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The 4 best ways to learn how to play piano in 2024

Learning to play the piano is a beautiful thing but often seems like a daunting task. The idea of dealing with 88 keys, harmony, melody, and rhythm in one instrument is enough to make beginners think that two hands aren’t enough.

However, it doesn’t have to be too complicated as there are plenty of ways to learn. In fact, choosing the best way to learn might be the most crucial decision you make. Luckily for any budding pianists out there, I’m here to help steer you in the right direction.

Why you should trust me

James Nugent, author and contributor at Higher Hz

I’m a producer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience in the music industry.

Having studied composition as a pianist, I have experienced and understand the difference between traditional music education and online lessons. I have worked on many education-based projects and continue to put online piano lesson platforms to the test.

Useful tips

Before I get into the different ways to learn piano, I have a few simple but helpful tips that should serve you well:

88 keys, not 88 different notes

Well, yes, of course, there are 88 keys. But, it’s essential to understand from the start that the keyboard is made of repeating octaves. Each octave contains the same 12 notes; all that changes as you move up or down in octaves is the pitch gets higher or lower. So, while there are 88 keys, there are only 12 different notes you have to learn.

Routine, routine, routine

One of the main reasons people put off learning piano is that they don’t have much spare time. The key to success is making the most of the time available.

Practicing for 15-20 minutes every night (or even most nights) will be far more productive than a 2-3 hour practice session once per week. With a single weekly practice, you’ll forget faster than you learn. Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Further reading: The 5 reasons why learning piano is hard but worth the effort

No shortcuts

The idiom “walk before you run” should always be kept in mind. Without the basics, the complicated stuff will always be out of reach; shortcuts will only lead to dead ends.

It’s also important to remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated to sound amazing. Whether you are playing Chopsticks or Chopin, it’s important to enjoy the journey and learn at your own pace.

Play with other musicians

Once you have a couple of songs and chords in your repertoire, you should play with other musicians whenever you can. Besides being a lot of fun, learning how to interact with other musicians will develop your timing, phrasing, and note selection more than you ever could on your own.

Beginners are often hesitant to play in front of others, but playing with people more advanced than yourself is one of the best ways to learn.

It doesn’t have to be a full band; it could be one instrument or a singer. If you don’t yet have friends who play, look for beginner music workshops in your area.

Without further ado, here are the best ways to learn piano, from the cheapest to the most expensive:

  1. YouTube
  2. Online courses
  3. Skype/Zoom lessons
  4. In-person lessons

1. YouTube

YouTube has become a go-to resource for just about everything these days, and it’s one of the most popular ways to learn piano. The main reason it’s so popular is that most people can access it at any time, and it’s completely free.

Another thing that people love about YouTube is that there is so much content available. If you want to learn theory, it’s there, if you want to play pop songs, jazz, boogie-woogie, or any other genre, YouTube has tutorials.

learning to play the piano via YouTube videos

That sounds amazing, and in many ways, it is; there is some absolutely incredible content for players of all levels.

The trouble with having so much content is that learners are constantly tempted to jump from one source to another. In doing so, they are learning from multiple teachers who all have different views on music and technique.

There’s also the risk of practicing things that you aren’t yet ready for, which is a sure way to develop bad habits that are hard to break. A possible solution could be finding a YouTube channel you love and sticking with it.

However, you’ll find that many YouTube channels offer free tutorials as a teaser for a paid course (or courses). In that case, what you are getting for free will provide little or no sensible progression. It would be like turning up for class once a month and missing all the lessons in between.

Having access to everything on day one might sound great, but imagine having a teacher who told you to practice whatever you wanted; it wouldn’t sound right, would it? YouTube is a fantastic resource, but it can do more harm than good when misused.

What I like

  • Free.
  • Endless content.
  • Access anytime.

What I don’t like

  • No structure.
  • Too many distractions.

2. Online courses

Online courses come with a monthly or yearly fee, but they offer something vital that YouTube doesn’t, and that’s structure. Nothing is more important than structure when learning the piano or any instrument.

Learning the right things at the right stage of your journey is how you become a solid, reliable, complete musician and not just someone who knows a few tricks.

learning piano through online courses

As a musician, the learning never ends, but if we had to split the journey into three clear stages, it would be beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

So, what happens when you try to learn intermediate or advanced techniques as a beginner? Typically, one or more of the following:

  • you can’t do it, and you get frustrated and give up,
  • you think you have it down, but you’re playing it wrong,
  • you struggle through it but do so with bad habits that will cause more problems,
  • you learn to do it right, but it took far too long because you didn’t start with solid fundamentals,
  • you don’t understand the theory behind the intermediate/advanced technique because you skipped a few stages.

None of those options present a positive outcome. If you are ready for difficult challenges sooner than the average student, you’ll get through the easy stuff faster, so don’t skip it!

Online platforms should carefully curate the lessons to guide players through each stage, from beginner to advanced. A good online piano course will provide a detailed and productive lesson plan and should see students meet specific targets before moving on.

You’ll also find that many of your favorite YouTube educators have courses worth checking out. Music lesson platforms often give free trials by purchasing a keyboard or MIDI controller.

What I like

  • Some structure.
  • Clearly defined courses.
  • Achievement targets.
  • Expertly-curated material.
  • Access any time.

What I don’t like

  • No accountability.
  • Monthly/yearly fees.

Further reading: The 9 best online piano lesson platforms and apps

3. Skype/Zoom lessons

Skype or Zoom lessons are an ideal way to get one-to-one tuition without traveling. Typically, a student might have one lesson per week, assuming that they are using the other days to practice when possible.

Given that you’d be paying for four lessons per month, it’s reasonable to think Skype lessons generally cost more than online courses. But, as I just mentioned, they offer you one-to-one tuition, which is something you don’t get from an online course.

piano lessons on Skype or Zoom

The benefit of one-to-one tuition is that the lessons are tailored to your exact ability, rather than just being labeled beginner, intermediate, or advanced.

Every student learns at a different rate, and a good teacher knows when to push a student and when to slow them down. A good teacher also knows the difference between a student who can bluff their way through a test and one who truly understands a concept.

The biggest thing you get from adding the human element to your piano lessons is accountability. You get someone who will hold you accountable if you slack off or develop bad habits.

Once you pay for an online course, no one will call you to make sure you log in often enough. If you know that a teacher expects you to be present and well-practiced, you are far less likely to slack off. After all, no one likes to be told off by the teacher.

What I like

  • Tailored lesson plans.
  • Instant feedback.
  • A teacher to hold you accountable.
  • Less likely to develop bad habits.
  • Less likely to slack off.

What I don’t like

  • Can be expensive.
  • Set times.

4. In-person lessons (traditional)

I say traditional lessons because it seems far less common these days to have a piano tutor visit your home (or you go to them). There are a few reasons it’s less common, most of which come down to cost and convenience. It’s easier and cheaper for students to choose one of the online-based alternatives above.

It’s also true that music teachers can accept more students when they remove traveling/waiting time from their schedule. So, it’s no surprise that the thought of earning more money with fewer expenses appeals to many teachers.

in-person piano lessons is the best way to learn

However, if you want to go for piano lessons in person, there are some significant benefits. Although Skype is technically face-to-face, there’s only so much a teacher can learn about a student from a screen.

In-person means the teacher gets to take in everything while you practice: they can assess your technique, posture, reactions, and so on all at the same time.

A better connection between student and teacher assures the teacher can get the most out of the student and is far more likely to pick up on any potential bad habits. It also gives the teacher a clearer understanding of when the student is ready to face more complex lessons.

The most significant benefit of traditional lessons, in our opinion, is the heightened accountability. The more real the situation, the far less likely you are to get lazy or cancel lessons.

Anything you can do to help yourself maintain focus and dedication is good. It doesn’t get any more real than face-to-face, in-person lessons.

The downside is that, whether you are going to a teacher’s home/studio or they are coming to you, it’s likely to be the most expensive method of learning.

What I like

  • Tailored lesson plans.
  • Instant feedback.
  • A teacher to hold you accountable.
  • Less likely to develop bad habits.
  • Less likely to slack off.

What I don’t like

  • Can be expensive.
  • Set times.
  • Potential traveling.

Final thoughts

As you can tell from the article, I place a lot of value on routine and accountability. You need to have direction in your practice, and it helps to have someone keep you in line if you start to drift.

I feel the best way to learn to play the piano is by interacting with a human teacher, in person when possible, or via Skype (Zoom, etc.). If that isn’t possible or doesn’t suit you, then look for good online courses or even YouTube tutorials, but make sure you create a routine and stick to it.

However you decide to learn piano, I wish you the very best because it’s an incredible thing to have in your life. Good luck!