The piano remains the most popular instrument to teach a child. The keyboard layout remains perhaps the most intuitive way to learn the harmonic layout of any instrument, and it translates to other instruments, like the organ and synthesizer. Furthermore, the piano has a musical repertoire that stretches back centuries, from the harpsichord to the MIDI controller. Learning the piano puts you in the driver’s seat of a massive musical tradition. But how do you learn the darn thing to achieve piano perfection?
The key to any instrument is to learn to play something that you enjoy. Maybe you love the funky clavinet riffs that Bernie Worrell brought to Funkadelic in the 1970s, or maybe you want to emulate Glenn Gould’s sublime interpretation of J.S. Bach’s keyboard works. There’s something to be said for learning a standard classical repertoire, but if this isn’t the music you enjoy, it probably won’t serve your learning process. So first things first, choose a style of music you wish to play. Now we’ll choose your learning method.
Learning to Read
There are tons of ways to learn the music you like. You could focus on the classical method: learning to read sheet music. This will unlock the complete history of piano music for you, most of which was written before the sound of music could be recorded. This will also allow you to learn modern music, much of which has been written in this standard notation even if it was not composed this way.
Playing By Ear
You could also decide to learn by ear. Listen to recordings of music that you enjoy, and try to mimic the parts you hear. Your results may vary, as the perfection of your playing will depend on your skill at discerning what’s going on in recordings. Alternately, you could watch videos of performers you enjoy, taking careful note of what their fingers are doing. Reproducing these movements in your own home will give you great results, with practice.
The Youtube Musician Community
Believe it or not, some of the best piano playing that has ever been recorded is on Youtube. Innovative new players share ideas and pieces on this platform, and young players learn their techniques by watching them and listening to their explanations. This has yielded a remarkably skilled new generation of bedroom artists, some of whom (Jacob Collier, for example) have demonstrated skill that surpasses many past masters. Choose well who you listen to in this digital musical world, and you could really boost your knowledge and skill.
If you want to share your own piano playing, make sure you know how to record music live.
What to Play?
You’ve also got to choose an instrument. You could always go with a physical piano, many of which are affordable or even free on Craigslist these days, but these instruments are heavy and difficult to move. They also sound terrible unless kept in careful tune. If you don’t have a cherished and maintained analog piano, consider a high quality digital piano, or just go with an 88 key MIDI controller, which can be used to play any digital sample (organ, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, synth, not to mention literally any other digital sound). Buy the best instrument you can afford, because these will be built with care, and will reward you with excellent sound and performance. It’s difficult to “battle” a crappy instrument, especially when you’re just learning, so don’t skimp if the piano is something you’re committed to learning well.
Piano may no longer be the cutting edge instrument it was in past centuries, but it’s still an excellent way to learn music, and its keyboard design continues to be a standard in all modern music. With centuries of music to draw from, piano perfection can be obtained to provide you a foundation for a varied and joyous musical life.