Whether you are an adult starting from scratch or a parent helping your child, here are a few things that are helpful to know in those first few weeks.
Get a Piano With at Least 61 Weighted Keys
Perhaps later on you will want to work on synthesizers with a lighter touch, but it’s a better idea to work out your fingers now and develop technique on heavier keys. Then, if you want to switch to the lighter keyboards, the transition will be much easier than going the other way around. I notice that students who work at home on keyboards that are not weighted have difficulty playing my pianos at their lessons because both my pianos have weighted keys.
My preference would be for everyone to have a full-sized 88-key keyboard or piano, but sometimes space is an issue. Not only that, many of the professional keyboard players I work with are sporting the 61-key versions. My guess is they prefer the convenience of a lighter and smaller keyboard when traveling, but you can pretty much play what you need to play with 61 keys.
Go to a Local Store If You Need to Buy a New Keyboard
If you need to buy something, I would encourage everyone to GO TO A STORE so you can try out different kinds in person. Shopping online is okay but, if it were me, I would want to put my hands on the instrument before buying. Don’t be shy about just playing some notes to hear how they sound. Make sure you ask the sales person to show you the difference between weighted and non-weighted keys. You can even ask the sales person to play a couple of models for you so you can hear how they sound. Maybe you want something simple. Maybe you want something with a lot of sounds on it. Spend a half hour or so playing and listening.
Tune Your Acoustic Piano Immediately
If you are lucky enough to have an acoustic piano, spend some coin on getting it tuned and making sure all the keys are working properly. You’re going to be spending hours upon hours with this instrument, and you owe it to yourself to be playing an instrument that sounds good and plays well.
Don’t Label the Keys!
Oh my goodness – whatever you do, please do NOT put stickers or draw the names of the notes on the keyboard. It will only slow down the learning process. One young student I have had stickers on her keyboard (I think the piano came that way), and they had been on there for so long, they were almost impossible to remove. They became a crutch for her such that whenever she came into her lesson, she would be completely lost on my piano.
Don’t Label All the Notes in Your Music with the Letter Names!
This will also really slow down the learning process. In the beginning, it will take you a little longer to get oriented and find the notes on the piano, but believe me, you really only need to label the starting notes of the piece and then maybe the starting notes of a few other phrases. Even professionals need to mark note names in their music sometimes, but keep it to just a few.
Make All Ten Fingers Play
In the beginning, you will notice that you have some fingers that really dislike playing the piano, in particular, the ring and pinky fingers of your non-dominant hand. But in order to be a good piano player, you really need all ten fingers to be doing their jobs. If you succumb to the tendency of playing with only a few of your fingers, you’re really going to make it impossible to progress. I had one young student who had really nice long fingers that you would think would make it easier for him to play, but they were so weak, he refused to play with any fingers other than his index and middle fingers. Playing with only four fingers out of ten is really limiting! He quit taking lessons after just a few months.
I’m serious when I say, “Work it out with your body. Speak to your fingers, and tell them they gotta get it together to push those keys down!” It works! Your brain engages to help them move and get stronger, and then they do! I have one five-year old girl who has taken to saying, “Come on!” in the middle of a song, and I know she’s talking to those two left-hand fingers. I love it! She is progressing nicely.
Play a Little Most Days
Playing 5-10 minutes a day for six days is 1,000% better than an hour at one go.
Learn Effective Practice Technique
There are several posts on this blog devoted to effective practice technique. Learn how to apply them.
Say Nice Things to Yourself
Learning to play piano at an intermediate level takes at least ten years. Make the process nice for yourself by cutting yourself some slack at every practice session. Don’t judge your own learning process. Embrace it! Refrain from saying things like “I should be able to do this!” or “I’m so stupid!” or “I’ll never be able to do this!” Instead, speak to yourself in the same way you would speak to someone you adore, “Look at how I’m learning!” “Let me try that again.” “Let me try that YET again!” Instead of swearing, say, “LEARNING!” Think of all the nice things you would say to someone you love, and find a way to say those things to yourself.