Learning piano is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a musician or a musically-inclined person. Mastering this versatile instrument will allow you to play just about any genre of music on piano and keyboard, but it also opens up a world of beat-making and electronic music.
Of course, you can learn how to play the piano by taking traditional lessons, but more and more players are turning to online music courses. These courses are affordable and can be done on your own time, making them a great option for busy people. In this article, we'll place a special emphasis on learning to play the piano with online courses.
Teaching Yourself to Play Piano: Things to Keep in Mind
Learning the piano is an adventure in itself, but if you manage to teach yourself piano, that adventure becomes even more exciting. That said, there are some things you might want to keep in mind to ensure success:
1. Build A Foundation
Often, players who have just begun learning the piano are in a hurry to start playing songs. There's nothing wrong with this -- if you've ever started learning an instrument, you probably remember how excited you were to master it.
That said, if you want to really achieve a deep and working knowledge of the piano, it's a good idea to build a solid foundation in theory, sight-reading, and more. Learning these things on your own can be tough. And if you're relying on free YouTube videos, you might find that it's difficult to find an instructor who will take you through what you need to know in a way that makes sense.
While many players are eager to start playing songs as soon as possible, we think taking the time to learn some theory is wise. If you start playing without a solid foundation, gaps in knowledge may pop up eventually. Of course, if you primarily want to play for fun, you may not need to build this foundation.
Luckily, if you want to really dig into the piano as an instrument, there are plenty of piano lessons that can teach you to sight-read, understand music theory, and more. One of these courses is the Piano Program, which is more of a piano curriculum than it is a single course. Piano Program was founded by Dr. Kathy Rabago, a studio owner, and music professor, using the "flipped classroom" model. This model is designed to help students of music learn theory and other key concepts at home.
Piano Program can be a worthwhile supplement to in-person lessons, but it's also great for the student studying from home. The program is geared towards music teachers, but its logical design makes it a great choice for piano learners who want to be as thorough as possible.
This program is also pretty affordable -- you can purchase access to all courses for $20 per month or $200 per year. With these options, you can also print out worksheets. These worksheets might not seem necessary alongside piano lessons, but they can be a great way to check your progress as you go.
If you want to know a little more about music theory and why it's important when learning to play the piano, check out this interesting video.
2. Try Out Gamified Learning
The best way to learn piano may look different to each person. But if you struggle with keeping focus (especially in early lessons or theory-dense lessons), it may be worthwhile to check out an online course that makes learning like a video game.
One very well-respected course that does just this is Playground Sessions. This program was co-created by famed producer Quincy Jones, and members are tutored by Harry Connick Jr. You do need a MIDI keyboard to play, but that's where the gamification happens -- correctly-played notes light up green on the on-screen keyboard, and incorrect notes are lit in red.
The more you play, the more rewards you earn, and the more new content you unlock. Playground Sessions also has the rare advantage of allowing you to record lessons and play them back -- an invaluable tool when you're trying to improve. If you're prone to boredom, you might want to check out this course or one like it.
Of course, the cost can get in the way when you're trying to learn how to play. This option has a few different pay structures -- you can subscribe monthly for $17.99 per month, save some money by paying $119.88 for a year-long subscription or just pay $289.99 for a lifetime membership. We think it's definitely worth a look.
If you want to learn more about gamification and how it can be useful in any type of education, check out this interesting TED talk.
3. Consider Genre-Focused Courses
Some new pianists may want to get started as soon as possible and delve into just about every genre they can. However, if you've always wanted to learn a particular genre, you might find it helpful to dive into your genre of choice.
With the growth of online music courses, there are countless piano courses available to you. Some of these take a generalist approach, but others focus on a particular genre. For instance, one course that we especially like is Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz. The name may make it sound like an especially long course, but the course itself is actually fairly short. You get 25 video lessons, each one ranging from about 10-15 minutes.
This course includes some interesting exercises and techniques, but a lot of it includes Herbie Hancock's personal philosophy of jazz. Given that Hancock is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern jazz, we think his input is valuable here. His course might be best for those who have some piano experience but want to get more into jazz (as opposed to those who have never touched a piano).
That said, if you're new and want to learn how to play jazz piano, this course is a great way to get a sense of what it means to be a jazz pianist. Check out this video trailer!
You can take this class through Masterclass, a site that offers courses in just about anything you can imagine. Masterclass has memberships for $15/month billed annually. It's a little more expensive than some options we've found (especially because billing is annual and not monthly), but if you find a course that you like, it might just be worth it.
4. Don't Forget About Free Options
If you're like many people thinking about learning the piano, you might have searched for courses online only to find several more expensive options. This might be fine if money is no object. But if you're tight on cash (or even if you just want to get a sense of what's it's like to learn the instrument without paying anything), you might want to look at a free option first.
It's said that you get what you pay for, but this isn't always true when it comes to online music learning -- the key is to find a free course that's both thorough and reputable. One free site that we especially like is Piano Nanny. The site acquired Piano on the Net, a free piano learning site founded in 1994, and it's expanded since then.
Piano Nanny lessons are taught by Clinton S. Clark, an award-winning pianist and film score composer. (Check out this video for one of his tutorials on film scoring). The site is simple and easy to navigate, and lessons are divided between beginning studies, intermediate studies, and advanced studies.
5. Set A Regular Practice Schedule
One of the challenges of teaching yourself an instrument is the fact that learning any instrument on your own takes real discipline. Even if you're driven to learn how to play, it's easy for life to get in the way. And when you're distracted by other things, finding the motivation to learn can seem difficult.
One of the easiest ways to make sure you stay on track is to make sure you practice regularly. You don't even need to practice every day, but having a schedule can go a long way.
Even practicing 10-15 minutes a day can be helpful. Of course, if you're taking an online course that mainly takes you through guided videos, you might not immediately see the need to practice. But practicing can help you develop good habits, and as you progress, it can give you a chance to start putting together techniques you learn. If you're creative and want to build towards writing your own songs, practice time is especially useful.
6. Consider What Instrument You Want To Learn On
If you've spent any time looking for pianos for sale, you may have seen that they range from the very affordable to the extremely expensive. Choosing the piano you want to learn on is an important (and exciting) part of the process.
If you want to get a sense of what playing the piano is all about before committing, you might want to try out a lesson program with a free on-screen piano. This is fine for the beginning, but once you really get into learning, it's important to practice on a regular instrument.
An acoustic piano can be wonderful to play, but these instruments are larger and can be somewhat expensive. If you want an acoustic piano, it's a good idea to look through local classifieds. Some people offer acoustic pianos (usually upright pianos) for free or for low prices as long as you can move them yourself.
For many people, a keyboard is a more feasible option. Keyboards are compact and portable, and many come with a headphone output for quiet practice. If you're looking at keyboards, it's a worthwhile investment to choose one with weighted keys. These keys mimic the feel of playing on an actual piano, and if you get used to playing them, you'll avoid the learning curve of adjusting to an acoustic piano in the future.
There's no single piano that's the right fit for everybody, so be sure to carefully evaluate every option you choose. If you're beginning to look for a piano or keyboard, this useful video might help.
7. Consider Your Learning Goals
Do you want to learn to read sheet music? Do you want to focus on music theory? We've already highlighted a few good piano courses in this article, but whether you're considering these courses or others, make sure that you take into account your learning preferences.
It's a good idea to make a quick list of what you want (and don't want) in a course. You can use this as a checklist to pick the right course for you. Here are a few things to consider to get you started:
Taking the time to choose a course can feel tedious when you're eager to start learning, but it's well worth it to take some time to choose the right one. If you want a little guidance on how to choose a course, this useful video might help.
8. Consider Seeking Out A Piano Teacher
Learning how to play an instrument on your own certainly has its advantages. (Check out the video below for a few advantages you may not have thought of) You can practice on your own schedule, repeat video lessons as necessary, and take breaks when needed.
However, learning on your own has one main downside -- you don't have an in-person instructor to notice mistakes you make. If you continue to practice on your own, these mistakes can become habits. While you can unlearn habits, doing so can sometimes be difficult.
To minimize the risk of this happening, it may be wise to seek out a piano teacher on occasion. You can do so in a couple of different ways. Some online courses offer an option to purchase a one-time lesson with the teacher, and others let you submit your playing for a critique. If you have the option to seek out a teacher in person, you can sign up for a lesson or two every few months.
This is by no means something that you absolutely have to do. However, if you find that you want to play seriously and reach your full potential, occasionally reaching out to an instructor for one-on-one instruction and/or a critique can help your playing progress more rapidly.
9. Record Your Practice Sessions
When learning to play any instrument, tracking your progress is one of the best ways to improve. In the early stages of learning, you may not get much out of recording and playing back your practice sessions. However, recording (especially if you can record video and not just audio) can help you address some of the potential bad habits we mentioned above.
If you have a video to reference, you can ensure that your posture is correct, and you can also keep an eye on your technique. Having audio recorded is also especially useful -- you can listen and hear what you play well (and also see what needs work). You don't need anything fancy to do this -- you can even use a smartphone audio recorder or video recorder.
If you want to know more about recording practice sessions and why it's important, check out this interesting video.
10. Check-Out Free Learning Resources
Even if you've found a great course to help you learn the piano, you can still benefit from free online learning tools. Some of these tools are designed to help you learn to read sheet music, some are designed to build your speed and skill, and some can help you keep time.
One free tool we've found that we really like is Data Dragon. This site is designed to help you learn to read music, but there's a wealth of other tools out there. In some cases, you might find that a piano course you sign up for comes with free additional learning tools. Some of these are in the game format, which can be a break from normal practice routines.
Want to learn more about essential apps and tools for piano players? Check out this cool video on skills apps you might like.
There are also plenty of useful resources available for a small fee. Depending on your budget, you might also find that you want to invest in one of these.
11. Practice With Other People
Learning to play may be easier to do on your own in the beginning -- after all, you probably don't want an audience when you're just beginning to figure out the instrument for yourself. But once you get a little confidence and more practice under your belt, you may find that practicing with others can be an enjoyable way to build both your confidence and your skillset.
Playing with other pianists can be a great way to learn from others -- a friend may have a playing style you want to emulate, or they may have an approach to practicing that makes sense. Even playing with people who play other instruments can be helpful -- playing well in a group (especially keeping time) is a skill in itself. If you're primarily practicing alone, it can also be a nice break in routine.
If you don't know anyone who plays an instrument or wants to practice with you, there's another way playing socially can help you -- performing for family and friends. Often, even someone without musical training can point out what you play well and what could use a little work. If you want to perform in the future, doing small, low-pressure performances like this can help you feel more comfortable.
If you want to play music with other people but aren't sure when you'll be ready to do so, this interesting video can help you decide. If you find it challenging to play with other people, don't give up -- many people have some trouble when they first play in a group, but it's well worth taking the time to adjust.
12. Try Emulating Artists You Like
This probably isn't a step you want to take right away. After all, when you begin learning to play the piano, you'll have your hands full with just getting the basics of the instrument down. But as you progress, you might be looking for ways to keep things fresh.
Selecting a pianist you admire and then doing a deep dive into their style can be a way to enliven your playing and have fun, too. We're not suggesting that you become a copycat player. But every artist has their influences and really breaking down how a given player writes and plays their songs can help you develop your own skills.
There are a few different ways to do this. Depending on who you choose, you may find that your favorite player has an online class. If they don't, doing a deep dive into their style can be as simple as looking up sheet music for their songs, practicing, and finding what techniques, chord progressions, etc. they use. You can sometimes find free resources that help you achieve the sound you're looking for -- this video can help you make any piano track sound (somewhat) like Elton John is playing.
13. Have A Development Plan
Depending on the course you choose, you may find that you have a sort of built-in development plan for your playing. Many courses take you through important foundational learning before suggesting a genre path for you. In some cases, a course may be designed only to help you master the fundamentals of learning.
In this case, it's a good idea to create a plan for your playing development. There are plenty of piano genres to choose from, and you might decide you want to master one in particular. If your primary aim is to be a well-rounded player, you might want to instead take a few short courses in different genres.
Your plan can always change if needed, but creating a plan in itself is important. It asks you to consider your goals and where you want to take your playing. The hope is that creating a plan will help your playing become more intentional and goal-directed, which in turn helps you to be more motivated to practice.
If you want to develop a learning plan for yourself but aren't sure how then check out this useful video on creating a piano learning plan for adult learners.
Some Online Piano Lessons Sites & Their Comparisons
Did you enjoy our list? Hopefully, we've helped you get one step closer to learning to play the piano. If you carefully apply each tip on the list, you should be well on your way to finding the right course for you. At its core, this list is largely about deciding what you want out of a learning experience and then working to create that experience for yourself. Let us know what you think in the comments, and please don't forget to share if you found the list helpful!