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Feb 11 / Greg

So, You Want To Learn To Play The Piano

Do you want to learn to play the piano, or do you want to learn to play music on the piano?

There is a notable difference between the two.

If someone has it in mind to learn to play some long-time favourites, from classical through to contemporary pop music, they could do it (starting from absolute beginner) to a reasonable degree in 2-3 years with consistent practice. This time-frame must be taken in context – a Bach toccata and fugue or Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ sonata will take many years of committed study to play, let alone master, but songs from films or TV series could be learned in the above time frame, as can the majority of pop, elementary blues pieces and rock songs from the last 50 years.

A student who commits to 3-5 years regular, disciplined and enthusiastic practice will be able to play many pieces from all the categories above. This does not apply to the very young, who start learning. They have a completely different development rate and pattern, to students in their mid-teens and up.

So, you can learn to play music on the piano in a relatively short time with the appropriate mindset.

Jazz has not been mentioned here because it is a specialised area of study with very comprehensive musical and technical components, equivalent to those of Western Classical Music.

It is not absolutely necessary to have a piano for the contemporary music styles; a good, weighted-key, electronic piano would be fine.

Now if you want to learn to play the piano, you are looking at an altogether different outcome and a much longer course of study.

By wanting to learn to play the piano, a student is looking to attain a degree of mastery over the instrument. This necessitates a focused study on the manipulation of the mechanism, on tone production, pedalling techniques and your playing mechanism which is everything from your finger-tip to your torso. All of this requires regular lessons and deliberate, thought out, forensic practice. To this must be added all the relevant music-technique work. Altogether, this takes many years of regular lessons and disciplined, committed, enthusiastic practice.

You will need an acoustic piano in good tune and well regulated. Nothing else is even remotely satisfactory.

What is your motivation in having piano lessons?

This question is not relevant to the young, who often learn piano as part of a wide range of activities, and who will not necessarily have any particular motivation. If that comes, it is later, as they start to consciously choose their future directions.

Ask yourself: ‘Why do I really want to play the piano?‘ Too many think it would be a nice thing to try and very quickly confront the reality that they have to work and above all, think.

What was initially a good idea, soon presents as a much more involved process than ever imagined.

When you learn piano, you are learning about yourself. Your tenacity. Your capacity for patience, organisation and dealing with interruptions, and many other facets of self that were not confronted in quite the same way before.

All of this sounds fairly serious. You don’t have to and should not take it too seriously, however, you will need to be serious in your intent.

Do you have the time?

It is very easy to make a decision to have piano lessons and it is another thing to manage your life around that. Are you prepared to re-schedule other areas in your day-to-day life so due time can be given to regular practising?

Are you living in a workable situation?

Practising the piano can be a very big intrusion in other people’s lives. If you are cohabiting, the adjustments that others may or may not be willing to make, could make the difference between your continued piano studies and giving up because it all gets to difficult.

Does your occupation allow you to learn consistently?

Having consistent lessons and getting consistent practice time is important if progress is to be sustained and successful. If you have regular working hours, it is a good start. People working irregular hours, variable shifts, periods away from home and so on, have to be very committed and determined if they take up piano lessons. Be prepared for a longer term of involvement.

Can you afford it?

Is a shift in finances likely to impact your being able to continue regular weekly lessons? Yes, ‘weekly’. Some students want fortnightly lessons, or to reduce their lesson frequency to once a fortnight. In almost every case, this does not work.

Is distance a factor?

Piano lessons are usually sourced locally. Generally, students do not wish to travel too far to their teacher’s studio and busy parents do not, either.

If you do not have your own means of transport, is it feasible for you to regularly travel by public transport to your lesson and home again? Enthusiasm for lessons may wane if you have to travel 40km, with 3 bus changes, each way.

There are a number of things to weigh-up when considering taking up piano lessons. You owe it to yourself and to your prospective teacher to be very clear in your choice, your intentions, and your aims before you start.

Learning the piano is one of the most satisfying pursuits a person can undertake. The untold moments of joy in the experience of creating and re-creating music are the reward for the time you invest in learning this greatest of all instruments.

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Greg Norman’s Piano lessons and/or Music Theory lessons…
Styles: Classical, Modern
Skill Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Post-Graduate, AMEB/ABRSM exams
Suitability: Ages 7 years and up to any age, any experience level. Lessons are weekly.

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