I think we can all safely say we know someone who wants to learn how to play the piano.
It’s a popular instrument, and for good reason—it’s versatile, beautiful, emotional, and has proved its worth in the music world. So, if all these people are so obsessed with the piano, why do so few people actually take the time to learn?
The simple answer: it’s hard.
But why is piano so hard to learn? A lot of people who want to play this instrument experience the same obstacles that make the piano seem difficult to even attempt. But luckily, there are some solutions!
So let’s solve this mystery!
Problem: Learning Piano as an Adult is Difficult
Let’s just go ahead and say what we all know—the piano isn’t easy to learn. Sure, you can probably learn how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star without too much hassle, but the fact remains that the piano is hard to play and harder to master.
There are eighty-eight keys on a standard piano, three pedals, and an infinite number of techniques. It seems impossible to keep them all straight, especially if you don’t know how to read music.
Solution: It’s okay to start on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
Don’t ever be afraid to start small—to start at all is a victory. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and other simple melodies can be great learning tools to get you started. It’s completely normal to feel intimidated by something as challenging as the piano—that just means that the time you put in will be all the more rewarding in the long run!
There are millions of children all around the world who take piano lessons in their youth, and by a very young age, they’ve mastered some intermediate-level pieces. It can be a struggle to start fresh as an adult with no prior experience and watch a child play something better than you can—believe me, I’ve been there. When that feeling becomes a little too overwhelming, just remember this.
No one is expecting you to be perfect. Learning any new skill takes time and dedication, and there won’t be anyone expecting you to play a piano concerto a few months into your journey. Take it at your own pace and celebrate the victories instead of comparing yourself to the virtuosos on Youtube when you could be practicing (it’s okay, I’ve done that before, too).
Problem: I Don’t Have Time to Practice.
The world seems to move faster every day, and unfortunately, spare time is becoming increasingly hard to find. You prioritize work or school or your family, and then you have to keep up the house, and there’s your non-negotiable self-care time…where do you squeeze it in?
It may be daunting to look at the calendar to try to find chunks of time where you can practice, and sometimes it’s not always manageable. How do you work around that?
Solution: Practice for just five minutes every day.
I’m not saying you’re going to become the world’s greatest pianist with just five minutes a day. However, if you’re serious about learning but don’t have a lot of spare time, you can pick a day or two during the week to schedule in a bigger chunk of practice time, and the other days, just spend five minutes tinkering or practicing scales.
Sometimes, familiarity is just as powerful a tool as practice, and the more time you spend at the piano learning how it works, the easier it is to learn to play.
Problem: I Don’t Know How Music Works
It seems like a problem with no easy answer: I don’t know how music works, so I can’t read music, so I can’t look at a score and know what to play. Most people who decide to start learning an instrument don’t have a background in music or piano theory, and let’s face it—you probably don’t remember much of your general music class in elementary school. Maybe you took some piano lessons around Kindergarten and remember the note names, but that’s it.
That’s okay! We all have to start somewhere, and most great pianists started at the beginning, too.
Take heed to my solution below.
Solution: Take the time to learn some music theory.
It’s just like learning how to read: you can’t read a book if you don’t know the alphabet. It’s going to be really, really hard to learn how to play more complex pieces if you can’t read music.
Let me get this out of the way: no one expects you to master music theory. I’ve been surrounded by music for nearly fifteen years and have been taking professional lessons for nine of those. I had a little bit of training in theory—translation, I knew what notes went where on a staff—and thought I’d be fine when I went to major in music in college (I wasn’t). To this day, Music Theory IV is one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken!
The good news is no one expects you to be that good! Start small. Learn what a staff is, what notes are, and where they go on a staff. Learn how note names work and learn how they create a scale. Learn how keys work. Once you do that, you’ll have a very solid foundation, and studying and learning music will become so much easier.
And remember—you can always pick up some piano theory books to help you grasp concepts even quicker.
Problem: I Don’t Have a Piano.
Ah. Yeah. This is a big problem if you want to learn how to play, isn’t it?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a piano, and you could often find me tinkering around on it before I even knew what it was. Not everyone has that, so what can you do?
Solution: Find a budget piano or a used piano
First of all, let’s assume you can buy a piano—if you can’t, we’ll cover that later.
Acoustic pianos are very expensive—there are two main types, which are grand and upright. It’s very rare to find grand pianos in the home. They’re the ones you see on stage in concerts most of the time—gleaming black bodies with ivory keys that have been well-tuned and well-maintained. These are expensive (we’re talking anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000) and difficult to fit into the average home.
There’s also the upright piano. They’re about the same price (they’re probably going to be cheaper if you buy them used, but you have to be careful with that) but these are more compact and easy to fit in most houses. If you’re set on an acoustic piano and have the budget, this is going to be your best option.
If you don’t want to drop a few thousand dollars on a piano, you’re in luck! There are also cheap digital pianos and keyboards you can buy online for much cheaper. Some only have seventy-six keys instead of the full eighty-eight, but it’s still an excellent option, and they’re much more affordable (anywhere from about $100 to $1,000, depending on the brand and type).
Now let’s say this is a purchase you’re going to have to save up for, but you want to start learning now—that’s completely fine. What I would do is set your sights on one of the less expensive electronic keyboards and save up; while you do that, you can study your music theory and learn on your phone or computer, if you have one.
There are several apps you can download (for free!) that will let you practice the piano and learn basic melodies on a touch-pad device. It usually only shows eight to twelve keys at a time and isn’t an ideal solution long-term, but it’s a great place to start while you save up for your keyboard.
And if all of that is not enough, consider purchasing an in-depth online learning course like PiaNote.
Problem: I Feel Like I’m Too Old to Learn Piano
Maybe you’re regretting not starting your piano journey during the pandemic, when we all had lots of free time. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn, and you’re regretting not starting sooner. Maybe you feel like you’ve waited too late to start, and you’ll never be a prodigy like Mozart.
Solution: That’s okay.
I know, it’s not really a solution, but it’s the truth. Prodigies are rare for a reason; you don’t have to be one to be a skilled musician, and you definitely don’t have to be one to enjoy learning and playing the piano.
More likely than not, you’re learning how to play the piano because you want to, not because you want to be the best. Instead of focusing on the shortcomings, focus on your achievements, and keep looking forward! No one developed any skill by dwelling on their mistakes—they developed the skill by pushing through them.
Sure, we all wish we started almost anything earlier than we did. But the reality is, even if you’re 50 or 60s years old, you’re not too old to start learning how to play the piano.
So, coming full circle: why is the the piano so hard to learn? Well, hopefully this in-depth article has provided you with helpful (and inspirational) tips and advice to on how you can take baby-steps when bit comes to learning the piano. The piano is a complex instrument, to some degree, but attempting to learn how to play it doesn’t need to feel like a daunting task.
The biggest answer, the one that I and too many others often forget, is that piano is a life-long journey. Even Mozart wasn’t perfect; he was learning his entire life.
Despite all that, the piano is an amazing instrument, and it can turn express feelings without words so effortlessly. Once you’ve been playing long enough, it’s like touching the doorknob to the heart. I hope this article has been encouraging and informative, and no matter your starting point, I wish you the best of luck on this adventure!