Best Ways To Learn How To Play Piano

Piano – an instrument that inspires joy, awe, and quite a bit of intimidation. What is it about the piano that causes so many different reactions? And why do so many people want to learn how to play piano, but never do?

These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself over the years. But if you’re new here, your number one question is probably a bit simpler:

“Can I learn how to play piano?”

You’ve come to the right place, because I’m more than happy to walk you through your options and help you find the best fit for you. Your journey into piano learning doesn’t have to be scary or confusing. Believe it or not, anyone with the right training can learn how to play the piano in as little as 21 days.

The Dream vs. The Reality

Most of us want to sit down at our pianos or keyboards and effortlessly whirl our way through our favorite tunes. It’s easy, it sounds great, and it’s a great way to enjoy music in a creative way. Awesome!

Now here’s the grim reality: Playing piano isn’t like that for most people. Most people find it complicated and confusing. Many people find practice sessions boring and discouraging. And a lot of people who study this instrument aren’t happy with their results, even if they have a lot of time-consuming lessons and practice under their belts. Even easy songs to play on piano might take a lot of work to learn.

The dream versus the reality – what a difference.

Personally, I’m really bummed when I think about all the people who toil through lessons they hate for results they don’t love. I was one of them for a long time. It sucks.

how to play piano

But I don’t just relate to that frustrated feeling – I’ve moved past it. After giving up on learning to play piano for a while, I had the good fortune of meeting someone who introduced me to another method that worked better for me. Having information presented in a way that I could understand and easily apply made all the difference.

Knowledge is power. Knowing your needs plus your options is the best way to find the right approach for you. Let’s look at what you need to learn to play piano. But before we continue with the rest of the article, here’s a quick video I made showing you just how easy learning piano can be:


Knowing Your Instruments’ Notes

As with any new learning experience, you have to start with the basics. And on piano, you probably can’t get any more basic than individual notes.

If you want to excel at learning to play, you need to have the piano keyboard notes down pat. It seems like many piano students simply don’t take the time to memorize the notes that make up their instrument. It’s a mystery to me why this issue is so widespread, but I’m doing my best to fight it over here at Piano In 21 Days. 😉

Understanding Piano Octaves

Once you know your keys, you can move on to piano octaves. An octave is just a set of 8 white keys, so this is a simple next step toward being competent on your piano. If you familiarize yourself with octaves, you can then begin to play bass notes – a simple yet powerful way to add depth to your sound. The next level up? Switching octaves as an improvisation tool!

Playing Chords

Chords are a big component of most modern music, so it’s a shame that people can feel so intimidated by them. Maybe it’s because they look confusing on sheet music, or because there seem like a lot to memorize.

Chords are so important that you can’t afford to avoid them. Consequently, if you do avoid them, you’ll be severely limited in what you can play. That’s why I’m all about demystifying chords and making them as easy as possible to play. Hint: If you know how to count the fingers on one of your hands, you can probably learn to play piano chords.

How to Play Piano While Adding in Improvisation

When you have a good foundation in playing chords, the fun doesn’t have to stop there. In fact, there are a ton of things you can do to beef up your sound and add interesting nuances. Improvisation is a set of tools that even a relatively new piano student can begin to use.

There are too many improv options to list in this overview, but a few of my favorites include chord patterns, arpeggios, and octave switching. I promise that learning how to improvise on piano is not as hard as it sounds. You just need some clear instructions and a reasonable amount of practice time.

Melody and Playing by Ear

Here’s where things can get a bit more complicated. Learning melody and incorporating ear training take some extra work. But the payoff can be truly worthwhile.

Why do melody and playing by ear go hand in hand? Well, training yourself to hear changes in the music precisely is a good way to develop melodies without sheet music. When you can pick out melodies without needing to sight-read, you can spend a lot less time worrying about individual notes or mimicking the original song like a robot. Learning how to play piano by ear allows for more personality in your playing.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

So far, we’ve discussed some important skills you need to develop if you’re interested in learning to play piano. Before getting into your study options, there’s something I need to get out of the way.

I have pretty strong opinions on my favorite approach to learning piano. Also, I teach piano a certain way and I’m proud of the resources I’ve developed. Therefore, hopefully you can appreciate that I’m here to share what works for me and my students.

That said, I understand that not everyone is the same. People have different goals and different learning styles. Some have fairly straightforward needs, while others prefer a lot of flexibility. I hear from everyone from stay-at-home parents, to world travelers, to CEO and retirees. So I get it, and I understand that the best way to learn piano for one person might not be the best choice for someone else.

As you read through the top methods for learning how to play piano, keep an open mind. It’s important to think through your options, and then make an informed decision. You are the best judge of your own needs and goals. 🙂

Method 1: Traditional Lessons

Traditional lessons are the kind of piano instruction so many of us love to hate. Sometimes that’s with good reason. I spent 12 years of my life on this method, and had very little to show for it. Many of my students had similar experiences.

That said, traditional piano lessons aren’t all bad. Here’s what this method does pretty well (given enough time, practice, and self-motivation):

  • Teaches sight reading
  • Develops understanding of music theory
  • Creates a piano-learning routine
  • Builds attention span and playing stamina
  • (Sometimes) Creates opportunities for public performance

Fair enough! Let’s look at who this method is best for:

  • Aspiring professional pianists
  • Budding composers
  • Classical music enthusiasts

If that sounds like you, traditional piano learning is probably your best bet.

Method 2: Self-Guided Learning

This method is pretty new, and it’s all the rage thanks to ever-improving online content. If you search for “piano tutorials” online, you’ll see hundreds of videos and articles pop up (including this one). That’s led to the rise of self-guided learning.

When considering how to teach yourself piano from online resources, self-guided learning is budget-friendly and offers flexibility for any schedule. That said, there are some downsides to this method:

  • Usually no clearly outlined learning structure or lesson plan
  • So much content that it can be hard to find the best options
  • No accountability to a teacher or mentor

If those concerns don’t put you off, self-guided learning may be the right fit for you. Free and flexible are both very nice perks.

Method 3: Online Learning

The third method we’ll cover here can often be mistaken for method No. 2. Online learning through a course or program shares some similarities to self-guided learning. The resources are all online, and the learning structure is generally more flexible. But there are some differences that make online learning a better option for many folks:

  • Usually one teacher or teaching method for the whole program
  • Clearly outlined goals and steps to learning
  • A specific course sequence designed to achieve results
  • Usually much cheaper than long-term traditional lessons
  • Accessible from anywhere in the world with an internet connection
  • (Typically) Faster results than traditional piano learning
  • (In some cases) Online support for students who have questions or need extra motivation

Who might benefit the most from online piano learning? Get ready – because it’s a pretty long list:

  • Casual learners who want a flexible lesson schedule
  • Busy adults who can’t commit to weekly traditional lessons
  • People who have no interest in classical music
  • Students who prefer to learn on the go via mobile devices
  • Former piano students who never really got the hang of piano
  • Beginners who feel intimidated by sight reading and music theory
  • Songwriters who want to use piano as part of their creative process
  • Band members and worship leaders who want to add keyboard into the mix
  • Singers who would love to be able to accompany themselves
  • Anyone who would enjoy learning how to play piano without a lot of hassle

Whew! You can’t say I didn’t warn you: Online learning could work well for a lot of different people.

Which Approach to How to Play Piano is Right for You?

Okay, we’ve gone over some of the biggest piano learning options. That said, only you can really decide how to play piano. Which approach appeals the most to you as an individual? Which learning format makes the most sense for your needs?

If you’re on the fence, I definitely recommend you check out my free 5-day workbook. It’s a great little introduction to chord-based playing piano for beginners, which is what I teach in my full 21-day online piano course. There’s so much you can learn in this free resource alone. And it’s the best way to figure out if my approach is right for you.

No matter what you decide to do, I wish you all the best on your piano-learning journey.