How to best dedicate a month to learning piano?
August 5, 2018 3:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a month-long sabbatical coming up, which I am very excited about. One of my goals to learn a bit of piano. Given a month of free time (maybe an hour each day that I can spend practicing), and a decent digital piano in my possession, how should I spend that time? Hiring a teacher and taking lessons? Doing online classes? On YouTube? Just brute forcing my way through Satie? Open to any and all suggestions.

If it helps, I play acoustic guitar but am largely self taught. I know my chords, in other words, but it’s mostly just memorized finger positions — I never learned scales beyond light experimentation. And I’ve never learned to truly read music. Inevitably, I’d like to be able to play slower classical pieces and maybe a bit of rock or jazz.
posted by summerteeth to Education (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend you start with a teacher. They can help you with fingering and hand positions which are more difficult to learn on your own. On top of which, they can observe you and correct as you go along as well as answer questions which you would not get if you were learning from youtube or self-teaching. While it's not impossible to self-teach (especially if you already have a musical background) you will likely gain much more in a month's time with a teacher than you otherwise would have gotten alone. If nothing else, the pressure to be prepared for lessons might make you practice a bit more as accountability to another person can sometimes be motivating (but that's true for everyone!).

And if you don't like the lessons, you can quit and continue with a different teacher or on your own.
posted by acidnova at 3:54 PM on August 5, 2018

Missed the edit window. That parenthetical is supposed to be (but that's NOT true for everyone!)
posted by acidnova at 4:04 PM on August 5, 2018

Hire a teacher, definitely. If you're dedicated to making the most of your time, schedule lessons two times a week for at least 45 minutes each. There is so much more to learning an instrument than simply playing the right notes at the right time, and given that the piano asks so much of your body and mind (two clefs simultaneously!), a teacher will help immeasurably. Because you already have an ear and an aptitude, you will go so much farther with assistance.

I would encourage you to learn all your scales and learn cadences. Cadences will be the foundation to using jazz or rock fake books (or, honestly, playing any music at all). Scales don't have to be boring, or divorced from "real" music. I use my scale time to warm up, to play with the plane and tilt of my hand, to analyze how my wrists are moving, to play with the exact curl of my fingers, to enjoy the exact point of each key's resistance and submission as it meets my fingertip to make sound. Each scale has its own personality, its own color, its own journey. Scales can be as musical as you want them to be, and they are a great conduit for intentional, deep contact between the instrument and your body. I shift my whole weight from one side to the other as I play each scale along the entire length of the piano. While I was an enthusiast for scales at the outset, I fully credit my teacher for giving me a deeper understanding of how fundamental they are to being a better musician.
posted by missmary6 at 5:09 PM on August 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

I agree that a teacher would be most useful. If you can start the lessons before your sabbatical, even just a few of them, you might be able to profit more from the practice time you have during the sabbatical - although an hour isn't a huge amount of time to practice piano, playing piano does require you to develop certain muscles, just like guitar, and your hands/arms may get tired if you jump right in to playing an hour a day. (I occasionally jump back in to playing piano though I don't play regularly, and I can be pretty sore if I sit down for an hour or two after not playing for a while.)
posted by mskyle at 5:11 PM on August 5, 2018

If you have some time beforehand, I suggest practicing reading music.
posted by oceano at 9:16 PM on August 5, 2018

Personally I have found the app "Simply Piano" very helpful at improving my sight reading. It listens to what you play (either via a midi connection or via a microphone) and then takes you through a whole number of staged lessons. I find it particularly helpful because it forces me read a piece from start to finish at a given tempo - and does not let me simply resort to playing just the easier sections - it is also tolerant of me making many mistakes and taking a while to get something right. It is always feeing me material which is a stretch rather than a walk in the part. Finally - for me at least - the whole idea of gamifying piano lessons helps motivate me to practice more.

You can use this app instead of a human tutor - but there are also variants which are designed to use with a piano teacher - and these would be the ones to give you the best results.
posted by rongorongo at 3:30 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Get a good teacher (red flags: someone who used to have a performance career and will spend all your lesson time walking down memory lane), and depending on your time / travel resources, pay them to guide your practice. Like go over to their house to practice. This way, you shorten the feedback loop, and never get a chance to develop bad habits -- after all, practice makes perfect, and only perfect practice makes perfect (permanent).

Search "bernhard pianostreet" for advice on effective practice.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:16 PM on August 6, 2018

Some potential resources online:

Piano teacher Tim Topham has written about his favourite iPad apps for piano teaching. This is interesting because these have all emerged quite recently and it is useful to know just how many aspects of music learning they can help with: rhythm, aural training, music display and so on.

Musician and producer Rick Beato has a Youtube channel with some great content - for example the "what makes this song great?" series where he analyses the musical appeal of various tracks.

Michael New has a good introduction series on how to read sheet music - part 1 of 3 - or The Circle of 5ths.

The Great Repertoire channelhas a lot of classical standards shown as a playing score. You can listen to a piece being played and either try to play along or look for sources (often free) where you can find the sheet music to play.

Belmont University have some freely downloadable sight reading exercises at levels from beginner to expert.

Tim Runs "Piano Lessons on the Web" - lots of stuff there.
posted by rongorongo at 11:04 PM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Depending on your timing and budget, you might consider a piano camp in Bennington, Vermont at Sonatina. Amazing programs, open to participants at all levels including absolute beginners.
posted by Sublimity at 6:09 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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