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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Play the Piano


The piano was once an essential addition to the home, a source of family entertainment and personal musical enjoyment. Today, it continues to be an important and beloved instrument, and knowing how to play one can give you many opportunities to enliven a party, join a band or compose your own music. Learning to play the piano requires dedication, a love of music and a willingness to keep challenging yourself––basically, anyone who wishes to, can learn to play a piano.

Edit Steps

Availability and Affordability

  1. Make certain you're willing to practice for thirty or more minutes each day. If you're not, save yourself the expense of buying the piano, books, and lessons, to say nothing of the time. The first few weeks are quite an effort and you'll need to be prepared to persevere and learn through sheer work.
    • Check your calendar. Where are you prepared to block out half an hour a day? Do you have other activities that might interfere with this time or can you shift things around?
    • What about other members of your household? Are they going to be okay with the piano being played daily at certain times? If your walls are paper thin, this may also need to include consideration of your neighbors.
  2. Be forewarned that pianos can be very expensive. If you can't afford to buy one, keyboards are an excellent, cheaper alternative. (There are also some great crossovers, such as digital Grands from brands like Roland and Yamaha.) If you can afford one, make sure you know which criteria you should consider when buying yourself a piano. With some luck or dedicated searching, you can often borrow a piano from someone or get an old piano that someone is getting rid of. Some schools, churches or community centers will also be willing to let you tinkle on the keys at a regular slot provided they know you're serious about learning and will take care of their property.
    • Look at online auctions and classifieds sites for old pianos at good prices. Also check out sites such as Freecycle, where unwanted pianos might turn up but you'll probably need to get the piano tuned and possibly even restore it somewhat.
    • Ring around estate sales auctioneers to see if they have any pianos up for auction. Ask to be alerted if one comes in. In some cases, you might pick up a piano for next to nothing.

Getting Lessons

  1. Arrange for music lessons with a teacher in your area. The classifieds or a referral from a friend are good places to start. Many schools and colleges offer piano lessons at a subsidized cost. Ask other piano students for feedback about their books or teachers.
    • Find the right teacher! Your relationship with your teacher can affect the way you feel about practicing, so arrange for a trial period of a few weeks to find out if there's a good fit. This is important for parents to acknowledge, as much as it is for the pupil to grasp.
  2. Know what the teacher plans to cover in the lessons. Make certain your teacher or lesson book includes time spent learning all aspects of the piano (including chords, theory, and learning pieces by heart) in the curriculum.
    • In addition to studying traditional chord relationships (harmony), take a class in composition and listen to as much music as you can. Community colleges offer excellent instruction in music theory, history, and composition. Learning music theory is fun and is the best way to become a great musician, whether you want to play classical, jazz or pop.
    • Playing with other people in ensembles is also an excellent idea for staying motivated and learning techniques from others.
  3. If you do not want to take piano lessons, it is possible learn by yourself. However, you do have your work cut out for you and you will need to be very disciplined and conscientious about practice. Teaching yourself how to play well is a tremendous task, but it can be done.
    • Make use of online resources, such as the many excellent video lessons on learning the piano available on video sites.
  4. Whether learning with a teacher or on your own, you can use technology to your advantage. There are free internet games, such as Jayde Musica and Grand Staff Defender, that can help you with both reading music and playing piano. There are also electronic devices that can help you to practice the piano more effectively. For example, the PianoMaestro is a strip of lights that rests on top of the black keys of your piano. The lights guide you on which notes to play, enabling you to progress faster and stay motivated.

Practicing the Piano

  1. Sit correctly. Hand and body posture are very important. Slouching gives a bad impression and having a bad hand posture will be counter-productive to your practice.
    • Keep your wrists loose and your hands flexible.
    • Keep your fingers at a natural curve, as if you were holding your hands at your side. This gives you more power in your finger strokes.
    • If you're moving your hands, your elbows shouldn't be moving as if you were doing the "chicken dance". Instead of moving the elbows, move your wrists.
  2. Warm up. Practice the arpeggios, chords, scales, and other basic things at the beginning of your practice sessions. Your fingers will be "warmed up" and ready for all of your songs.
    • It's best to warm up at the beginning of every practice session with a relaxing finger exercise. This will stretch your fingers and hands and help you play with your hands relaxed.
  3. Practice daily for at least thirty minutes or more. Your fingers will "rust" if you do not play for even a week. However, you may find that a short break or holiday is alright, provided you practice diligently. At first, practicing might be a pain and you might get very frustrated. As your skills grow, you will become better and playing piano will become pure enjoyment.
    • When you play, you should be able to see your finger bones move. Let your hand just hang and move only your fingers.
  4. Play covers of songs that you like. Chances are you won’t like a lot of the songs that your instructor or lesson book use to teach you piano basics. Don’t be afraid to mix it up by covering more enjoyable songs on the piano, even if they’re typically played using other instruments. Consider it an opportunity to learn from the greats while motivating yourself to play.
    • Go slowly and steadily when learning a new piece. A good thing to do is play the melody with one hand, and then the other part with your other hand. Play a few times separately and then put them together. Your hands will get used to playing, so when you put them together, it'll feel almost automatic.
  5. Practice a lot. The more you practice, the better you will perform. This is especially important given the reality that even seasoned performers get serious nerves before a performance, so if your subconscious knows what to do, you'll feel a lot more confident when playing in public.
    • Practice a little more each day. If you try to play 5 minutes on your first few days, your hands and wrists will most likely get tired (do not push them to play if they do or you'll soon give up). If you practice easy pieces in little spurts each day though, your hands will build up the stamina required to play for longer.

Accelerating Learning

  1. Improve your technique by learning in segments.
    • First, try to sightread the piece without worrying if you make mistakes; then, practice each hand separately.
    • Break the music into segments and learn the right hand part. Learn segment by segment, then connect them together. Keep practicing until you've mastered the right hand. Play through the entire piece. If you make a mistake, try to pick up from the beginning of that measure. Starting from the beginning each time you make a mistake will mean you learn the start of the song very well and perhaps never reach the end! Be patient, as this process will enable you to get through the entire piece flawlessly.
    • Once you've mastered the right hand, repeat the process with the left hand.
    • Then, repeat the process again, this time for both hands. Do not try to play at normal speed until you are secure in your fingering and notes.
    • Then, increase the speed gradually. Play the piece until you memorize it and you can play fluently.
  2. Improve your understanding of the piece by learning in measures. Take a new piece apart by learning one or two measures at a time, and going over it again and again. The next day, do the same thing with the next few measures, and then include the last measures and play them all together. By practicing this way, you can spend quality time listening to how they sound and making sure your fingers know where to go and when.
    • Don't freak out when you can't play a measure (or two). Just take a short break. Give yourself some time to calm down before you attack the challenge again.
    • The measures on a song are not "stop signs". When you reach a measure, never stop. Instead, continue the song at the same speed.
  3. Keep a regular, steady rhythm while you are playing. Just playing rhythmically makes a piece sound a lot better. Consider buying a metronome to help with this. Consider buying a piano with a metronome. A lot of pianos have them built in, and even if they don't, a hand-held metronome will suffice.
  4. Try not to repeat your mistakes. Practicing the wrong way many times over will cement a mistake into your mind and muscle memory.

Improvising

  1. Think notes and improvise. "Thinking notes" means that you know every single note you're playing. While that sounds easy, it can be very challenging. Play a piece that you have memorized and can play very well. Now, name every note that you played without looking at the piano. Then, take a melody you've heard on TV or somewhere else and try to play it using your ear. Aim for knowing every note you play. While playing by ear is good, it's a lot better if you know every note that you play.
    • Learn to sight read music. This will allow you to play a large range of pieces without learning them from memory. It's a useful skill to practice as early as possible when learning music.
    • Listen to your notes and tune your ears to the keys' pitches. This is needed on some advanced piano tests and will allow you to impress your friends by playing blindfolded!
  2. Play whenever you can, even if you don’t have a piano. Borrow someone else’s piano, tap out a few notes on the keyboard at the store, use your digital device's music keyboard or just play from memory on the blank desk in front of you. Be like Paul McCartney, who can't walk by a piano without a very strong urge to play it; the only time he doesn’t is if he would get in trouble!
    • Play simple pieces by ear and make your own arrangements of them. This will help you to become less dependent on written music. When you are playing by ear, keep going! Do not start sections of the piece over again. If you miss a chord one time, you can practice so that you'll play it the next time. The main thing is to overcome repetition and hesitation and learn to play a piece through smoothly when you are performing it.

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Edit Tips

  • If you're at a recital and your hands shake wildly, sit on your hands for a few minutes before you go out to play. It calms them down.
  • It is better to play too slowly than to play too quickly when you are performing. Play evenly and with a great deal of care in your touch and you will sound professional.
  • Get used to the idea that some of the pianos you will be playing will not sound amazing or be in perfect tune. This is one of the hazards of being a piano player; you can't carry your favorite instrument with you. Try to make the best of things when you are playing an inferior instrument. A good pianist can usually make a bad piano sound reasonably good, although some pianos are in such bad condition that you should feel free to say that you cannot play that piano!
  • If you are shy, practice playing in front of your family and friends. They will enjoy it, and in time, so will you.
  • Curve your fingers for a stronger tone and a better quality of music. Resist the temptation of playing flat fingered.
  • For players with some experience: Eventually, you will play faster pieces that are also long. If you keep pushing on the keys, you will tire out before you even finish the first page. To prevent this, lift your fingers up higher for louder notes and move your wrist so that it "follows the notes"; as the keys you press make higher and higher sounds, your wrist gets nearer and nearer to the right side of the piano when you're facing it. Do the opposite when the sounds made by the keys get lower and lower. However, if you overdo it, there will be no point.
  • Make sure your fingers don't get cold when you play. When you have cold fingers (and hands), it'll be harder to play the piano, and it will hurt your fingers. If you hands are cold before you start playing, don't play, just warm them up by running your hands under warm water or holding them over a heater (carefully) for a few minutes.
  • The fingering, speed, and chords in some pieces may be frustrating and difficult, but push through it. If you get frustrated, step away from the piano for a few minutes until you are ready to play again. If you do take piano lessons, remember this: You are very lucky; many parents want their child to learn piano, but not all can afford it.
  • You may like to accompany a singer on piano and perhaps form a rhythm section with other instruments.
  • For intermediate/advanced players: Try playing through that new piece using the chords written above the grand staff. Use your left hand to play octaves and your right hand to play the chord. Start off using the first inversion of every chord, then for a challenge, limit yourself to using only one octave and trying out different inversions of chords.
  • Do not keep your foot on the sustaining pedal; it blurs your chords together and makes them sound "muddy." If you want to correctly use the sustain pedal, play a chord, press the pedal down, and then a split second after you play your next chord, carefully lift up the sustain pedal and put it back down. Whenever you change chords or play notes from a different chord, "reset" the sustain pedal. Do not "bump" the pedal by changing it too fast. Always listen to yourself when you pedal. Your ears will tell you if the sound is blurred or not.

Edit Warnings

  • Don't set impossible goals for yourself, for example, don't tell yourself, “I'm going to learn how to play Turkish March in one week.” You'll probably be disappointed. However, small goals are important, so learning parts by certain dates is certainly a good incentive to work toward.
  • Don't buy a piano when you're not sure you want to start playing it; a piano is a huge investment in both time and house space.
  • Don't limit yourself to the notes on the page. Think about what the melody is trying to convey and play the song as though it was your own––from your heart.
  • Never play the same melody the same way. If the composer puts identical measures in the piece, make it interesting by using dynamics or ritardandos.
  • Don't be nervous at recitals, and play your piece with as much confidence as you can. Don't worry about how you look. Pay attention to the thing that really counts––how the music sounds!
  • Don't slack off. Sometimes it may become tedious, but keep practicing.





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