My previous post was about classical piano music, and I thought I would do a post sharing my thoughts on learning piano from scratch at the age of thirty one without any previous knowledge of music. I first started learning the instrument around January 2020, but I am sad to report that since that time I have practised the piano on and off and even spent whole months without practising (up to four consecutive months without playing once), so my progress has been very slow and protracted. Nevertheless, I did make small progress, finished a couple of beginner books and enjoyed my journey. So, my notes below apply to *absolute adult beginners* and I hope the post will be interesting/useful at least to some of you who are considering picking up this instrument in future.
I. 3 things I wish I knew at the start of my piano-learning journey:
(i) It is important to learn to appreciate simple piano pieces and not try to produce Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or some complicated piece by Chopin in the first year. Just because a piece of music sounds simple, it does not mean it cannot be beautiful and some Grade 1/2 pieces are just lovely (check out these – Krieger’s Minuet in A Minor, Purcell’s Air in D Minor or Beethoven’s Sonatina in G Major (my personal favourite)). Learning simple songs not only helps to lay down important technique foundation for more complex pieces to come in future, but also boosts confidence. I think no musical piece should be seen as too insignificant or “childish” to play and learning to appreciate the sound of every note/key pressed will go a long way; (ii) linked to the first, is the advice to avoid learning pieces that are way beyond one’s musical level. It is great to challenge oneself once in a while, but most of the time learning a musical piece way beyond one’s ability will be a difficult and disheartening task. Patience is key, and what may take you three months to learn now may be accomplished in three weeks a year or two from now; (iii) learning scales and arpeggios early will be beneficial, not only for exercising hands, but also for recognising and learning key signatures.
II. 4 piano-teaching books I am happy I bought:
It may sounds crazy that I bought and followed four different piano courses for beginners, but in truth all of them complement each other perfectly and provide different music with only a slight overlap and this overlap is a nice revision, too. (i) While Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course (I am currently half way through the second book) is great for a complete beginner (who does not even know the basic keyboard layout) and is very strong on chords, (ii) Faber’s Adult Piano Adventures Course emphasises the importance of the left hand playing and dynamics; (iii) Piano Lessons Series by Dame Fanny Waterman and Marion Harewood is a wonderful book geared towards a younger player, but it is pure treasure in terms of improving hand independence and has some nice classical pieces towards the end, including by Mozart and Beethoven; (iv) In turn, James Bastien’s The Older Beginner Piano Course may have a selection of oldies to play, but they are refreshingly different from the selection in the previous three books and the course also provides a comprehensible teaching of different bass styles (book 2).
III. 4 piano-teaching books I regret I bought:
“Regret” may be too strong a word, but I definitely thought that these books were not as helpful to me as the books above. (i) Disney: Super Easy Songbook by Hal Leonard Publishers contains lead sheets (melodies only and chord numbers to go with them separately), which may be a good way to start learning music, but the pointless marking of each note (a, g, c, d, etc.) does not really help in learning these notes’ positions on the keyboard and most of the song selections simply do not sound good. I also do not see much point for an absolute beginner to start learning ten different four or five-note chords in a piece that lasts less than thirty seconds; (ii) It’s Never Too Late to Play Piano Series by Pam Wedgwood – I simply did not get along with this learning book which I thought progressed too fast and required lots of hand independence early; (iii) Big Book of Beginner’s Piano Classics by Bergerac and David Dutkanicz – I think it is best to wait just a little while in one’s musical education and play such classical pieces as Für Elise or Minuet in G in their original forms, or very close to original, than try learning simplified versions of classical pieces provided in this book. Some pieces are so simplified in the book as to be hardly recognisable; (iv) John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano – I know this beginner course is very popular, but I was simply not a fan of the pieces included. Even though these books were not overly helpful in teaching me piano, they are still a great source for practising the skill of sight-reading.
IV. Future Plans
(i) I was given a tip to record myself playing piano more and listen to these recordings to identify weaknesses. If some day I am brave enough, I would even share my recordings on this blog; (ii) I would love to sit a practical piano exam ABRSM Grade 1 and/or Grade 2 (UK) in some near future.