The best way to learn to play the piano in 2019

If you want to learn to play the piano in 2019, there are options abound to get started, but none are as effective as having a teacher. A teacher offers 3 key benefits that no other option can provide: feedback, individualised learning and motivation/accountaibilty.

If you want to learn to play the piano, there are different paths you can take. You can use piano learning apps, videos, and online courses. There are the traditional method books and, of course, you can find a teacher.

Not everyone has the financial capacity to invest in live lessons. But even in 2019, they are still the best way to learn an instrument.

In today’s blog, I’m going to show you three important reasons why a teacher is still the best possible route to success.

The feedback loop

A key benefit to working with a teacher is the feedback loop. The feedback loop is when you play for the teacher, who provides you with immediate feedback on your performance.

Feedback is a crucial element in skill learning. That is because unless you know what is wrong, you don’t know what to fix. You don’t know what you don’t know.

If you are inexperienced yet want to be your own teacher, how will you know whether what you just played was successful? What is a success at your learning stage anyway? Without relevant pedagogical experience, how do you know what and when to learn the next step?

Recording yourself or using apps may provide limited feedback. You can hear wrong notes, and certain apps can detect incorrect rhythms.

But no app is going to tell you your phrasing was incorrect. It won’t tell you that despite the ‘wrong’ note, you sounded great and no one would have noticed. Even worse are apps that pause for every mistake, not allowing you to establish any kind of flow.

Playing the piano (or an instrument) is far more complex than hitting the right notes at the right time. Rhythm and beat is NOT a strictly linear thing, and sometimes ‘wrong’ notes are ok as long as you keep the beat going.

Recording yourself will only help you detect certain errors. It won’t be able to offer helpful advice and practice tips. Furthermore, your untrained ears may not even pick up on certain mistakes.

The value of your teacher lies in their ability to provide immediate feedback from a professional point of view.

An experienced teacher will have come across a wide variety of difficulties. They will have a lot of different ways to address them too.

Oh and by the way, trying to work out piano technique by yourself is fraught with danger. It’s not that easy to copy movements from a video tutorial. I have seen plenty of tension inducing movements by people misinterpreting technique videos!

If you are wanting help with technique, a teacher who can observe you is a far safer bet than trying to work it out yourself.

Scaffolded learning at the right pace.

A lot of adults attempt to teach themselves using adult method books.

Most method books are excellent at explaining and helping you understand key concepts. Many adults owe their basic understanding of music to them.

It is no wonder that even most of us teachers rely on them for our curriculums.

But what books don’t do is tell you how fast to move through the materials.

Often, self-learners fall into one of these two traps:

They learn superficially and move too quickly through the material. They end up skipping essential building blocks.

The lack of skill usually comes to light much later in the journey when pieces increase in complexity. Suddenly they can’t keep up! It takes enormous willpower to go back and re-learn, and it is no wonder many quit at this stage.

On the other hand, some self-learners become overly perfectionistic. They move too slowly through the materials, thinking that every piece has to sound like a professional recording. Self-learners may spend weeks learning pieces that should take two weeks tops. They don’t realise that the learning at this stage does not lie in perfection.

Beginner pieces were designed to teach specific concepts. When the student has learned these concepts, it’s time to move on, even if the piece isn’t quite perfect yet. If you fall victim to perfectionism too early in your journey, you might get bored. Or worse, you put piano in the ‘too hard basket’ and quit.

To find the line between moving too fast and too slow is quite challenging to do yourself. After all, who is assessing the learning? It is you, a beginner with almost no knowledge of what ‘good enough’ means at this stage.

A teacher, on the other hand, will know what they are trying to achieve with each piece. They will move you to the next chapter when you have reached the requirements at the appropriate speed.

Motivation, challenge, accountability

Did you know that only 10% of people who enroll in a course FINISH it?

The reason for this low success rate is that self-learning is tricky because it is hard to stay self-motivated. You have a busy life, no doubt, and it is easy to push your personal development to the background.

By having a weekly appointment with a real teacher, you are far more likely to do the work. Accountability makes you more likely to practice!

After all, you want to get your money’s worth and get the best out of your music and piano lessons. You’ll want to make sure you are prepared and have completed the challenges set for you each week.

It’s also hugely motivating to have a teacher who is happy to see you and who is excited to see your progress week after week.

Furthermore, by going to a teacher you are more likely to remain focused. There is so much to learn when it comes to music, and it is easy to get distracted.

But a teacher will (should!) have a plan for you in mind, and provide you with clear practice tasks each week, so you know what your focus should be week after week.

So these are three key benefits to having a teacher and they are the core reason why even in 2019, a piano teacher is your best bet for learning to play.

Of course, some people cannot afford a teacher. Private tuition is an investment that sadly not all of us can make.

So while I am convinced that having a teacher is the best way to learn, if you cannot afford a teacher, some other paths can get you started. I’ll explore some of those next week – so keep an eye out for the next post if that’s of interest.

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