The intro of the Rachmaninoff piano concerto no. 2 is gorgeous isn’t it. As a novice piano player you’re thinking that it’s definitely something you can achieve. After those beautiful chords though comes the rumbling arppeggios as the orchestra joins the pianist. Not so easy right?
Well, that might be true, but learning the piano as a whole isn’t as hard as one might think. I’ve been playing for over 20 years, and I can remember how challenging some of those major works seemed to me as a kid. Having grown up and performed professionally around the world things aren’t so hard for me anymore! That doesn’t mean that I still don’t get challenged though.
Is Piano Hard To Learn By Yourself Or With A Teacher?
For me it was always about determining whether I would be up for the challenge. Piano is really a work in progress. It takes hours sometimes to perfect the most subtle details, but in the end it’s really all worth it. If you’re wondering if piano is hard to learn then the short answer is; maybe. It kind of all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, your work ethic, the kind of training you have and overall ambition.
Most pianists can teach themselves if they invest in the right kind of piano method or online courses. I recommend the Piano Jumpstart method because it walks you through everything step by step so you can get to playing music quickly at the piano.
10 Things You Should Know About Piano Playing
I want to share with you some things that I’ve learned throughout my journey as a concert pianist and what I think all beginner pianists should know before diving into this instrument. Some of my takes my surprise you, but it’ll definitely be worth the read!
I’ve broken this all down into 10 short sections so that you can really get an unbiased scope of how piano playing really is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or advanced, the same sort of principles will apply through your journey with this instrument.
1. Learning On Your Own Is Doable…But Having A Good Teacher Matters
A lot of pianists want to get by without investing in a teacher. I think the common thought is that maybe the teachers aren’t worth the money. Sometimes they aren’t, but a high quality teacher is definitely worth the investment. Learning on your own is doable, but you’re bound to run into enough frustrating roadblocks that giving up will look like a real possibility.
Piano teachers are there not to just tell you what fingers to use or to simply say “okay now you do it”. Instead piano teachers are there to offer you the kind of moral support and encouragement you need to keep pushing. A good piano teacher will be able to give you a sense of direction, watch all of the things you do and help you develop your technique as well.
A lot of the work happens in the practice room, but knowing what to do while you’re in there is helpful with a teacher involved. Once you’ve advanced enough then you can try going without a teacher (just like I do). Even to this day though I still call my college professors and ask them for advice and guidance. We’ll even schedule a lesson a few times a year!
2. Work Ethic Matters
When you’re working with an instrument like the piano you have to be prepared to really work on it. If you want to do well then that’s basically the trade off. I’m not suggesting that you jump up and spend 7 hours a day on the piano like some professionals do, but you need to schedule it.
Piano practice should be a regular part of your schedule. This means you’ll have to sacrifice some things at times so that you can work on your craft. If you don’t feel like you can give up a couple of movies and video games to get better then you’re going to have some problems down the line!
Your practice doesn’t have to be long, but it needs to be consistent. Of course if you’re working on a difficult piece of repertoire like Brahms and Rachmaninoff then you need to make it relative to that project.
3. Your Music Background Shouldn’t Matter
It helps if you already have some sort of a musical background before playing the piano. Whether that’s singing or playing the recorder, everyone starts somewhere. I don’t find it necessary at all to become a pianist though.
Piano a lot of times is like math, and it’s about putting all of those pieces together. If you’ve got a good noggin and are willing to learn then you can approach it no matter your history.
A lot of people I’ve talked to after concerts are always like “Josh, I gave up piano because I wasn’t talented enough”. I always tell them to pick it back up and that’s it’s never too late! Besides, those with a musical background had to start somewhere right?
4. Cheap Keyboards And Bad Pianos Won’t Help You
I didn’t grow up with much money (I still don’t have much haha), but my mom made sure I had the best equipment we could afford. Like most beginner pianists I started off with a small 61 key keyboard. It wasn’t weighted and I’m sure I stepped on it a few times and broke some keys here and there; but it’s what I had to work with!
As I developed in my lessons though, my teacher stressed to our family that a real acoustic piano was going to be necessary. I was advancing quickly, and my technique needed to be developed. we ended up purchasing an old used upright Kohler & Campbell piano.
That piano did wonders for me, and I eventually added another upright to my collection to get me through high school and college. Now I own a beautiful grand piano and it’s absolutely necessary that I have one so I can play my best.
The moral of the story is that poor equipment leads to poor results, and it’s true that it’s really hard to play well on them. As you advance an upgrade will be necessary. If it were up to me I would start off with a grand piano because that’s where you’ll get the best chance to develop your technique. Also, keyboards and bad upright pianos tend to lead to injuries, bad technique and overall you can’t really play well on them.
Choosing a digital piano can be confusing, but this article should help you choose the right piano. The article goes into detail about the best digital keyboards you can find for an affordable price.
5. Psyching Yourself Out
Form practice to performance, it’s really easy to psyche yourself out on the piano. You have to find a way to control your thoughts, because that’s really all they are. Thinking you’re going to perform poorly won’t help you improve at all. Yes nerves are a very real thing, but if you worry about trying to get past those nerves then you’ll just get more nervous.
There’s something enjoyable about the adrenaline of performance and embracing it is the way to go. Besides, when you get nervous playing the piano actually becomes really difficult! Rather than overthinking the piano, just take it as it comes.
Something I like to do is take plenty of breaks whenever I get to a difficult passage and things aren’t working out. Rather than waving the white flag, I just come back to it later and find myself feeling much better about things. You have to remember piano is a highly engaging activity, so you should take it in stages.
6. Technique & Patience Matters
Technical facility is a big part of piano playing. With good technique you’ll be able to play scales, falling sequences and all kinds of fancy stuff that piano players love to do. It takes time to develop that technique but it still comes down to the approach.
Many new pianists will simply complain that they can’t do this or that. “No I can’t play the scale at 123 BPM” and so forth. Much like a baby learns to walk, it takes time to build your muscles up with piano too. Just like an athlete trains and improves over the years so will you as a pianist. Keep your mind on the prize and understand that your technical development is a long term project!
7. Memory Is Tough
Memorizing piano music is different for everyone. Some people can get it on their first try, and other it’s takes some work. Don’t get too caught up in how long it takes you to memorize music; especially in the beginning.
Over time you’ll develop some ways that work for you as an individual. Memory is probably the toughest part of piano playing, because that’s what allows you to play pieces without having to stop all of the time. I also find that when I have pieces memorized that I can be the most musical versus trying to sightread.
8. A Note About Repertoire
There’s a lot of amazing music for the piano. Everything from Liszt to Bartok. I think as a new pianist you’ve probably had your ears on some really awesome music and your goal is to learn it by a certain time period. Wanting to learn something means very little though if you’re not advanced enough for it yet.
The repertoire you choose really matters. I’m guilty of this myself, but choosing music that’s beyond your technical and musical capabilities can really frustrate you. In that case then yes, playing the piano would be really hard! Instead what you should do is build up to that difficult repertoire.
I would try out a couple of pieces of varying difficulty levels and see where I land among the spectrum. Work your way up and treat each piece as a building block to the next. Here is a complete list of easy classical piano songs you can play, it should help you get started on choosing the right level of music just for you.
9. Everything Doesn’t Have To Be Classical
I’m a Classical pianist, and that’s because I really love it! However I do enjoy other genre’s of music too like Jazz and Pop. I play just a bit of everything and you can too! Classical music isn’t the hardest music out there for piano, but it’s fairly advanced.
Maybe you just want to learn piano to learn some Pop tunes or read chord charts. That’s totally okay! The same principals will apply. You still have to practice, work on your technique and all of those things. Don’t be scared away from the instrument just because of the style of music. Try a bit of everything!
Check out these easy pop songs to play on the piano, it’s up to date and worth the read!
10. I’m Too Old Right?
This last thing I’ll say about learning piano is that you’re never too old to start. Many adults think it’s hard to learn the piano just because they’re over a certain age. You might not become an international sensation and tour the world, but you certainly can learn.
Honestly it’s a little easier for adults to learn than kids. Since your brain is much more mature it’s easier to grasp some concepts that kids might not get the first time around. You also have more control over your schedule too and are more likely to commit and ask the right questions as an adult.
It’s always a nice thing when you can start the piano at a young age, but it’s not a requirement. Whether you want to learn the piano for yourself, or to perform for people the best time to start is right now!
My Final Thoughts
Well, those are my thoughts about the difficulty of learning the piano. I know that I do this for a living, but I tried to present this in an unbiased view. Learning the piano is something that I encourage anyone who wants to learn to do. If anything you shouldn’t worry too much about what you can and can’t do. Don’t even worry about not having the proper equipment either, just make sure you get started.
If you don’t have access to an instrument then consider calling up local churches and schools and seeing if you can use some of their instruments. Make a schedule and then really push yourself to stick to it. I think for me personally scheduling my practice time is where I really found some consistency in my playing. If you’re putting the time in every day and maximizing that time then you’ll be just fine.
Like I mentioned earlier it’s never too late to get started. If you’re a beginning adult piano player and are looking to get started then you’ve got the green light! Happy practicing!