Is piano hard to learn? Well, yes and no. The piano is one of the easiest instruments for beginners to learn. But it’s also one of the hardest instruments to master!
Why is this? Well, the piano is simple in some ways. Someone with no musical experience can sit down and learn a simple melody in a few minutes. But playing melody and harmony with both hands is another story!
So let’s explore what makes learning piano easy…and also hard.
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An interesting thing about piano is that anyone can learn how to plunk out a simple melody in a few minutes. Literally anyone—as long as you have a finger or something to press the keys with.
This isn’t possible on most instruments. A flute player must learn how to properly blow into the mouthpiece to even make a sound. Violin beginners screech. Guitar beginners buzz. But a piano beginner only needs to press a button and voilà, a perfect sound!
Another unique thing about pianos: you don’t have to tune them! Well…you technically should tune an acoustic piano twice a year, but that’s the job of a professional piano technician. Meanwhile, violinists, guitarists, and many other instrumentalists must tune their instruments at the start of every practice session.
This makes life for a piano player much easier. But it can also put us at a disadvantage because we lose an opportunity to practice our ears. So it’s important for piano players to practice ear training regularly.
Theory is something that scares a lot of beginner musicians. Luckily for pianists, theory is easily explained using the piano keyboard. That’s because the keyboard makes a lot of sense: notes are laid out in a row from lower pitch to higher pitch. So, if you know your keyboard geography, you’ll also have an easier time understanding theory.
The piano is also arguably easy to learn thanks to the many resources we have, including free ones. It’s one of the world’s most popular instruments, so naturally, there are tons of teachers, schools, books, and YouTube tutorials available. It’s kind of like how learning Spanish or Mandarin is easier because those languages are spoken by a lot of people, and a lot of people want to learn them.
One of the hardest things about learning a musical instrument is motivation. You must love the music you play. Luckily for piano players, the repertoire we have at our disposal is vast. Don’t like classical? Try jazz! Don’t like jazz? Try rock! The piano is present in most Western music genres, from classical and jazz to blues, ragtime, R&B, pop, rock, and everything in between!
Hand independence is quite unique to piano playing. In piano music, there is a nearly 50-50 split in responsibility between the two hands. Playing with both hands is a skill that takes time and experience to develop, and it’s one of the most frustrating skills to master according to our students.
But learning hand independence is possible—it just takes patience! Try some hand independence exercises, like these.
While you can absolutely play piano at a high level without ever learning how to read sheet music, sheet music does open up opportunities. Knowing how to read notes means you can play anything as long as there’s sheet music for it.
But sheet music is one of the hardest and most frustrating aspects of learning piano, right up there with hand independence. It’s especially hard for piano players because we must learn both the treble and bass clefs, and unlike guitar TABs, there is no piano shorthand.
Most instruments play one line of music—the melody—and rely on other instruments to accompany them. The piano is special because we can play melody and harmony at the same time! This is a beautiful thing…but it also requires us to know a lot about chords and, for right-handed people, play well with their non-dominant hand.
The piano has been around for hundreds of years, and over the centuries, people have continuously pushed the boundaries of what’s possible on this instrument. This means that the most advanced pieces we have for piano are some of the most advanced music in general!
So, there’s a lot of hard piano music out there! This can feel discouraging to beginners when you think about how much work and time you’ll have to put in to get to the top.
Still, just because a piece of music is hard doesn’t mean it sounds beautiful. Some of piano’s most beloved pieces, like “River Flows In You,” are quite simple. Besides, not everyone can be a world-class concert pianist, and most of us will never get close. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get pretty good, play impressive stuff, and dazzle an audience.
A key ingredient to getting good is practice, but practice can be tough when your instrument is hundreds of pounds. If you’re very keen, you can bring a lightweight keyboard on vacation with you, but unless the instrument you practice on and the one you performwithn is the same thing, you can’t have a truly authentic practice experience the way a guitarist or violinist would. This makes practice extra challenging for piano players.
As an adult, it’s easy to feel discouraged when you see young prodigies playing advanced music. But age can actually be an advantage when it comes to learning piano. Consider that there are plenty of people who learned piano as kids and then stopped. The wunderkinds you see are a tiny fraction of musicians who learn as children.
Adults have advantages such as:
Learning piano isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and rewarding. If you bump into a challenge, these tips might help.
That’s right—any amount of practice helps. Even five minutes! If you spend just five minutes a day drilling your scales, chords, and songs, you will get better. It might be slow, but progress is progress!
Set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example: “I want to play ‘Für Elise’ (specific) at its intended tempo (measurable) because I have mastered pieces that are slightly easier (achievable) and I love this piece (relevant). I will play ‘Für Elise’ by Christmas (time-bound).”
If you decide to learn piano, you will struggle at some point. This is guaranteed! But rather than wallow in the difficulty, see it as a win. If something is difficult for you, it means you’re progressing 🙂
When you feel discouraged, remind yourself why you wanted to learn piano in the first place. Is it to connect with someone you love? Because music is your passion? To inspire your kids?
Knowing that “why” helps you connect the piano to your passion, and acts as an anchor that you can hold on to when trying to figure out how to stay motivated at the piano.Lisa Witt
The best way to learn piano is with a teacher. But not everyone has the time and money for a private instructor. If you use online lessons and YouTube tutorials, consider checking in with a teacher once a month. Or, find a mentor in your network who’s a more advanced musician, and ask for their feedback. Many musicians love sharing their knowledge.
Better yet, join a community of musicians!
We piano players can become lone wolves, but there is so much value in finding community with other piano players. They can help you troubleshoot a problem, inspire you, challenge you, or keep you accountable. If you don’t know any piano players, consider joining an online forum (or better yet, join us at Pianote!).
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