If you are looking for a simple and straightforward guide to piano for beginners, congratulations – you have come to the right place. And I’m glad you’re here! Because the more I share my approach to piano, the more I get to see normal people like you and me enjoying it.
I’m all about helping my students go from wanting to learn, to actually playing real songs of their choice. That’s because I struggled for years (12, to be exact) to learn piano, yet never really got anywhere. I can relate to what it feels like to be frustrated and bored by piano. I’ve experienced firsthand the disconnect between long-term effort and positive results.
Getting Started as a Piano Beginner Has Never Been Easier
Unfortunately, despite all these awesome developments, many people are still very intimidated by piano. A lot of these beautiful instruments end up in dumpsters and landfills, just because their former owners can’t make use of them! (1) And far too many people spend huge amounts of time and money on normal lessons, yet remain beginners for life. Why? Because myths and elitism surround the entire topic of learning piano – even piano for beginners.
Let’s Bust Some Myths About Learning Piano
So let’s bust some myths and debunk some common beliefs about piano beginners and learning piano. You know, the kind of things you hear like:
- Only naturally talented people (2) can play piano easily
- Piano beginners have to put in years of practice before they can learn to play well
- Reading sheet music is the most important skill for piano beginners to learn
I want you to know that many professional performers, proficient amateurs, and plenty of people in between have disproved these myths. I’m not the first person to realize that it doesn’t have to be a huge process to play real songs and enjoy it. And I won’t be the last! Here’s what Alicia Keys says about her music process:
When I was first learning songs, I’d have a favorite song, and I’d take the chords and twist them around. I’d learn the chords and then play them backward. That was my first experimenting with writing a song.
To me, that sounds like the exact opposite of regimented, boring piano studies!
Myth No. 1: Only ‘Natural’ Musicians Can Play Piano Easily
Here’s an example of the type of email I get pretty often from prospective students:
“Jacques, I’m just a normal person – I’m definitely not a born musician. I’m worried that I’ll be wasting my time trying to learn to play piano when I’m not a natural like you.”
I have to chuckle when I read these kinds of messages, because clearly this person hasn’t read my bio! I’m no “natural” musician – my parents signed me up for lessons because it seemed like a good thing to do, not because I showed signs of being a prodigy. And 12 years of traditional lessons honestly didn’t do much for me. So I’m just a normal person with no built-in affinity for piano.
Like me and so many other people who enjoy piano with ease, the key was finding an approach that made sense for my needs. Not natural talent, not perfect pitch, not some magical musical superpower!
This is good news, because it means that you don’t have to have any special abilities in order to enjoy playing piano. And based on what on what I’ve seen with my students, piano for beginners can be simple and quick to learn.
Myth No. 2: It Takes Years to Learn Piano for Beginners
Another thing people often say to me is:
“I’ve never been able to find the time to learn piano. I can’t commit to hours of practice every week, let alone commit to years of lessons! Is it possible to make any real progress in a short amount of time?”
Simply put, the answer is yes. I have seen firsthand that it absolutely is possible to get playing real songs on piano in a relatively short time. If it wasn’t possible, it would be pretty silly of me to name my website pianoin21days.com! 😉
With traditional piano lessons, it can take 10-12 years for someone to reach advanced levels. To put that in perspective, you could earn a PHD in that amount of time and still have a couple years left over! So I understand why it feels daunting to learn piano.
But I’m not here to turn my students into advanced classical pianists. To the contrary: most of my students aren’t interested in classical music and don’t want to become professional performers.
That’s why my chord-based approach meets their needs so well – I help them build a foundation of practical, streamlined knowledge so that they can focus on playing songs they love. With some consistent practice and self-motivation, you can get to this point in as little as three weeks!
Myth No. 3: If You Can’t Read Sheet Music, You Can’t Play Piano
This third myth is also super-common among piano beginners (not to mention plenty of piano teachers!):
“Don’t I need to learn to read sheet music first?”
No. No, you don’t.
Not to be annoying, but let me repeat that: You do not need to learn to read sheet music before playing piano. You don’t even need to ever learn sight-reading, unless you have some specific, advanced piano goals!
Unless you dream of touring the world as a professional pianist, or only want to play Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, and their peers, sight-reading probably shouldn’t be your priority. If you’re focused on things like:
- Enjoying your favorite popular tunes
- Helping out in your church’s worship team
- Accompanying your singing
- Entertaining at family gatherings or community events
- Adding keyboard to your band’s lineup
- Being able to sit down at any random piano and feel comfortable playing songs of your choice
… then chord-based playing is the best place to start! And believe me when I say that this is much, much easier than playing from sheet music. Piano for beginners can and should be beginner-friendly!
Piano for Beginners: Common Questions
Okay, it’s time for me to answer some common questions people have about piano for beginners. (But if you don’t see an answer to a question you have here, feel free to email me anytime!) Let’s dive in!
How Many Notes Do I Need to Memorize?
Looking at a full keyboard with 88 keys can feel intimidating. Do you really need to memorize all of them? Technically, yes. You need to know all the keys, because you have to understand what keys they represent. But focusing on that isn’t nearly as helpful as what I’m about to tell you.
Here’s the deal: Those 88 keys are really just sets of the same 12 notes repeating themselves. While the pitch will vary (lower on the left side, higher on the right side), that’s the only difference between them. So all you really need to learn in the 12 note sequence that each and every set of 12 keys represents.
If that still sounds intimidating, look at this way. You know the months of the year, right? You can remember the names of way more than 12 people. Learning 12 notes is not that hard when you realize you already have this ability. 😉
What Is the Significance of the Black Keys?
A cool aspect of piano keyboards is something many beginners actually feel confused by: black keys. For some reason, a lot of people feel afraid of playing the black keys. But they are only placed and colored differently to make this easier for you!
Think about it, if your piano just had one long row of white keys, it would be super-confusing and hard to find your way around. Everything would look the same.
Something to note: The black keys also represent sharps and flats. I promise this is not hard to understand or learn once you have some basic music knowledge under your belt. Still with me?
What Are Piano Chords?
Okay, we’ve talked about notes and keys on your piano. But unless you want to just plunk out songs one note at a time (hint: nobody wants this), you need to learn more about piano chords and what piano chords are. My approach is all about helping my students learn to build chords – groups of notes that sound good together and add depth to your playing.
Most chords have three notes in them. And most traditional piano teachers teach you to play them by looking at sheet music, figuring out the notes within each chord as they appear, and playing them in your left or right hand depending on whether they are in the treble or bass clef. Sounds… complicated. Right?
I’m happy to tell you that the way I teach chords is so much easier – actually, some people tell me it sounds too good to be true!
How Many Chords are There?
How many chords are there? Hundreds. Thousands. Maybe even tens of thousands! No, I’m not kidding. There is a ridiculous number of possible chords out there. But – and this is an important but – most of them are completely irrelevant for beginners. In fact, even the most advanced pianists out there do not use the majority of the chords that are technically possible.
So I think a much better question would be this: how many chords should you learn how to play? And a basic answer would be:
- 12 major chords
- 12 minor chords
- Inverted, suspended, diminished, and various other versions of the 24 chords I just mentioned
Now I know that still might sound daunting. But remember, I teach my students to learn chord formulas, not to memorize individual chords themselves. So really all you need to memorize is:
- One simple major chord formula
- One simple minor chord formula
- Two simple options for inverting chords
- A few other simple variations
What Is the Ideal Age for Beginners to Learning Piano?
I discourage parents of children under the age of 8 from enrolling them in beginner piano lessons. Small hands, limited
attention spans, and lack of self-discipline are common issues with young kids (believe me, with two daughters of my own I am very aware of this).
But other than that, I really don’t see a need to set an age limit on piano learning! Just yesterday, I had someone email me and say:
“I’m in my late 30s, so I’m probably too old to really learn piano. Do you think it’s too late for me?”
I take this person’s concerns seriously, because clearly they do. But I had to chuckle as I typed out my reply. Why? Because I have had students successfully complete my course who were literally double this person’s age. In most cases, my older students have been the most dedicated and self-motivated people I’ve worked with.
What is the Easiest Song to Learn on the Piano?
Have you ever wondered what is the easiest song to learn on the piano? While it’s hard to pin down one exact song that fits this description, we can think about what some of the features would be for easy piano songs. Things like:
- Basic rhythm patterns
- Moderate tempo (not too fast, not too slow)
- Limited number of chords to play
- Already familiar to the student
I include that last requirement because in many cases you will find it easier to play songs you’ve heard before. And that’s why I think that practicing with popular music really helps.
What could be some nice, easy songs for beginners on piano? How about these picks:
- “Someone Like You” – Adele
- “Let It Be” – The Beatles
- “Superman” – Five For Fighting
- “Let It Go” – Idina Menzel
- “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – John Denver
- “No Woman, No Cry” – Bob Marley
All of these songs meet some or all of the criteria I listed earlier. And you can learn to play these songs plus many more with my approach!
Which Piano is Best for Beginners?
Okay, we’ve gone over the basics of what you need to play piano. But which piano is best for beginners? Should learning piano for beginners happen on an acoustic? On a portable keyboard? What about digital pianos (3), and MIDI keyboards? The range of choices can be overwhelming.
The best piano for beginners? While I’m a firm believer in the importance of choosing what makes the most sense for your needs, not everyone knows what they need. So I’ve actually made a handy dandy video on this exact topic.
If you are looking for a non-acoustic instrument, here are some models I recommend:
- Digital Piano
- Keyboard Kit (I actually have a separate video review for this model here)
- MIDI Controller
Remember, all that ultimately matters is that you have something to practice on with 49+ keys and a sustain pedal! Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Why Play Piano
No matter what your favorite genre is or how much piano experience you’ve had, music is something that all people can enjoy one way or another. (4) Normal, everyday people like you and me turn to music to de-stress, to motivate, and to simply have fun! After all, as Billy Joel puts it:
I can’t think of one person I’ve ever met who didn’t like some type of music.
You don’t have to be a professional musician, or even an advanced student to benefit from learning piano. You don’t have to take traditional lessons to learn to play songs you like (at least, not if you learn with my chord-based approach!). And you shouldn’t have to invest years plus thousands of dollars to get to the point where you can sit down at a piano with confidence.
Why should you play piano? Here’s my two cents: Play piano for the fun of it. For the joy of creating music. For the excitement of adding your own unique spin. And maybe even for proving some naysayers wrong. 😉
Piano for beginners can be fun, simple, and quick to learn. With the right tools I think you are going to be thrilled with what you can achieve!
- David Walkin, For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/arts/music/for-more-pianos-last-note-is-thud-in-the-dump.html
- Norman M. Weinberger, Music And The Brain. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/music-and-the-brain-2006-09/
- Wikipedia, Digital Piano. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_piano
- Jill Suttie, How Music Bonds Us Together. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_music_bonds_us_together