1. Have a routine
Learning to play the piano well is a marathon, not a sprint! To get good you need to practice regularly and consistently. The best way to achieve this is to set a regular time for practice – ideally at the same time every day. (It’s the days off that should be individually scheduled – not practice days).
Morning types could aim to always practice before breakfast (assuming that everyone else in the household is up by then). Alternatively, I find that sitting down to play immediately after my evening meal works well. In theory, this time is a time when you can justifiably devote time to hobbies and relaxing activities. So, as for most people, learning to play the piano is a hobby, not a job, this would be a good time. This is also a time when many teens and young people sit down to text friends on their phones. So, put off the texting for 30 minutes, and do some practice before sitting down with a phone. That 30 minutes out of the day will not be missed.
2. Have some goals
Exams are a great way to set musical goals. For many young learners they are a way of life. They understand that passing an exam is a good way to prove to yourself and others that you have made progress. Getting feedback from an expert is always useful, and if you can really impress them you feel a real sense of achievement. The music exam grades start out with Grade 1 – a level that suits pianists who have been playing for 1 – 2 years. The grades then go up to Grade 8 which is aimed at older teens, and adults who are real experts.
Many teachers hold concerts for their students and these present a great opportunity for students to challenge themselves within a supportive environment. School kids can aim to take part in concerts run by their schools at Christmas and other important school occasions.
Another way to set a goal is to aim to play or perform in a group or duet. Singers and instrumentalist are looking for pianists to accompany them and if you let it be known that this is something that you would like to do then you can join them in their performances. This can be a very rewarding way to share your skills, as well as to give yourself a goal to work towards.
3. Start Young
The best age to start learning to play the piano is probably around 7 to 8 years old. There are some kids who will be ready several years earlier than this, and it is a good idea to start them as young as possible as lots of the motor skills needed to play the piano well will develop much more easily in younger kids. However, it is important that kids are emotionally ready for the challenge of learning to play as, if they are not, then then may well be put off playing for good, meaning that the early lessons will ultimately be wasted.
Many brilliant adult pianists not only started learning very young, but were also constantly encouraged and cajoled into practicing by their parents. Some of them will grow up to love music and will thank their parents in the future. Others will always feel over-pressured and may not enjoy playing when they become adults. It is impossible to know which way it will turn out!
4. Have a mentor/teacher
It is possible to self-teach yourself on the piano, but for every decent self-taught pianist there will be 10 who have had lessons. A good teacher not only explains what to do, and how to do it, but also keeps their students accountable. Practice has to be done each week, even if that is only during the actual time of the piano lesson! Even the most reluctant practiser will want to impress their teacher a bit, and will put in extra effort in order to do this.
A good teacher will be enthusiastic about playing the piano and will want to pass this onto their students. Students have an outlet for their own ideas and a reason to keep practising. Instead of losing interest when the going gets tough, problems can be shared, and a good teacher should have a solution to most piano problems.
5. Train fingers with technical exercises
To play the piano well you need to have well co-ordinated and strong fingers. In other words you need to work on ‘technique’. Very young students may like the Dozen a Day Series which has lots of short exercises. they should also practice scales and arpeggios as a warm up before their main practice as this will give them an understanding of keys and chords. More advanced pianists should tackle technical exercises such as those written by Charles-Louis Hanon in his book “The Virtuosos Pianist” or those in “Piano Technique on and hour a day” by Geoffrey Tankard and Eric Harrison.
Good technique will save a lot of frustration. I constantly see students struggling to play pieces because they are just not in control of the way their fingers are moving.
6. It’s a long term plan
To get really good at playing the piano you have to really stick with it. Exactly how much effort and time you put into the process depends upon how good you want to be in the long-term.
Many concert pianists will have put in around 10,000 hours of practice over their lifetime. To reach a standard where you can play many of the standard classical repertoire pieces you may need to practice for as many as 4,000 hours. However this is not as onerous as it sounds. A youngster starting ,say, at the age of 6 and continuing until the age of 21 would need to put in an average of 45 minutes each day in order to achieve this target. If they are enjoying practising this should be quite easily achievable.
It is also worth noting that even becoming a modestly good pianist is very rewarding, and even at the early stages it is great fun to play easy music that is available.
7. Share and show off
Playing the piano can sometimes be an isolating hobby. First and foremost the piano is a solo instrument and much of the best music for the piano is for piano solo. For gregarious characters it can be difficult to take themselves off alone for practice. However in our interconnected age there are many opportunities to share what you are doing. There are many successful YouTube channels which have been created by only modestly good pianists who had the urge to share their performances. Facebook groups which enable members to upload performances are also very numerous. These groups are also great for discussing ideas and asking questions.