Many people aspire to learn piano, but very few actually see it through. One of the reasons people give up before they even start is that learning piano seems like a daunting task.
The idea of having 88 keys to deal with before even thinking about pedals is enough to give even the most enthusiastic people a headache. However, very few things worth doing are easy, and learning piano can be incredibly rewarding. So, read on to see why it’s difficult but worth the effort.
Here’re the main reasons why learning piano may seem hard:
1. So many keys
A full-size piano has 88 keys, and to a potential beginner, that seems like a lot to learn. The piano has the widest pitch range of all musical instruments, ranging in frequency from 27.5 Hz to 4.1 kHz.
If we think of orchestras, instruments are arranged according to their range of pitch (as well as instrument family). For example, a string quartet from low to high would be bass, cello, viola, violin.
Just to be clear, that means the bass plays the lowest-pitched parts, and the violins play the highest. As an instrument covering the entire range, the piano often has to do multiple jobs simultaneously.
Why it’s a good thing?
Having 88 keys can actually make things easier in a few ways. The piano is often considered the best instrument for songwriting because the notes are laid out in consecutive order. From the lowest to the highest, there are no repeated notes (pitches) like you have on a guitar’s fretboard.
Despite having 88 keys, there are only 12 different notes; everything else is just a higher/lower variation of those 12 notes. Each octave is a repeat of the last, so there’s less to learn than first appears.
2. Reading two clefs
Reading music for any instrument is something that takes a lot of practice. There are different levels of being able to read music. Many musicians can read music well enough to learn tunes, and some can sight-read and play complex scores in real-time.
Because the piano has such a wide range, it simultaneously involves reading the treble clef and bass clef. It also involves reading chords (multiple notes at once), not just single notes. Typically, but not always, the bass clef will be your left hand, and the treble is your right.
When potential musicians learn that many instruments like the trumpet, saxophone, or violin only require reading a single clef, they can seem like an easier alternative. The guitar tab system also seems like an easier path for many people.
Why it’s a good thing?
Most musicians like to play more than one instrument. That doesn’t mean they have to play all instruments to the same standard, but it helps understand other instruments.
If you can read for piano, you’ll find it much easier to read for most other instruments. It becomes easier to identify chords by shape over time, so reading multiple notes at once gets easier.
3. Hand coordination/independence
One of the most challenging aspects of playing the piano is developing hand independence. In the beginning, much of what you’ll play will be in unison. That means if you play scales, the right and left hands play the same notes at the same time.
If you’re playing beginner songs, many will involve holding chords/notes that change on the first or third beats, making the timing very comfortable. As you progress, timing can become trickier, and the left and right hands won’t sync so easily.
As well as notes/chords falling on more challenging positions, you’ll encounter each hand playing different rhythms. For example, three against two or four against three are rhythms that come up often.
Four against three could mean your right hand playing three notes over your left playing four. These rhythms are known as polyrhythms and can get very complicated.
Why it’s a good thing?
Keyboard/piano players often make good percussionists/drummers because of their hand independence. Not only do pianists typically have a strong understanding and application of rhythm, but they also tend to have good timing and phrasing.
4. Jack of all trades
Being a pianist means wearing many hats at different times. You’ll have to play melodically, rhythmically, percussively, or focus on harmony at any given time. Sometimes, you’ll be the soloist, other times the accompanist. As a pianist, you are expected to do a bit of everything.
If you are playing with a bass player, you’ll need to learn to stay out of their way; without a bass player, you could be filling their role by playing basslines in your left hand.
When accompanying a vocalist, you need to be the whole band. You are responsible for creating movement/rhythm and choosing the best voicing to play under the vocal melody.
Why it’s a good thing?
The more you understand music, the better musician you become. Music is like a language, and the more you know, the more you can express yourself through music.
Understanding so many aspects of performance, arrangement, and composition as a pianist makes it easier to work with other musicians. It also makes it easier to compose for different instruments because you have some understanding of their role.
Composers, arrangers, and musical directors often have a background in playing the piano.
5. Using pedals
If you don’t have enough to deal with using both hands, you’ll be glad to know both feet are needed as well. You can play the piano without using pedals, but it would dramatically limit what and how you play. The three pedals on a piano, from left to right, are the soft pedal, sostenuto, and sustain.
Using the pedals isn’t as simple as holding them down as you play. Good pedaling takes a lot of practice and requires precise control. Pedaling doesn’t always match the rhythm of your hands, so it adds another element to consider.
Why it’s a good thing?
It becomes second nature as you get better at using the piano pedals. If we think about the notes you play as a language, we can think of the pedals as ways to accent what you are saying.
Whether it’s muting your sound or sustaining notes, it becomes an extension of your musical vocabulary. Think yourself lucky that you aren’t dealing with organ bass pedals.
Frequently asked questions
In this section, I’m going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about learning piano.
Is the piano the easiest instrument to learn?
While learning piano makes understanding various aspects of music easier, it’s probably not the easiest to learn. But, any instrument will take a lot of dedication if you want to learn to play at a high level.
Further reading: Top 10 easiest instruments to learn for kids and adults
How long does it take to learn the piano?
It’s different for everyone, but typically you will be playing songs in months, but looking at years to reach a professional level.
You may be a prodigal talent, and the usual rules won’t apply, but whatever level you reach, a musician is never done learning.
Can I learn the piano in a year or two?
Absolutely, yes. The average learner shouldn’t expect to reach a professional level in two years, but it’s certainly enough time to become an intermediate player.
Can I learn piano by myself without a tutor?
You can, to some extent, but you’d be missing two of the most critical aspects of learning: structure and accountability.
Without a tutor or structured lesson plans, it’s easy to get distracted and not hold yourself accountable for meeting targets (or not meeting targets as it may be). Results will vary based on how well you manage your time and the material you choose to study.
Further reading: The best (and most common) ways to learn piano
Is the piano a good first instrument?
Yes, it is. I genuinely believe that learning the piano provides the perfect foundation for understanding music on a broader level. It’s also a fantastic instrument for aspiring songwriters and composers.
What age should I start learning to play piano?
There are no set rules regarding the ideal age to start learning piano.
Can a 4-year-old learn piano?
A quick Google search will reveal extraordinary stories of child prodigies playing at incredibly high levels. In my opinion, the right time to start learning is when a child can show an interest and enjoyment in music.
Can a 30-year-old learn piano?
Absolutely, at 30 years old, the average person has listened to a lot of music and will have developed some sense of rhythm and timing. It’s also an age when deciding to learn means you have a keen interest in music.
Can a 60-year-old learn piano?
Yes, and it’s a far more common age to start than you might think.
Many people have wanted to learn piano and never had the time. At 60, most people are winding down their careers and can afford more time for hobbies and passions.
Is it hard to learn piano at an older age?
Some people have more natural abilities than others. If you rely on hard work more than natural ability, starting later might be harder but far from impossible.
Is it ever too late to learn?
If you are physically able to play the piano, then it’s never too late to learn.
How good do I have to get to make it worthwhile?
You don’t have to be the most gifted pianist to get a lot of music and playing the piano. It’s like saying you don’t have to be a deep-sea diver to have fun in the water.
Further reading: The 12 most talented pianists of today
How long should I practice each day to see the best results?
If you are going down the path of studying music and becoming a professional pianist, you could practice for a few hours each day.
However, the answer generally depends on how much time you can give and how long it holds your interest. Half an hour daily is better than one four-hour session each week, and when is an excellent target for beginners.
Learning to play the piano is many things: it’s fun, it isn’t easy at times, and most importantly, extremely rewarding.
Whether you want to be a performer or just a hobby, music can enrich your life more than you know. Sharing music with others is wonderful, and having it as a personal escape can be life-changing.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn the piano, start now, it will be one of the best things you ever do.