Piano Self-Learning

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Question: Hi Albert,

Thanks for this great site. I was wondering what you thought of an adult piano student studying on their own for a while, without a weekly lesson with a teacher? And if you think it’s not a good idea, could you tell me what to expect in a half hour lesson? I’m taking lessons right now, but I’m not that happy with them. I don’t seem to be learning anything new, and am just paying a lot each week. Any advice would be helpful, thanks!

Albert’s reply: This may well strike you as somewhat ironic, given that my company produces piano learning courses, but in general I don’t believe self-study to be an effective method for learning music. There are certain aspects of music education for which technology is well-suited; some of them, such as ear training, even have decisive advantages over a live teacher. key-notes focuses on these aspects of learning music.

If you were to attempt to do it on your own, what exactly would you study? I have yet to find a piano course that is at all suitable for self-learning (and I do look at every opportunity). Only advanced pianists – those who already have the tools for independent work – are really able to study independently with real effectiveness.

To cite an example, one fundamental aspect of music study is rhythm. Developing a strong rhythmic sense requires years of training, with expert feedback and correction. The only alternative to the live feedback of a teacher is to use a metronome, but this is a very poor substitute since it accomplishes the exact opposite of its intent: Reliance on a metronome for your rhythmic needs only teaches mechanical rhythm, which is the opposite of rhythmic feel. If a metronome is used in teaching (where it has its well-deserved place), a good teacher will use it judiciously, as a supplement – not substitute – for rhythm. (The only alternative I’ve seen for self-study is play-along recordings, which are invariably metronomic.)

I wish I could tell you to study on your own or to find another teacher. I have no idea about your teacher or his or her qualifications. I always recommend studying with an artist teacher, one able to polish concert repertoire to a professional level and who has extensive performing experience. That is not in itself a guarantee of good teaching or methodology, but an artist teacher will identify what’s missing in your playing and training.

As a final thought, very often the times in which we don’t seem to be making progress turn out to be periods of greatest progress. Such progress is, alas, identifiable only in retrospect!

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