Learning to play music on a keyboard
July 6, 2005 2:29 PM   Subscribe

For the next few months, I would like to learn to play on a keyboard.

I won't be able to take classes or a tutor. I will be able to dedicate regular time. I'm a decent self-learner. I can read music somewhat well, and I have a decent musical sense, but I haven't learnt to play any instrument.

How do I go about it? I have heard about Hanon drills..etc, and I've read a couple of general motivational books, but that's it. What would be a good sequence of self-instruction that incorporates some feedback?

I'm planning on getting a Casio WK3000 , though recommendations are welcome here, too. My budget is ~$300. I've a computer with a Santa Cruz soundcard, so some synergistic solutions are also welcome.
posted by daksya to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It would help to understand what your goals are. Do you want to learn to "play piano", or simply noodle through some melodies on an electronic keyboard? Are you interested in playing classical music, or popular music, or jazz, or don't know?

Since you already read music, a reasonable start might be to find a book at a music store with songs you like arranged for "easy piano" and learn a few of them. These songs will have useful chord structures that will get your hands familiar with the keyboard. From there you can move on to more complicated popular arrangements or easy classical pieces. There are a ton of beautiful classical pieces suitable for early piano (Satie comes to mind). If your sheet music has fingering recommendations next to the notes, try to follow them.

Hanon drills and similar keyboard exercises are about the last thing I'd recommend to a beginner. They're fine for developing facility and technique, but you should be playing them (and scales) with your first cup of coffee in the morning, before you really start practicing. They're hardly the thing to motivate you to sit at the keyboard.

Finally, if you can swing owning an actual piano, I would recommend finding a used spinet or console. Having a real piano keyboard is essential for developing touch and control. Plus you can really bang on the keys and play loudly, which is necessary from an artistic and emotional standpoint from time to time. If a real piano is not possible then try to find one with a good keyboard action, at the expense of "more sounds" or variety of drum machines built into the keyboard. Yamaha and Roland keyboards are a good starting point here.

And finally finally, listen to lots of piano music!

No matter how little time you'll be able to put into it, you'll be rewarded. Good luck!
posted by ldenneau at 3:08 PM on July 6, 2005

Response by poster: It would help to understand what your goals are.

To be able to play some of my favorite pieces (Beethoven sonatas..). To be able to converge to a decent approximation after listening to a new piece. I'm not aiming to be a concert pianist, though :)
posted by daksya at 3:32 PM on July 6, 2005

Having taught myself to play (well sorta) my Kawaii K1 I bought while in college, I would echo Idenneau's advice. Pick an easy piano song book with songs you like, and start playing. The easier songs you should be able to play reasonably well within a few minutes.
Also, google can get you some songs too ... searching for "piano music" got this decent site.
posted by forforf at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2005

That Casio seems like overkill to me. If your sound card has a midi input (joystick port)* on it, you can get a midi controller for much cheaper than that. I got a Quickshot Midi Composer for around $50 on eBay, and the keys are as responsive as those on any non-weighted Casio or Yamaha I've played.

*You can also use a USB-Midi interface, but I've heard there can be delayed response issues.
posted by cloeburner at 4:03 PM on July 6, 2005

Response by poster: If your sound card has a midi input (joystick port)* on it, you can get a midi controller for much cheaper than that

I don't mind synergy between the keyboard and comp, but I don't want the former dependent on the latter.
posted by daksya at 4:40 PM on July 6, 2005

If you're serious about learning to play an instrument, as opposed to composing, keep your computer out of the equation. You want to be able to just sit down and start playing, not messing about with MIDI, drivers, patches, sequencers, latency, effects, reverb, patch cords, rebooting your computer, etc. These are all things that get in the way of learning to play, and steal quality time between you and your instrument. Pretend you're learning to play oboe or acoustic guitar or tympani -- get a chair and music stand, put it all in a corner, and stay away from the computer. Since you want to learn to play Beethoven sonatas, get a solid electric piano for $300ish, with good action and a decent piano sound, and don't worry about any of the other electronic stuff. That can come later.
posted by ldenneau at 10:53 PM on July 6, 2005

I know you said you won't be able to take lessons, but consider trying to make the time. Even if you can only do lessons once or twice a month (or even just a few to get started), I'm sure you can find a teacher who can accomodate your schedule/budget; you'll be amazed what you'll learn in even that tiny bit of instruction.
posted by joshuaconner at 1:13 AM on July 8, 2005

Hm. I'll give you free lessons if you're in ann arbor. Other than that, it really is important to find a keyboard with good response (i.e. good touch sensitivity). This is less an issue now than it was a few years ago, when the standard keyboard had horrible, spastic response, but still important.

My advice: sit down and experiment; have fun, play around, don't be afraid to sound incredibly crappy for awhile. Eventually you'll develop your own technique. (Oh, and keep your wrists straight.)
posted by Tlogmer at 6:29 PM on July 14, 2005

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