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I believe I am one of many who decided to try learning on my own. After all, my only goal is to have fun - and get a better understanding of music in the process. This latter goal, with a plethora of theory books, as well as fun-to-read things like "How Music Works" and others, is more achievable than I thought. After using a couple of apps, and settling on Simply Piano, along with going through Alberts All-in-One book 1, I was quite pleased with myself. But I became concerned about potentially learning bad habits, and having to later unlearn them. And kept wondering why my hands kept hurting after I played for some length of time.
Prompted by the fact that a teacher I hired mainly for my little one does lessons for all ages, I decided to hire her for myself as well. What a classic case of "you don't know what you don't know"! I am happy to report that I think I have moved from the "unconscious incompetence" stage to the much more productive one of "conscious incompetence". Hand pain: I was sitting too close, without knowing. Everything else: I do quite well with some things, but my timing sucks badly. And I wouldn't have figured that out on my own. I am also badly dependent on certain hand positions on the keyboard, and lose myself when I need to find notes all over the place. The lessons and the pieces she assigns take me out of this bad habit just in time, before it becoming a much tougher pattern to break.
So, in short: get a teacher. You'll feel less pleased with yourself in the short run, and be much better off.

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Interesting. I too started out self learning, and after a couple of years went with a teacher. Also a case of "you don't know what you don't know" but me for it was timing and rhythm: quavers (eighth notes) when played off beat played as as crotchets (quarter), the opposite sometimes two adjacent quavers played as semiquavers (sixteenths), unconscious occasional pauses between bars, rubato like never before, dotted rhythms not dotted at all, also non-existent phrasing, and one main level of dynamics, and so on. Get a teacher.

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That is also my observation of self-learners: timing & rhythmic problems and note values, much more so than actual notes.

Even learning pieces by intensive listening to YT videos (as advocated in another thread) don't seem to solve the problem for a lot of people. They think they've grasped the correct rhythm, until they start playing it.

That is why all good teachers teach counting aloud right from day one - even if the student is only playing middle C with alternate thumbs (which is the way it's taught in the beginner's primer I use). Without rhythm, you have nothing. Watch orchestral players (especially the 'kitchen department') - many of them are counting beats silently while waiting for their entry.

Incidentally, I was watching a documentary on Ravi Shankar last night, where his friend George Harrison said that Indian (sitar) classical music is all rhythm and melody, whereas Western music is harmony and melody.....and rhythm. (I could add that some other cultures only use rhythm in their music.)


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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As a [semi-retired early?] piano teacher myself, I have biases, but it seems to me that piano is one of those things that teaching yourself is just a terrible idea. I feel more strongly about it probably even because I started teaching myself to the early-advanced level, then had a horrible teacher, then had to "start over" in college. I only imagine what would have been different had I had a proper, good teacher since the beginning. Sigh.

And as I moved along in my career and started learning about injury-preventative technique, taking courses, conferences, and so on...I watch these YouTube composer/pianists on their digital pianos, and either they won't be able to play at all by the time they are 25 because of injury, or they are already hurting and trying to hide it. And don't get me started on outdated pedagogy. (I am even resisting watching Robert Estrin's video that was just posted today. I don't want to be "that guy" screaming at him via the comments section based on what the title says....ouch.)

And no one says you have to always take lessons for 30-45 minutes every single week your whole life. My students now are just advanced adult hobbyist who come for a lesson whenever they feel like it. Every other week. Once a month. Whenever. (I am not teaching at all during covid, though.)

Method books only tell you so much. When I teach a lesson, the stuff in the book isn't even 50% of what I am teaching that lesson, though it's so smooth and subtle that the student may not realize it. One thing that used to just grind my gears when I was teaching a full studio would be my "competition"--piano teachers that clearly had no business teaching. Glad those days are behind me, to be honest. smile


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Originally Posted by rocdoc
What a classic case of "you don't know what you don't know"! I am happy to report that I think I have moved from the "unconscious incompetence" stage to the much more productive one of "conscious incompetence".

Congrats, rocdoc!

"conscious incompetence" - that made me laugh. It's so true. wink

I've always had music teachers. It was never a question for me. However, recently, I decided to give not having a teacher a try. I really wanted to see what it was like to learn an instrument from scratch without a teacher. So I embarked on an experiment to self-learn the violin for 7 months. I wanted to see what I could achieve in that time. I didn't last very long. grin After just 2 months of learning on my own with a video course, I broke down and hired a teacher! I found I was spinning my wheels too much and was wasting a lot of time. I was so frustrated. Needless to say, my experiment was a failure for me, but it was an interesting journey nevertheless.


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There are a few self-taught pianists here in the ABF that, IMHO, are doing a great job: some beginners and some more advanced.... but they are not the ones touting ‘do what I did. I’m great.’
They quietly study in a methodical and disciplined way— quietly and patiently progressing.

For myself, I would really miss not having a teacher because I learn something every lesson. I have really missed the lessons during Covid


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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I think everyone should start on their own for awhile to bond with the instrument and start developing your ear for the sounds. I also help you discovered how motivated you are to learn music. Now after a couple months then decide if you want a teach or learn by ear. One my favorite progressive musicians and pianist started learning classical by ear. Music is all about sound so developing a musical ear is the most important thing. Reality is even with a teacher you have to come back to working on your ear.

I've played guitar and bass for whole life and decided to learn piano as a bucket list thing. I started piano with typical local piano teacher and spend a month or so and got bored and quit. I continued on my own using a couple books for reference and a online piano site. That is working and I do find things now and then usually technique questions on dealing with my small hands. So I am looking to takes some private lessons for two reasons. First as I mentioned to deal with some tech things so I can show them what I'm doing and get some comments and suggestions. Second is I have some much cool stuff I'm working on my practice is too scattered, so help organizing my practice for more efficiency.

So to me a teacher should be more about being a resource for C&C and some guidance for things to work on. For example I wanted to work on some concept or style and they can suggest play some music that I don't realize is related to help build skills for playing the other style or concept. I think too many people take lessons even beginner level and don't express themselves and ask questions enough. They get typical local music store type teacher who has taught the same books and ways it all just autopilot and they even get upset if you ask a question that doesn't with their predetermined route they teach everyone thru the door.


Interesting in the background while I'm typing this I'm part of a Zoom music discussion with a old Jazz musician I'm a fan of. He's talking about learning and about how much we are already capable of doing, but we doubt ourselves. That if as a little kid you want to learn to do something you just go for it. A little kid is not afraid to try things and fail and try and try till they figure it out. As we get older the more we doubt ourselves and what we can do and believe we can't do anything we are given specific lessons. Want to learn something don't be afraid to start like a little kid and just go for it and don't be afraid to fail and have to keep trying over and over. After awhile then you can make a informed decision on if you need a teacher or not.

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Originally Posted by MrShed
I think everyone should start on their own for awhile to bond with the instrument and start developing your ear for the sounds. I also help you discovered how motivated you are to learn music. Now after a couple months then decide if you want a teach or learn by ear. One my favorite progressive musicians and pianist started learning classical by ear. Music is all about sound so developing a musical ear is the most important thing. Reality is even with a teacher you have to come back to working on your ear.
One does not play classical music by ear. * think the most important time for a pianist to have a teacher is in the beginning especially the first five years. This is almost the only way to get a good technical and musical foundation.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by MrShed
I think everyone should start on their own for awhile to bond with the instrument and start developing your ear for the sounds. I also help you discovered how motivated you are to learn music. Now after a couple months then decide if you want a teach or learn by ear. One my favorite progressive musicians and pianist started learning classical by ear. Music is all about sound so developing a musical ear is the most important thing. Reality is even with a teacher you have to come back to working on your ear.
One does not play classical music by ear. * think the most important time for a pianist to have a teacher is in the beginning especially the first five years. This is almost the only way to get a good technical and musical foundation.
Actually, the thing that got me started on piano, composing, and eventually led to a "real piano" and lessons was figuring out the first four phrases of Chopin's Nocturne 9/2 by ear by playing a cassette tape over and over and over and using a toy-ish keyboard. True story. I even had to quickly learn notation to write down what I was hearing, and so on. Then I started trying to play other stuff, and my dad asked me why I was leaving out notes. I told him that the keyboard notes didn't go high enough. Bam. The next day I had a piano delivered, and the rest is history.

(Yes, I know I am a rare breed, but it can be done. Lot of work, but it got me deep into it head first.)


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Agreed that the early years are the most important time to have a teacher. Get you off on the right foot, so to speak. But rhythm? Use a metronome, play slowly and count, try playing the drums, etc. Learning phrasing, period style, pedaling, etc.? Get a teacher.

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Originally Posted by SonatainfSharp
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by MrShed
I think everyone should start on their own for awhile to bond with the instrument and start developing your ear for the sounds. I also help you discovered how motivated you are to learn music. Now after a couple months then decide if you want a teach or learn by ear. One my favorite progressive musicians and pianist started learning classical by ear. Music is all about sound so developing a musical ear is the most important thing. Reality is even with a teacher you have to come back to working on your ear.
One does not play classical music by ear. * think the most important time for a pianist to have a teacher is in the beginning especially the first five years. This is almost the only way to get a good technical and musical foundation.
Actually, the thing that got me started on piano, composing, and eventually led to a "real piano" and lessons was figuring out the first four phrases of Chopin's Nocturne 9/2 by ear by playing a cassette tape over and over and over and using a toy-ish keyboard. True story. I even had to quickly learn notation to write down what I was hearing, and so on. Then I started trying to play other stuff, and my dad asked me why I was leaving out notes. I told him that the keyboard notes didn't go high enough. Bam. The next day I had a piano delivered, and the rest is history.

(Yes, I know I am a rare breed, but it can be done. Lot of work, but it got me deep into it head first.)
Yes, one can figure out a few measures by ear or even a much longer and complex piece if one gets good enough. I was talking about the 99% of people who would find that either impossible or incredibly time consuming.

I once hired a fantastic transcribe to transcribe this classical improvisation by Erich Korngold:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXDuBKvQ8-U

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Reading these comments I feel at a huge advantage. I played drums when I was younger and was in school band for a few years. Part of the program was instruction once a week where I learned nothing but rhythm. When I heard Eddy and Brett on TwoSetViolin both agree that teaching rhythm was the hardest thing, it seemed strange to me, as I have always felt like playing drums was a natural thing for me and required very little effort to excel. Many years after I sold my drum set I was talking to my dad about when I played and how much I missed it. What he said shocked me "I was surprised how good you were." My dad was never one to throw around empty compliments to make you feel good. I'm still thinking of getting a teacher anyway because as mentioned above, "You don't know what you don't know. I am also a firm believer in the 10,000 hour rule.

I wish I could see video of our school band concerts but we didn't have video back in the Neolithic period.


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I learned my lesson about starting an instrument with a good teacher from my experience with acoustic guitar.

I am entirely self taught and played for myself and friends for over 15 years with a heavy emphasis on finger-style. I was pretty proud of that accomplishment until I decided it was time to get a teacher because of that same "you don't know what you don't know" realization. I quickly learned that while I could play most of what I wanted to play, I had handicapped myself from the start with inefficient hand positioning, inefficient movement up and down the fret, injury-risking wrist position on my picking hand, etc, etc, etc.

Even the tiny instructions my teacher offered on Day 1 made so much sense and felt so much better, but now I had 15 years worth of muscle memory to overcome if I wanted to incorporate these any other changes into my practice and playing. So sure, I can play the guitar, but with that same amount of time and a teacher I could be playing soooo much better. That was pretty demoralizing to learn so late in the game, but still better than not coming to that understanding at all.

So yeah, getting a piano teacher at the very start of this journey was a no brainer. Lesson learned, lesson applied.


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Thanks for making this interesting with all your comments!
First off, there does not appear to be an edit function for one's posts here, so apologies to Mr Alfred for my calling him Albert... He is taking revenge for that in the form of Brahms' Lullaby at the moment...
I'm glad I'm not the only one to feel that the rhythm is both a central factor in playing well, and a pretty tough one to master IF you are starting out late and without the benefit of proper early life music instruction. I never counted out loud playing ("what a silly thing to do", thought the cocky noob) and now I am forcing myself to do it, essentially having to re-learn a bit, but seems to be worth it.
Anyway, this whole activity is tons of fun. And this is the wrong spot to make this statement, as it's preaching to a self-selecting choir, but the notion put into some kids heads that you need some outstanding natural ability to learn music is extremely harmful poppycock. May be true if you want to end up being Lang Lang, but not if you want to learn, have fun, and achieve a level of performance spanning a very wide range below that of high level concert musicians.

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(You can edit, but only for a few minutes.)

Rhythm is super important. I used to tell my guitar students that the strum pattern (which roughly translates to rhythm to us piano folk), is the most important thing. You can botch the chords as much as you want, but if you keep the rhythm strict and in tact, people will still know what song you are trying to play!

Music psychology is tough, because students and parents seem to think that "strict, classically trained, college-bound, performer" is the only way to go. Hogwash. Not even 1% do that with piano. If I had a student who just wanted to play Disney songs and never even knew who Chopin is, that was fine with me--at least that kid was still playing for years whereas the kids who were forced into what they didn't want to learn mostly all quit! (Of course I introduced all the other stuff, and some ran with it through college whereas others couldn't care less, but they still played!)


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Originally Posted by rocdoc
but the notion put into some kids heads that you need some outstanding natural ability to learn music is extremely harmful poppycock

I believe the same is true for adult learners when it comes to, well... just about anything. I know far too many people who won't even try to follow a particular path because they believe they don't have a "natural" talent or ability.

"I could never play the piano/ do woodworking/ play a sport/ understand calculus/ paint in watercolor/ do my own plumbing/ install a light fixture/..." ad infinitum

Nonsense, you have a human brain (presumably). Learn to use it and you can direct it towards nearly anything. No one leaps out of the womb, grabs the nearest violin and starts playing 24 Caprices.


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Originally Posted by rocdoc
And kept wondering why my hands kept hurting after I played for some length of time.
Pain in your hands can be a blessing in disguise. I went through a similar process as you did - duh! Why use a teacher? I can figure out which note to play when by myself - and I also was a classic case of "you don't know what you don't know". In my case, amongst many other things, how to play with weight, and how to relax my hands after having pressed the key.
Enjoy the journey, Rocdoc!


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I'll get a teacher after I get vaccinated. But this year of learning on my own has been great. Glad I had this time to experiment, to think about what I'd like to learn best, to take my time learning the keyboard, to read basic music, to see if I really like playing piano enough to shell out for the not inconsiderable expense of lessons. It has been pressure free and a wonderful discovery.

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BTW, to clarify, at the moment all the classes are online. I am sure there is a limitation, but it works much better than I expected. Maybe I got lucky with my teacher, but she is pretty amazing at picking out if I hit a wrong note over the iPhone connection, without needing to see my keys (although we typically set up so she sees my hands on the keyboard). Will consider moving to in-person after the pandemic gets under control, but I have to say I love the convenience right now!

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Although I know in-person lessons are better than virtual (they just are), there's no beating the convenience of virtual lessons.

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 02/26/21 01:39 PM.

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