Self Taught Piano...reality or myth?

I’ve always wanted to play the piano. When I was about six or seven, I started lessons, but had to stop since we didn’t have a piano on which I could practice. It didn’t stop me from wanting to learn, but between kids and school and real life, I never got around to it. It stayed on my bucket list and this evening I bought a keyboard off of Craigslist.

I have no musical ability and really little if any sense of rhythm. I trip going up stairs, can’t dance worth a crap, and am completely unable to sustain the rhythm and steps of something like Zumba.

I thought maybe I could learn the basics by watching YouTube, but honestly, I have no clue where to begin.

Is it possible to be self taught on the piano when there’s untested musical ability? Have any of my fellow dopers taught themselves? Where is a good place to begin? Maybe a book that would help? Piano for Dummies?

I am mostly self-taught.

I knew how to read music by being in band, and while my sister took piano lessons, I would poach her books and slowly start playing out of them–certainly not at her pace, but slowly, surely. Enough so that my parents said I had to take lessons. I did for a few months but quit because I despised the teacher.

But I continued to buy sheet music and would play in college at practice rooms. Strictly amateur hour, but enough to enjoy and challenge myself. Two decades later, I’ve decided to resume my studies, because I do miss it and don’t want it to be a big regret in my life. In fact, I just bought a Piano Exercises for Dummies because I know that beyond me selecting fun musical selections to sight-read, piano means lots and lots of practice to improve your facility with fingering and being able to read music (bass & treble clefs) effectively.

If you have a bad sense of rhythm, I would buy a metronome. Then, I would buy a book just like I did–which will feature few songs but lots of scales and instructionals on how to do the right fingering. This will be boring playing (though if you have headphone jack in your keyboard, you don’t have to subject your neighbors to it) but that’s part of learning music. Practice practice practice.

After that, you might want to consider finding someone who will agree to see you once a month or two–just to chart your progress and make periodic suggestions, as long as you demonstrate you’re resolved to work on it on your own.

Good luck!

I’d suggest you try to find a teacher who can help you with a sense of rhythm. It can be a difficult thing to learn on one’s own.

I’m going to echo MovieMogul here - a metronome and a few good instructional books can work wonders. As for getting a good sense of rhythm, that’s a bit harder - you could set the metronome to a solid beat and just practice tapping out rhythms from sheet music, sight reading the note values and ignoring the melodies. You could also just listen to music: the way different instruments interact, the way the higher melodies a violin plays depend on the bass notes played by the basses and cellos. This is also how you can develop an ear for harmonies.

Re getting a decent real piano you might want to look around, people are practically giving away very good quality pianos (many barely used) these days when they move as the market for used pianos is wildly oversaturated. The only catch is you have to pick it up and move it to where you want it in these deals.

I am 100 per cent self taught. I grew up with a piano in the home (nobody could play it) and found at a young age that I really enjoyed messing around on it.

I learned how to read music and the individual keys on my own. Once I had that down, I used some ancient instruction books we had to learn chords.

Eventually I developed a system where I basically ad libbed a tune based on the melody notes and the chord structures. I became pretty proficient at “faking” it.

I play well enough to impress the hell out of someone who has had no formal training. A real musician would see me for what I am.

If you had grown up in black churches, you would KNOW it was a reality.

Poor white ones as well! My sisters that play are self taught.

The last thing I would want to do is discourage you, but this statement worries me a bit.

Others may chime in and disagree, and perhaps provide examples to the contrary, but in my experience, at least rudimentary musical ability is something you’re born with. You either have it or you don’t. If you don’t, no amount of practice or teaching aids (e.g., a metronome) will give it to you.

IMHO, there has to be at least some basic level of “feel” for music. I’m not sure it can be taught if it’s not there.

I feel very bad saying this…here’s hoping you can prove me completely wrong. Use me for motivation if you like…I’ll be very happy if this happens!

I took conventional, classical piano lessons from age 6 to 12. I fired my teacher, much to the consternation of my parents, when I wanted to learn improvisation, jazz and pop, and classical was too confining. Since then, I have played keyboards professionally for many years (but not classical).

I think a 100% self-taught person might be missing something, however. Teachers and schools are not entirely worthless, just sometimes misguided and narrowly focused.

Yep, it’s possible - I’m entirely self-taught on the piano and my repetoire runs from pop/rock titles of various sorts, lots of Beatles, Joplin’s ragtime, and a smattering of classical. I’m not claiming to be the world’s greatest because I’m not, but I play original versions not the dumbed-down ones (some ragtime pieces I modify slightly because Mr. Joplin’s hands were clearly MUCH larger than mine and I can’t physically make some of the chordings).

In my case, sibling rivalry was a major motivator - my siblings all played and we goaded each other a lot.

I suggest learning to read music, it opens up a lot more to you.

If there’s a Piano for Dummies it might help. Me, I learned long before that series came out. We had some beginning instruction manuals, and I used masking tape to put letters on the keys and penciled in the letterings on the music. When I got bored with what was in the instruction books I moved on to “easy piano arrangements” sheet music, then onwards from there.

Mostly, it was lots and lots, and lots of practice. When I was a kid and had more time I played an hour or two most days. Because I wanted to. You have to want to play piano, and you have to have the patience to work through new pieces. Anyhow, when I was a kid my parents didn’t punish us by taking away the TV, the did it by taking away piano privileges.

Yes, we were an odd lot. But we all learned to play decently on our own.

Bottom line: There are a bunch of alternative methods for learning, but none of them will work unless you PRACTICE.

I say absolutely - it all depends on how much you practice. Anyone can teach themselves Mary Had a Little Lamb and probably do so in 2-3 minutes, and it all builds from there. I took piano lessons and violin lessons as a kid. The violin required actual instruction in technique but the Piano was 90% to check in on if I had practiced or not, 5% stylistic tips, and 5% showing me drills to improve my finger speed, strength, and reach.

I think if you truly dedicate yourself, and if a keyboard is enough to satisfy your musical pleasures, then go for it.

Also, getting to where Musicat was at 12 - to go imrov is a huge leap, and probably what I would say as “knowing how to play piano.” Getting up to that point - having a few songs in your repertoire is as trivial as memorizing a series of notes that fit together. There’s really nothing intrinsically musical about it.

I was initially self-taught, but I found once I started taking lessons I learned much faster than I had poking along by myself.

Get Pianos for Dummies from your local library and see if anything clicks.

It depends on what you mean by “self-taught” and pianist. I doubt you’d do very well trying to be a classical pianist, for example. And I doubt you’ll be able to just go to the piano and learn. But, with the right help, you might be able to learn somewhat without needing a teacher.

Though, I agree that you are better off getting a teacher for a little bit, who can fine tune lessons to your ability. That is how I am “self-taught.” But I also have a lot of innate musical ability. And I started early.