We are looking at the best ways to learn piano in 2021. With ever-changing technology, there are more options than ever for aspiring musicians. The way we teach or learn piano can be more tailored to suit individual needs and budgets. We will pick out the best methods available, and the pros and cons of each.
Choosing the right instrument
Before we get into the best ways to learn piano, we should talk about the importance of the instrument you use to practice. The instrument you practice on will significantly influence your musical development.
An acoustic piano has 88 weighted hammer-action keys. In the past, piano keys were topped with real ebony and ivory. Although most manufacturers switched to plastic in the 1950s, and ivory was banned in 1989. Now, many pianos, digital pianos, and keyboards use simulated ivory to create an authentic piano feel.
Ideally, if you are serious about the piano, it’s best to have 88 weighted keys. That gives you access to the full harmonic and dynamic range of the piano. With less than 88 keys, you might be reaching for the transpose button more than you’d like. With non-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys, it’s impossible to play as expressively as you can with weighted keys. Of course, it’s not always possible or practical to have a real acoustic piano at home. In that case, you have a few options.
- Digital piano.
- Keyboard piano.
- Full-size MIDI controller with hammer-action keys (you’d need a computer and software).
We have some great articles on each of the above options:
If you don’t have the space for 88-keys, a smaller keyboard is the best option for you. Keyboards come in various sizes, like 76, 61, 49-keys, and so on. They also offer a range of keybed types, from non-weighted to semi-weighted, and fully-weighted hammer-action keys. We would suggest going for at least 61-keys and as close to fully-weighted as you can afford.
If your decision is based more on budget than space, then you need to decide what matters more to you, full length, or full weight. For example, you could purchase a MIDI controller with 88 semi-weighted keys far cheaper than many keyboards with 61 fully-weighted keys.
One pitfall that many piano students experience is a lack of consistency between practice sessions. If you take lessons in a class, studio, or school on a real piano, then practice at home on a small non-weighted keyboard, it won’t be easy to get used to the weight of a real piano. The inconsistency makes it difficult to play with real confidence and expression. You end up pushing too hard or holding back too much. If you plan to take lessons away from your home, it’s a good idea to keep the weight of the keys (on both instruments) as similar as possible.
Ultimately, it’s better to learn on something than nothing. So, whatever you can afford, and whatever you have space for, you’ll make it work! Whether it’s a digital piano, keyboard piano, or anything else, check out our articles for useful advice.
Here are the best ways to learn piano in 2021:
1. Private lessons from an independent music tutor
Taking private lessons will always be one of the best ways to learn to play the piano or keyboard. Private lessons mean that you go to a tutor or a tutor comes to you at home.
Traditionally, this is how piano students learned before the surge of online content and video calls. The most significant benefit of learning this way is that you have the tutor’s undivided attention at the same piano. Everything that you do in your lessons is custom planned for your skill level and learning pace. That’s providing you have a good tutor, of course.
Sitting at the same piano means that the tutor can demonstrate things clearly and monitor where you are going right and wrong. It also means you can’t get away with taking any shortcuts when it comes to technique. Your tutor is not just there to make sure you play the correct notes, but to make sure your fingering is correct, too.
When you have a tutor right next to you, it’s easy to ask questions that you might not get answers for elsewhere. It could be anything from technical questions to advice on what to listen to for inspiration.
The downside of having a tutor right beside you is that it may cause some students to feel under pressure. Maybe they didn’t practice enough or are struggling with a specific piece of music, which might make things more stressful. If you do fall behind a little, the idea of having a set lesson time each week might seem daunting. The other negative aspect of these lessons is that they will likely be more expensive than many other options. Tutors need to charge enough to make it worth their time, and travel in some cases.
In my opinion, if you have a good student/tutor relationship, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and it will always be one of the best ways to learn how to play piano.
2. Private lessons from a music school
We don’t need to say too much about this one, as it’s relatively similar to working with an independent tutor. Many music schools offer private tuition, and once the lesson starts, it’s exactly the same as with an independent tutor; the differences come outside of the lesson.
The main difference is that you wouldn’t be doing it from home; you’d be the one traveling. You have to factor that into your decision, and depending on how far you have to travel, it could be a dealbreaker.
The next difference is that your schedule would be even less flexible. As your agreement is with a business or educational center rather than an individual, you are less likely to get away with asking to switch days because you have a dentist’s appointment.
These kinds of lessons are likely to be more expensive, based on things like the school’s reputation and standard of the tutor. You should consider any travel costs that you’ll have, too.
If it all sounds negative so far, we are just getting to the good bit. The things that make these lessons more expensive are also things that make them worthwhile. A good reputation is earned through results, and that might be worth paying extra. The increased structure and lack of flexibility might be good for some students who need help staying focused.
Our advice is that you should go for this option if you have the chance to work with a particularly impressive tutor.
3. Music workshops
You can find workshops on all instruments and musical genres, and they tend to be categorized as beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Workshops can have one tutor or several, and often have groups of around 6-20 students.
Workshops are a great way to learn how to play piano or keyboard, build confidence through social interaction and get used to playing with other musicians. The obvious flaw is that all students don’t learn at the same pace, and tutors can’t give too much one-on-one time. For that reason, I think group lessons are only good in certain circumstances.
If you are taking lessons elsewhere, but want to add in a workshop every now and then, that’s great for anyone. But, if you want to make weekly group lessons your only tuition, then I think it’s more suitable for complete beginners or advanced players.
As a complete beginner, workshops will be basic, slow-paced, and, most importantly, fun! Attending workshops for some time is an excellent way to develop your basic understanding of music. I would suggest you use it to get a head start and look towards some kind of individual tuition after a period. As an advanced player, you are able to cope without so much one-on-one attention and would gain a lot from jamming with others at the same level. If you are somewhere in the middle, I’d say you have less to gain from workshops and should focus your efforts elsewhere.
The one exception for any skill level is if you get the chance to attend a workshop with an exceptional instructor, you should take it and soak up as much info as you can.
4. Skype lessons
Skype lessons are the obvious extension of the more traditional teaching methods, and arguably the best way to learn piano at home. The only difference is you are doing it over a video link rather than in the same room.
Many prominent YouTube pianists offer Skype lessons, as do many students of renowned music schools, like Berklee School of Music. In some cases, it gives you the opportunity to learn from someone who can pass on firsthand knowledge from some of the world’s best tutors.
Both students and teachers get to do this from the comfort of their own home. That means tutors can charge less because they can fit more lessons into their day by cutting out traveling/waiting time. Apart from being cheaper, you maintain the benefit of being able to ask questions freely and receive direct feedback from a real tutor.
If there are any downsides, it starts with the sound quality, as you rely on your devices built-in microphone to pass on your playing to your tutor accurately. Unless you have a more sophisticated setup. That brings us to a more fundamental issue of relying on a steady internet connection, too.
If you want to learn from home, save some cash, and have a real one on one tutor, Skype lessons might be for you.
5. Online lessons
Online lessons might be the most popular way to learn right now, and the best way to learn piano on your own. The absolute top reason for using online courses is that you have complete flexibility. Lessons happen as often as you like and last as long as you want. That flexibility is awesome for anyone who has a busy schedule with work, school, or anything else.
On the flip side, being so flexible means it’s easy to put it off till tomorrow, and we all know tomorrow never comes, right? First and foremost, if you are going to learn through online material, you need discipline; otherwise, you are wasting your money.
One of the best things about online lessons is that you have so many options that cover different playing styles. So, you can handpick the platform that suits what you want to learn most. You also have course material that is put together by legends like Harry Connick Jr, Quincy Jones, and new piano stars like Jesus Molina. It gives you the chance to learn from people that you probably wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to in real life.
Lots of online platforms use game-style lessons. That means your performance is scored, and you get awards for high scores, etc. Game-style lessons are usually accompanied by interactive visuals, similar to what you’d see on games like Guitar Hero. It might seem basic, but it makes learning addictive, and that makes you a better player.
The clear downside of online lessons is that you lose the genuine student/teacher relationship. Some platforms do provide feedback that is somewhat tailored to your performance. Others use practice video uploads to give you more specific feedback, but it’s still not the same as instant real-time feedback from your tutor.
Let’s finish on a high note with another positive. Online lessons are far cheaper than hiring a dedicated tutor. Whether you pay for a monthly or yearly subscription, by the time you break it down against the cost of weekly lessons, it’s a good deal.
Makes sure you check out our picks for the best online piano lessons in 2021.
We don’t consider YouTube to be a real way to learn piano, but so many people turn to it, so it’s worth mentioning.
If you want to learn a specific song, like the piano part from your fave 80s song, there’s no harm in finding it on YouTube.
And, for the record, there is lots of amazing content on YouTube.
It might seem like a great way to learn piano by yourself, but the trouble is that there is no structure to guide you. One video could be teaching you basic major scales, and the next could be advanced altered chord structures. You might learn to copy what you see on both videos, but now you have a massive gap in your theory that won’t be easy to close. Learning in the right order is very important; use YouTube carefully.
Whatever way you choose to learn piano, the most important thing is that you have some kind of structure. Structure doesn’t mean that lessons must happen at the same time, on the same day, every week. It means you need to be on a path that allows clear progression. In simple terms, don’t try to run before you can walk. Besides that, choose the method that fits your lifestyle and personality most; learning piano isn’t always easy, but it should always be fun.