Hi Everyone it’s Matt here!
If you’re just starting piano lessons as an adult beginner, or trying to figure out how to start, you’re at the right place. As a piano teacher, I’ve worked with hundreds of adult beginners in person (and thousands online).
So first, the free lessons bit . . . If you’re interested in my method, make sure to click here to check out my free beginner lessons. I promise you’ll get a great start from them.
Now for the “advice” bit . . .
When you teach piano lessons long enough, you start to see trends. You can’t miss it. There are certain things some adult beginners do, a way they approach the piano, that makes them more successful.
I’m convinced that success at the piano has a lot less to do with intelligence than people believe. In fact, for several reasons, intelligent people have a tendency to develop incorrect habits at the piano. The reason is that 1) they become over-analytical, and try to let analysis handle things that their “ear” ought to, and 2) they try to handle too much information at once, instead of using repetition to make one aspect of playing automatic before moving onto another.
So, success at the piano, to a large extent, is determined by getting the process correct. It has much more to do with developing good habits than it does with intelligence.
Having said that, here are some points to keep in mind:
1) Successful Piano Students are *ear oriented*
Successful students want to know how something sounds. They get as clear a picture as possible of what they are trying to do at the piano in terms of sound, and then work to create that.
Unsuccessful students try to do the reverse. They will analyze what is happening in terms of note names and intervals and try to move their fingers accordingly, without first asking themselves how a certain thing ought to sound.
2) Successful Piano Students automatize
Successful students have a policy of making things as easy as possible. They do this by repeating things until they are automatic. In doing this, they free up mental energy for other playing tasks.
Unsuccessful students try to handle everything at once. For instance, they will try to play a piece of music before they are comfortable naming the notes of the keyboard or reading music. They then wonder why its so hard to think about the notes, the letter names, hand placement, AND read music all at the same time. Often they feel like they are not smart enough, when in reality they simply haven’t taken the time to automatize the basic elements of piano playing.
3) Successful Piano Students look for Patterns and Harmonies
Successful students immediately look for patterns and harmonies. They do a lot of scale practice, and especially tons chord practice, so that they get a sense of the fundamental layout of the keyboard.
Unsuccessful students rush to learn music before understanding building blocks. For them every line of music is a new thing, unrelated to chords or scales they ought to be familiar with. This makes them feel extremely disoriented, and creates an extremely slow learning process.
4) Successful Piano Students Understand Before Playing
Successful students want to understand a section before playing it. They want to be in control of their actions to get a desired response.
Unsuccessful students take action haphazardly and hope for the best.
5) Successful Piano Students understand hierarchy
Successful students understand that piano is learned as a step-by-step process. They build their abilities one step at a time.
Unsuccessful students dive in without worrying about fundamentals. This is fun for a while, but they quickly burn out once improvement slows down.
6) Successful Piano Students learn to focus on problem areas
Successful students develop a knack for identifying problem areas, correcting them, and learning them through repetition. When a successful student encounters a problem, he or she works out a solution and repeats that area calmly and endlessly to make it more automatic.
Unsuccessful students usually start from the beginning of a piece every time and muddle through the areas that give them trouble. Instead of using problem areas as learning opportunities, they associate them with tension and unclear thinking.
7) Successful Piano Students look for the big picture
After practicing a small section, the successful student will go back and put it in context by repeating a larger surrounding section. More importantly, the successful student ties the physical *playing* of a problem area with how that area *sounds*.
Unsuccessful students might go as far as practicing a problem area, but then they won’t tie that in with the larger picture and sound of the piece.
8) Successful Piano Students practice
Successful students practice every day. For them piano is a long term, step- by-step project.
Unsuccessful students practice randomly and in spurts. Because of this they always feel rushed and try to handle too much at once.
If the above outline seems a bit general, don’t worry. The next couple posts will be devoted to more hands-on practical applications of the above that you can use in your own practice!
Hi there, I’m Matt!
Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m a piano teacher of over 20 years and this is my way of sharing some of the things I’ve learned in my teaching.
If you’d like to leave a comment or question below, I respond to all of them!
And if you’re interested in free beginner lessons, I have a series that has helped thousands of adult students begin the piano!
Click here if you want to take a look at my free beginner lessons.
I just read your tips above but have not looked into your free lessons yet. I love your approach. Thanks for the post. I will give it a try.
Mistakes are a part of learning. Don’t feel embarrassed if you make mistakes or if a song or skill is difficult for you to learn. Most piano teachers don’t mind if you make mistakes because it shows you are trying. They want to help you improve. When you make mistakes, it helps them understand what you are struggling with and how they can help you. Remember where you started and celebrate your improvements, no matter how small. When you see the progress you’ve made, you will be more inclined to continue. When you’ve mastered a song or skill that was difficult, celebrate that accomplishment. Even if you aren’t a perfect pianist after taking lessons, you will be better and more knowledgeable than you were before you started.
Playing the piano had always been a dream I wasn’t able to fulfill as a kid. But recently, my grandfather left me the vintage piano he owned as a parting gift and encouraged me to learn even if I’m a full-grown adult now. I’m really thankful that this article didn’t go into technicalities that much but instead generalized everything in a way readers would understand how successful piano students ended up that way, such as learning how to focus on problem areas. I definitely agree that identifying where you went wrong is an important skill to master for us beginners to be able to move forward. Unfortunately, the piano is kind of broken, so I might call a piano tuner first before training since I don’t want it to go to waste.
I like your opening message. I am 58 yo with a long and frustrated history with learning music. And now I’m back at it :-).
I determined that is important (for me) to have specific goals like “I want to play X”, vs “I want to play music (in the abstract)”.
Here’s my question: I resonate very much with Bach, and with blues, e.g. Jimmy Yancey, Otis Spann, Eddie Boyd, that kind of thing. And I really like scales; no need to convince me they are important.
The two kinds of music that excite me seem pretty different at first glance; can you say anything about how to proceed?
Very good article! I love your blog.
Thank you for some of these excellent suggestions. I’m a budding piano player, it makes me nervous to play the piano. I only do les several times a week, this is the first time to learn notes etc. I love to see people playing the piano and I want to be able to play the piano well. clavis.nl
Hi Rossa — Thank you! I hope you enjoy reading through the rest of the blog 🙂
As a piano teacher I see how true it is, and I 100% agree with you .
Click here to see more important tips for beginners pianists
Hi, Matt. Thank you for your time. I registered for your free piano lessons and just completed the first one. Thank you. I am 51 years old, I grew up with a baby grand piano in my home, but never learned how to play. I inherited the piano when my parents passed away and it has been sitting idle for over a decade. The time seems right to start learning how to play as this is at the top of my bucket list, the kids are grown and I now have the time to invest. I tried to write a comment after the lesson but I was not able to scroll down far enough after the 2nd video to access it. I look forward to the next two lessons.
Hello I absolutely love this article. I am a Piano Teacher!
I agree with you 100%. I would actually love to share this blog on my piano website. Could you let me know if that is ok with you?
Hi Matt, this is a great blog! I am an adult looking to re-learn the piano after about 15 years of not playing. What exercise books would you recommend for someone like me who is trying to regain the ability I used to have?
Hi Eileen – Thank you! That really depends on where you are in your studies and what music you are interested in. Let me know — Also, finding a great teacher is really quite helpful. It takes a lot of patience but I’ve seen many adults pick the piano back up and really enjoy it.
Here’s a tip I’ve learned over the years:
To get to really know the piano, practice your scales. They really improve your dexterity and go hand in hand with theory. If you know what key you are in when you start a song, your fingers will “know” the sharps and flats and you will play without thinking too much.
Work on your scales but don’t overdo it. Just work on them when you warm up. Play them a few times and move on. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, you will get better.
As one of my first piano teachers told me, play your scales slowly at first. You don’t need to play fast to get the benefit.
Stephanie – Completely agree scales are important! I’ll be covering the proper technique of scales – which most people get wrong – in my piano lessons videos.
I have a question that’s eating away at me. Why do people count the left hand pinky as 5 and the left thumb as 1, opposite the right hand? An un-inverted CEG chord in the left hand is 135, not 531.
What is the benefit of counting in the opposite direction? Does it help site reading?
Hi Carl – The hands are mirror images of each other so actually the pinky in both hands is 5, the ring finger is 4, etc. So there is a symmetry to it, which is especially true with considering technical patterns. I hope that helps.
This is absolutely correct. I starting playing the piano 5 years ago and now I can improvise, play jazz, play in a band etc. It’s all about how much you want to do learn and the time you have for practicing.
Adrian, Did you have a practice routine ? About how many hours do practice a day? I have been very diligent with my piano practice by ear but I had very less success after more than 5 years of practice. I’m not trying to compare my self to you but any advice you could have , may help me correct or improve my practice time. Thank you
How old did you start playing? and what are the common beginner dilemmas you have encountered all through out the 5 years?
Hi Ezer – I started playing at around age 8 but my trajectory wasn’t as direct as some kids . . . it was an off and on thing. I could write a whole blog post about beginner dilemmas (and probably will/have) but as a quick answer the main thing I see with adult beginners that screws them up is ingraining poor physical and mental habits from the beginning that can take a ton of time to break.