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Should You Teach Yourself To Play Piano?

So, you want to learn to play piano, and have decided to teach yourself to play? You’ll be joining many other people who have made the same choice, many of whom will go on to have a great time and develop good piano skills. However, some will give up, or fail to make the progress they desire.

So, before embarking on your piano playing journey, be aware that self-teaching isn’t always the best way to go. People have more often learned to play by taking lessons in person with a teacher, and doing this can be much more effective. A good teacher will show you exactly what you should be doing every step of the way, will stop you developing bad habits that can derail your progress later on, and will provide support and encouragement when the going gets tough (which it will, at some point). And if you eventually want to study classical piano at a high level, or become a professional pianist, guidance from a teacher will be crucial. But if you just want to play for fun, you have more leeway.

I’m not trying to put you off – but just know that self-taught players can end up with gaps in their technique, simply because they don’t know what they should be learning, and many develop poor posture, hand position and other bad playing habits, because they don’t know any better, or don’t have anyone to notice problems developing. Some also find it tempting to give up when the initial enthusiasm has worn off, when there’s no one there to prod them along. Once the basics are mastered, learning the finer points of musical phrasing and expression can also be more challenging when you go it alone.

So ideally, it’s best to learn with a good teacher, or at very least have a few lessons until you’ve grasped the basics, so you start off on the right footing. But private lessons aren’t an option for many people, perhaps because they can’t find a good teacher locally, or for time- or money-related reasons. Some people also feel very uncomfortable with a teacher, and prefer to learn alone. Self-teaching is normally the only way to go in these cases, but if you decide to learn piano alone, you must be very diligent about maintaining correct form, and follow a good course of piano lessons (rather than just picking up bits of information from different places in a piecemeal way). Teaching yourself can be a lot of fun, but it isn’t an excuse to skip the ‘boring bits’ or the hard technical exercises – if you’re serious about learning to play piano well, you’ll need to be very highly motivated, and follow the same general routine and disciplines as someone who’s learning in the traditional way, and a good lesson plan (like this one, for example) will show you how to do this.

Personally, I’ve experienced this from both sides – I had piano lessons as a child, starting at age 7, after learning to play simple tunes by ear on my own. Then I stopped those classes after a few years, and have been self-taught ever since. I also had lessons on the French horn and clarinet while at school (as well as the violin for a few disastrous weeks!), and taught myself the guitar as an adult. I’ve dabbled in other instruments as an adult too, by teaching myself. My main instruments are now the piano and guitar, and I continue to progress under my own steam, although I wouldn’t rule out seeking a teacher’s advice at some point if it felt appropriate. I can say that self-teaching on any instrument is not necessarily an easier option, but lessons with a teacher aren’t the only effective way to learn either – it really depends on the individual, and their goals, personality and aptitudes.

If you decide you definitely want to go ahead and teach yourself to play, read this article: How To Teach Yourself Piano – which outlines the different types of piano instruction you can use, and gives some pointers about how to become a successful self-taught pianist.

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