Learning Piano as an Adult: 1 Year Progress

Apr 24, 2020 / Music - Piano / how to be creative / artist tools

When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey.

Karlfried Graf Durckheim

Do you think you’re too old to learn something new?

Well, this post might help debunk that notion. Who knows, maybe this coronavirus lockdown might just be the perfect time to dust off that forgotten dream! You know the one—even if you don’t talk about it. It’s there inside of you, just waiting for a spark of inspiration.

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

It was a perfectly ordinary moment: waiting in line at the cafeteria.

A colleague who was visiting from Moscow saw me at the cash register, and we agreed to have lunch together. This meeting was an accident. I wrote about it in last year’s blog post, Synchronicity as Mentor.

During that lunch, I remembered my forgotten dream.

I used to play piano as a kid, but that was over 35 years ago. I forgot everything. When I was shopping for a piano last year, I couldn’t play a single tune to try out the pianos in the store. Sight-reading a piano score? Forget about it. I chose my Yamaha AvantGrand N3X digital piano by reading user reviews on pianoworld.com!

How to Learn Piano On Your Own

At the beginning of my piano journey, I briefly considered hiring a teacher. I was just worried about the cost and time commitment. Coupled with my DIY streak, I decided to learn the piano on my own.

Just like how I learned to cut and bleach my hair using YouTube, I turned to YouTube to learn piano.

Learn Piano with Online Resources

I follow many piano artists on YouTube, like Josh Wright, Paul Barton, Robert Estrin, and Tiffany Poon. These artists are amazing. For example, Josh Wright is a concert pianist who’s played in Carnegie Hall and is a Doctor of Musical Arts. He has a way of demonstrating piano techniques that make them understandable and replicable. I highly recommend his ProPractice tutorial videos (affiliate link). I bought his ProPractice videos before I bought my piano. I was so inspired by him.

Where does inspiration come from? It really can come from anywhere.

My piano playing has a long way to go, but I’m proud of my progress so far. I credit the ProPractice videos for this. Except for one piece, all my repertoire pieces are from Josh’s video recommendations.

To learn a repertoire piece, what I do is play the piano as Josh demonstrates each part of the score. It’s as if he’s right there beside me.

Learning by virtual osmosis has been helpful. I learn not just the notes, but suggestions on dynamics (loud vs. soft), voicing (bringing out the melody above the accompaniment), and artistic interpretation. I also love how he includes brief biographical details of the composer and musical art history in general!

I rewind and replay the video until my playing sounds like Josh’s (well, ok, as close as possible). You can’t pause and rewind with a real teacher!

Practice Piano Every Day

When my piano first arrived in March 2019, I practiced two to three hours per day! That stopped after the novelty wore off, which resulted in me not playing at all in August and September. I took on too much.

This year, I’m more realistic by only practicing one hour per day: 10 minutes on scales and arpeggios, 10 minutes on sight-reading, and 40 minutes on one repertoire piece. Set up your practice sessions in any manner you want, depending on your goals. I’ve read some people practice piano before they go to work! That is doable if the sessions are one hour and you have a hybrid digital piano where you can use headphones so you don’t wake everyone in your house! The key is to avoid burnout, which is what happened to me.

What helped me get out of this artistic setback was a change in mindset.

Adjust Your Pianist Mindset

Being an accountant first and an artist second, I frequently talk about the artist mindset in this blog. If we can learn to think like an artist, then we can improve day-job performance.

This past December, I came across a book, Playing the Piano for Pleasure by Charles Cooke, that completely changed my mindset about playing the piano. I was unconsciously comparing myself to professional pianists or students heading to music school or will be performing at recitals. I had no such goals! Charles Cooke set me straight.

HOBBYISTS, notoriously, are collectors. There are fanatical collectors of stamps, jewels, paintings, antiques, clocks, matchbox covers, Currier & Ives prints, odd-shaped bottles, autographs, entries in a bankbook, and gold ormolu prism chandeliers. The hoarding instinct is as strong in humans as in squirrels, and not confined to the fall of the year.

Hobby pianists are no exception. In fact, I’m going to be snobbish now—they are collectors of one of the least perishable of all commodities. Good music will not merely outlive the paper on which it is written; it will outlive the oils of Raphael, the frescoes of Michelangelo, the sculpture of Praxiteles or even of Epstein. Good music is immortal. Amateur pianists have an advantage over professionals in that they collect for the sheer, uncomplicated love of collecting. And they have an enormous advantage over other collectors: they participate every time they enjoy their collections; they must themselves personally—bring alive their various priceless exhibits.

We love and respect our friends each in a different way because each friend is different from every other. Every musical composition we collect becomes our friend—while we are thinking about learning it, while we are learning it, and transcendently after it is learned. It differs from every other composition as humans differ from each other. Like our human friends, it is a warmth in our heart. As with our human friends, we love it more in proportion to the intimacy with which we know it. As with our human friends, the closer we draw to it the more we find in it of value and to value.

Charles Cooke, Playing Piano for Pleasure

Isn’t that amazing?

Amateur pianists are art collectors of priceless and immortal works of art. To enjoy their art collections, they must personally bring them to life by performing them.

This shift to an art collector mindset made learning piano worth it for me. This means I decide what artwork to collect and learn.

Charles Cooke has advice on how to avoid overwhelm even with advanced pieces. I do think there is a high risk of burnout and discouragement with his approach. As Josh Wright mentioned in the above-linked video, if you can’t finish a piece in one year, then that piece is too hard for you. But this is kind of like art collecting also. I mean, it would be great if I acquired a David Hockney painting, but I would never be able to afford one. The same thing with music. Besides, there are many art pieces you can collect, so choose another one. Don’t rush. You have a lifetime to build, so do it slowly, one piece and one measure at a time.

Piano Perfection is Unrealistic

Of all the creative stumbling blocks, aiming for perfection is the most dangerous. It can stop anyone from learning anything. For example, I planned to document my progress on this blog every time I finished a piece. I recorded the first piece, Minuet in A Minor by Henry Purcell. That video accurately reflected my level of playing last year.

It was a good start, but then perfectionism took hold.

Every single note had to be perfect—an unrealistic expectation for someone learning a new skill. I was progressing, but since my playing was not perfect, I never recorded anything after.

Even with this post, I resisted uploading it. My playing is uneven, and there are mistakes (just don’t stop playing! is the advice). But I am making progress. These piano videos are meant to be a progress report, not an indication of performance-ready pieces. One day they will be ready. 

It’s the journey that counts, so this year I plan to post two sets of progress videos in April and December. If you’re interested in following, I would love for you to subscribe to my blog.

frustrations and errors in learning piano

Want to See Bloopers & Mistakes?

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You’ll get access to my piano bloopers & mistakes when recording the videos. Hopefully, it will lighten your day a little bit. We need that lightness, especially now.

Track Your Progress During the Journey

Maybe music isn’t your thing, or you don’t have a piano, but you can still learn and track your progress on something a year from now. Maybe it’s a foreign language or painting or knitting or crocheting or cooking. The list is endless.

It’s not the end that’s important but the progress during the journey.

So…what is your forgotten dream?

I’ll leave you to ponder that question with the heavenly music of Franz Schubert, Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat major. Until next time, be well and stay safe.

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