The piano is the easiest instrument to learn at the beginning and the hardest to master in the end.
– Vladimir Horowitz, pianist, composer
You might have experienced this with the piano. You feel confident when you start off. After all, the pitch is tuned and it is clear which key to place your fingers on once you learn to read the notes. So, theoretically, it should be simple to sound half decent. Yet, (to put it mildly) you don’t quite sound like Beethoven or Chopin when you play! Mastering the piano is clearly not as simple as it looks.
Whether you are a professional piano player or someone who likes to play for fun, if you don’t progress in learning in some way, you are likely to feel disinterested in the instrument sooner than you think. It wouldn’t really matter if you were a complete beginner or someone who regularly plays to audiences. Like with everything else in life, if you don’t move forward, you just might find yourself moving backwards! It might help you to take some online piano classes from the convenience and safety of your own home. As the world is opening up again, LIVE piano classes in person could also be a helpful option.
When you practise at home, you might also feel a tad short on inspiration (you could try to shake it off with a walk, talk to your musically-inclined friends, go to a piano concert, or just take some time out.) It is possible that despite practising, you are not really showing any discernible difference. This can be very demotivating. Don’t despair and give up. What you might need is some direction – that’s the reassuring factor of (physical and online) piano lessons.
Do you really need piano classes?
It definitely helps to have a guide.
- The right educator can steer you towards that next step and, slowly and steadily, towards your larger goals. When you get stuck, he/she can help you switch gears and improve your piano playing skills.
- Right from assessing what your interest is and working towards your goals – whether it is to perform in front of an audience, or be an accomplished player for the joy of it – to spotting mistakes in technique and understanding, it helps to have a trained educator hold your hand and guide you.
In the meanwhile, we are here to provide you some pointers that can help you go that notch or two up the piano learning curve. These tips will help supplement your online piano (or keyboard) lessons.
Tips to improve your piano skills
1. Arm yourself
Many pianists play with only their fingers; this puts pressure on the hand and wrist muscles and prevents you from playing longer as you might encounter fatigue more quickly. How can you circumvent this? It is important to know how to use your upper body strength when you play the piano. Use your arm strength to produce sound rather than the fingers or wrists. The sound will also be fuller when you play from the arms.
What is the right posture?
It is important that you keep the trapezius, the muscles connecting your neck and shoulders relaxed. Your back must be straight. Your elbow has to be at a 90-degree position and at the same level or slightly higher than the piano. Again, to get a fuller sound effect, you must have a loosened elbow, while your chest and back muscles have to be engaged.
Quick Tip: If it hurts, you are doing it wrong! It would be best to consult a trained piano teacher.
2. Have a long-term vision – practise sight-reading
Treble clef notes (with minims/half notes) from Middle C (C4) to F5
Bass clef notes (with semibreves/whole notes) from G2 to A3
Learn to read Western notation. The faster you are able to decipher the notes you have to play, the faster you will learn to coordinate the different aspects of playing the piano: the posture, left hand, right hand, sheet music, and tempo to play in. It would really help if you were not struggling with the name of the note and corresponding finger placement in such a scenario. Make your life easier: learn the ‘A-B-Cs’ of music.
You could keep some sheets of notes near or on the piano so that, by default, you start every practice session with reading.
What sheet music includes
Traditional Western sheet music is famous for incorporating detailed elements of playing right such as notes for the left and right hand, scale, pitch with ascending or descending volume, tempo, chords, rhythm, articulation*, and time signature. Familiarising yourself with these elements would help you focus on playing rather than perusing when you need to do both simultaneously.
*Articulation refers to how you play the notes. Some examples of articulation are slurs (playing notes together – without separation), staccato (playing shortened notes), and legato (playing notes smoothly and connected. These make performances more playful and interesting.
Note: When playing the piano, ear training is also important.
So, you must strike a balance between reading notes and listening to sounds, and deciphering the notes. One helps you with technical accuracy and staying true to a composition as it was written, the other helps you mentally interpret music with sound as it was meant to be.
3. Go with slow & steady rather than fast and furious
It could be a note, a chord, a scale, an arpeggio, or a song, whatever you are learning, make sure you master it well – and in slow tempo at first. Before you can play fast, you need to gain control of the notes and this has to be done in slow tempo first. You should not slide past or skip notes in a hurry to be done.
When you are learning with online piano classes or physical classes for that matter, your educator will spot any notes that you skipped or played hurriedly. When you practise at home, you might not have the right idea of how you sound. So, record your practice sessions and listen to yourself to see if you have played every note as it should be played.
4. Scale the length and breadth of the piano
There are so many elements in playing the piano or keyboard. If you do some simple Maths, you will realise that your 10 fingers need to navigate 60 plus keys – though it is not all at once, the task does seem daunting. At the very least, you need to learn to move across two octaves, which is still more fingers than you can spare! So, there is some level of sliding and gliding, crossing and jumping involved.
Learning the piano involves learning finger placement and movement, thumb and finger crossing, finger strengthening, achieving equality of touch, making your wrists and arms flexible, and training your ear – for starters!
To be able to get a hang of all this, you should practise scales and arpeggios. Let’s be honest, no one really likes to practise them (!) but they are the basic exercises that will help you play songs with fluency in your future piano lessons. So, make sure you practise them regularly and sincerely.
5. Listen and learn
Have you ever listened to other people play pieces that you are learning? It would be even more beneficial to watch their finger movements – the criss-crossing and sliding movements, the curling and unfurling, and the gentle wave-like dances those nimble and magical fingers are capable of when trained. This will influence your own movements and give you a sense of what is possible in terms of sound and movement. Again, to understand how you really sound, you could record yourself and listen. This will give you a good idea of both what is lacking as well as what is working.
As a pianist, it is important to have versatility – you should be able to play in an ensemble as well as play solo. A classical pianist should be able to play lighter music such as Bollywood songs, and it is always a good idea to train yourself classically even if lighter music is your interest. Observing differences in different styles of music adds to your sense of music. While you listen for differences in playing styles, you might not feel inclined to follow it but it is still good to be aware of the various genres, styles, and forms of music.
Can I learn the piano on a keyboard?
This is a question all beginners have. After all, a piano requires a sizeable investment compared to a keyboard. While you can start learning on the keyboard, once you are sure of your interest and aptitude, it would be a good idea to switch to a piano. This is because the keys of a keyboard are much lighter than those of a piano. The feel and pressure applied will vary. This will totally alter your performance.
Types of pianos
Check out the many different types of instruments pianists use to play –
1. Basic keyboard – This is what beginners start off with when they are trying to decide between a keyboard and piano. It generally has 61 keys or fewer.
2. Workstation/synthesiser – This has 61, 76, or 88 keys but looks like a keyboard but with several sound and output features.
3. Digital piano – This has 88 keys and is compact. The sound is not the hammering sound on a string like an upright or grand piano, it is a recording that is played with speakers.
4. Upright piano – This has the sound features of a grand piano but does not take up as much space. It has 88 keys.
5. Grand piano – This piano has great potential for expression of sound. It comes in different sizes – from baby grand (smaller) to concert grand (larger).
You can buy pianos here.
6. Discover the Mozart in you
What? In me? Yes, you!
So, you joined (offline or online) piano classes. Well done! You are definitely closer to achieving your musical dreams. Now, do you practise what has been taught in your online piano lessons? Yes? Superb! Give yourself another pat on the back. One more question. Do you play songs that are not in your piano book?
Um…wondering if you were supposed to? Yes, it would be a good idea to. To get a real feel of the piano and music in general.
You could play songs that you heard in an advertisement or try to find the notes to that OST (Original Sound Track) you liked so much. Perhaps there is an indistinct tune running around in your head? Something you did not pay attention to before. That’s the Mozart in you waiting to spring out! Try a sequence of chords that you have learnt to come up with your own tune. Here are some tips on composing music that can start you off.
Find your sound, and develop your playing style.
7. Make sure the left is not left out!
It is natural for any pianist to keep practising certain sections and bars more often than some others. Usually, we all like to practise the lines that we find easiest or the ones we have mastered. For instance, you might get stuck at Line 4, so the tendency is to go back to Line 1 and start all over. This slows progress.
Instead, play the difficult sections, where you are faltering, go bar by bar, and make sure you practise your left (typically the weaker hand for most) as well as your right-hand notes. Aim to be equally good in both hands. The left-hand accompaniment, arpeggios, and chords as well as the right hand notes.
Any musical instrument requires practice. Regular practice. But we should specify even more that, more than the hours of practice, it is about practising correctly. Otherwise, you might just be reinforcing your errors, which will require some level of unlearning. So, make sure you learn it right the first time round. With the right guidance, this is how you could play the piano one day. Don’t postpone your dream of giving that stellar performance. Join online Western piano classes today!