you. Check out facebook.com/pianopicnic to keep up-to-date with new free content and course releases. But also get involved in the group Let’s Talk Piano where there are a tonne of articles answering real-life student’s questions about learning piano, you can ask your own questions there too.
Don’t be a stranger. Though sitting to play at the piano can be a very personal thing you certainly don’t need to travel this piano journey alone! There is a whole community of like-minded piano enthusiasts all waiting to talk piano and exchange ideas, advice and encouragement. Piano is much more enjoyable when we can all share our passion for the instrument and support each other through the challenging times!
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