My Piano Progress

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.

32 thoughts on “My Piano Progress

  1. Thanks for sharing your progress, it’s interesting to read about! It might help to incorporate practice into your daily/weekly routine. I agree that no piece is too childish/simple to learn, in fact some of my favourites to play were intended as pieces for children!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and for the tip about incorporating practice into my routine. I do realise I need to be more consistent with my practice because otherwise there is little point. And, yes, before I started learning the piano, I had no idea there could be so many amazing simple musical pieces!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this post really interesting, and even fascinating! It’s very hard for adults to start from scratch on an instrument, and especially teaching themselves, so I applaud you, especially as despite stops and starts you seem to be enjoying it.

    I started on John Thompson books way back in the fifties and I agree (as I thought even then) that it’s not a very stimulating tutoring series — although as a child I evidently found it adequate enough for the rudiments. When my partner taught beginner piano to children she used Carol Barratt books and Fanny Waterman for the older kids, plus Christopher Norton for those who preferred a more jazzy approach to pop and Latin music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad you liked the post and thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, John Thompson may be a good introduction for a child, but not necessarily the most exciting one for a slightly older beginner. I also think Carol Barratt and Fanny Waterman are both great. I do have one Carol Barratt’s book – Classic Piano Course Book 1 for adults and I like it very much, especially for its simplified arrangements of operas. Thanks for mentioning to me Christopher Norton, I will check his book out. I love listening to jazz, but as someone who’d started on classical/folk song music and been playing it now for quite awhile, I am a bit terrified of playing jazz or blues. Any serious jazz music sheet seems to be a complicated mathematical equation which only Einstein could solve!

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  3. Have you tried any of the youtube teachers? I took up guitar a few years ago – like you it’s been a stop/start process but I’ve had a lot of fun even if I’m not likely to be touring the world giving solo performances any time soon! But I found the guitar tutorials on youtube much easier to use than books, and really encouraging to keep progressing.

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    1. Yes, I used some Youtube instructions at the beginning, for example, re my hand positions and how to play rolled chords, but I largely rely on music notation now rather on visual presentations and I found the method books really useful in providing a clear structure to my learning. I guess a physical teacher will be even better so they can correct my mistakes, for example, the shape of my hands, etc.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and progress! It’s a really good point that enjoying easy pieces is more important that trying to force yourself to learn very difficult ones.

    I learned piano from a young age, and while I am no concert pianist I can really appreciate how much harder it is to learn when you get older. I have tried to pick up violin but found it extremely difficult (:

    Looking forward to hearing your recordings someday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! It has not been a smooth journey for me, but I am getting there. What I also noticed from my observations in the past year or so is that it is one thing to learn some complicated piano piece and produce it on some stream, like on Youtube, from pure muscle memory (like so many adults seem to do nowadays), and entirely another being actually a good, all round musician who can sight-read decently, who can actually play from the notes they see on the page in front of them with ease and who developed other similar skills, including improvisation. I strive to be the latter no matter how many years it would take me and therefore prefer to remain at the relative beginner stage for as long as it will require to develop a very solid foundation.

      I don’t think you should be discouraged about your violin progress because I hear it’s an extremely hard instrument to learn no matter one’s age, even to produce a decent sound is hard at first or so I’ve heard. I would never have the courage to learn it, even though I bet it’s all fascinating.

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  5. Yeah I agree that playing a piece perfectly from memory is totally different from sight reading and improvisation. I’ve been weak in areas like classical piano (better in jazz/newage), and actually improvisation is probably my strongest point. I even have a YouTube channel (:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjsDTFerWIwXA10k_7mjSig/videos

    With limited time, I find playing a bunch of pieces so-so is much more satisfying that playing one piece perfectly, though I still try to gradually improve my performance of pieces over time.

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    1. Some impressive improvisation and playing, thanks very much for sharing! This combination of classical, new age, jazz is very interesting. So far, improvisation and jazz have been very difficult for me so I personally regard this playing as being something genius. Being a beginner I am hardly in a position of course to give my “expert” views on piano-playing, but I do agree with you. Pure perfection may be quite impossible to achieve anyway and something very close to perfection in a piece may take a rather long time.

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    1. Ha, I understand! As a child and then a teenager, my mother actually finished a music school (eight year course) specialising in the piano in Russia. She experienced such strict discipline and long hours of “boring” work that she vowed that she would not rob her own children of their childhood and “freedoms” by sending them to such a school or music lessons. The result is that I am starting the piano now as an adult from scratch! hehe 🙂

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  6. I wish you success! It’s great to be able to create harmony on a musical instrument yourself.
    I learned to play the piano as a child. But then she gave up this occupation. When, 15 years later, I wanted to play something from my past repertoire, my hands did not obey me. I trained for about six months to perform plays that were previously easy for me. My favorite works for hand training are plays and songs from Chaikrvsky’s Children’s Album and, of course, Beethoven’s “To Eliza”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! Yes, Tchaikovsky Children’s Album is divine and my own mother is in a similar position now. She finished a music school as a teenager but struggles now to recall even a tiny bit of her earlier repertoire. Still, I think it is amazing to be able to play even simple pieces freely at the piano as an adult!

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  7. I’m a guitar player. As for piano, I know only a few songs. When I was trying to learn “Kids” by MGMT, I could not coordinate the left hand octave groove with the right hand melody. And one morning I just woke up, got out of bed, and could all of a sudden play it! These breakthroughs can be very rewarding. You can’t predict, but just keep chipping away at the learning a little at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A guitar is also pretty cool, and yes, hands coordination or independence is one of the most difficult aspects and I still struggle with it. Persistence is key I think, as you say not giving up too early in the learning process, like I am sure some people do out of sheer frustration.

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  8. I love this. I tried to play the cello once and got through a couple of years in tortured cat mode before giving up. Now I play the harp a bit but there’s nothing easy about studying music is there. Good luck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

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