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Beginning Piano Lessons On The Internet: Useful, But Beware

Jul 20, 2008
When learning how to play piano, free opportunities present themselves all over the Internet. Most notably, many websites offer quick step-by-step lessons, as well as free online sheet music, which beginning pianists can use to learn how to play piano at no cost. Obviously, like any free service, these should be approached with caution, and many should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, they are free for a reason. In spite of everything the Internet has to offer, most of the best ways to learn piano still involve paying money to a highly qualified professional instructor of some kind.

Whether you are learning how to play piano using free lessons, or you are using a pay service, any high-quality learning process begins with the fundamentals. It is one thing to show a few diagrams and to instruct the beginning pianist where to put her fingers; it is quite another thing to instill in the pianist's mind a real understanding of the structures, systems, and theories that every great piano player must have internalized.

Thus, when learning how to play piano, free or through a pay service, make sure that the instructions use real musical terms, rather than downgraded proxy terms. That is, for example, an instruction shouldn't refer to notes on the piano as numbers or as fingers; instead, the instruction should use the actual names of the notes -- C, D, B flat, G sharp, and so on.

In other words, a beginning pianist wants to internalize the fundamentals of music as early as possible. If you feel like your ability to play music is proceeding faster than your actual knowledge of piano and music, then there is something wrong with your instruction. Both the skills and the knowledge should go hand in hand.

When starting out, the budding pianist can expect to be assigned a lot of repetitive tasks. She will have to play a lot of scales, arpeggios, and simple songs that are designed to help piano students master the complex methods of keyboard fingering. This is normal, and in fact, it is necessary. Any piano lesson program that doesn't involve a lot of repetitive tasks is probably not the best way to learn how to play piano. Free lesson plans are often guilty of this.

This repetition is what leads a lot of beginning pianists to give up very early, but for the more persistent, things do get better. After a while, when you have internalized the fingering techniques that every pianist must master, songs will grow more complex, and then the repetition becomes a joy. For pianists who are a little further along in the learning process, there is nothing more pleasurable than opening a book to a seemingly incomprehensible notation and working at it until it becomes a beautiful piece of music.

For now, though, most of the songs played by beginners are relatively simple and straightforward, not involving a lot of sharps or flats, and not requiring the pianist to move her hands around a lot. In fact, most songs will be in the easiest key -- C major -- and won't deviate from standard hand positions.

Of course, this will all change when you begin to learn about more complex chords, more difficult keys, and more convoluted melodic structures. Once the basics are learned, it won't take long before these fun elements come into play.

In short, what I have been driving at is that starting to learn the piano rarely offers instant gratification. When learning how to play the piano, free services tend to offer unrealistic, quick goals. In reality, learning piano is a gradual process that involves lots of practice, lots of repetition, and a strong commitment on the part of the pianist.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"
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