My first 30 days of learning to play the piano
Feb 4, 2023
6 minutes to read
Photo by me -- some sheet music and learning materials
Table of Contents
So, here I sit on the 30th day of my journey to learn to play the piano. This is yet another way to hold myself accountable, writing about it.
Let me start by saying that it hasn't been a linear ride. If you read the prior post where I discussed my motivation and the course I decided to take, you'll recall me being a bit overwhelmed by the amount of instructional material available.
I started into the course as planned and then began to watch numerous YouTube videos from a wide variety of piano teachers. What a rabbit hole? While I should not be suprised, I was indeed surprised to see how many of them had their own special way to learn scales, chords, jazz, etc.
As you'll read, I decided to track my progress, develop some learning strategies, and find a path that is enjoyable.
2. Practice stats
What I also decided to do was track my practice days, noting the amount of morning practice, afternoon practice, and what I had practiced.
Here are a few stats of how things went over these 30 days:
- Days of practice (out of 30): 27
- Total minutes of practice: 960
- Average minutes of practice per day: 36
3. Re-learning to focus
One of the reasons that I left Twitter was to redirect some of that time to learning to play the piano. I also needed to avoid distraction. Soon after writing that first post about my journey, I realized that I had to cut down on the noise from outside myself and sit down and diligently work at and on the piano, without distraction. So after realizing that I had replaced Twitter with YouTube videos about how to learn to play the piano, I decided to buckle down.
Needless to say, that is easier said than done. It has taken a few weeks, but I've developed some ideas and strategies that are helping me to improve my focus. A byproduct of these strategies is that I can feel my progress and that is a wonderful motivator.
4. The early bumps of learning
In those first few weeks, I felt like a sponge, eagerly consuming the lessons. But after diving in so hard, I began to feel like a sponge floating in a large pool on a windy day.
The course that I chose laid out no real practice strategy. It's more geared toward playing real songs with both hands very quickly.
That's great and I worked on those songs, but they were not the kind of music that I wanted to be playing. As I struggle with being patient with myself, I found a piece of music that I wanted to learn (not in the course) and began to fiddle with the melody line. It was very simple, but the song lacked essense as I could not figure out how to play the left hand chords. They were in a certain key and I was struggling to understand what that meant, let alone try to play it.
After not making much progress other than on the melody, I decided to look into learning about music theory and chords. Once again, I descended down the YouTube rabbit hole. I learned a lot and now I know what a scale is, how they're constructed, and what a key signature is.
I continued to watch the course videos and follow along with the related practice. Then I hit the part of the course where the instructor said that by this point, I should have Happy Birthday memorized, meaning without reading the music. Oh, shit!
5. Memorizing Happy Birthday
As I had subscribed to several YouTube channels of piano teachers, I lucked out and found a short one that lead me to come to grips with how to learn to play something.
The keys (as many of these teachers say) is to play it slowly, learn a small section at a time, and add a little bit as each section becomes (nearly) effortless in terms of remembering it.
Along with that comes the idea to play it correctly. What I expect might be true for most new learners is that we want to play it faster than we can keep up. That is certainly true for me.
Getting back to focus, I had to force myself to be content to play something slow enough so that I could play the correct notes in the correct timing. Without doing both of these, a world of frustration awaits.
I think I've got a respectable version of Happy Birthday under my belt (more on that below), but I continue to practice it at every session.
6. Learning and practicing scales
The course I'm using is more about playing songs and injecting some theory along the way. With what little I've learned about music theory, I decided that I really really need to learn (and memorize) scales.
I've found some nice PDF cheat sheets with the fingering for each of the 12 major and minor scales. With these, I've begun to learn them with both my right and left hands, independently for now.
And my practice strategy, as of now, is to add one scale to my practice sessions each week. I'm currently practicing C major, G major, and D major. Each scale gets one minute of practice with each hand (total of 6 minutes for these 3). Next week, I'll add A, following around the circle of fifths; for the uninitiated, the circle of fifths is a way of organizing pitches as a sequence of fifths (with each scale starting 5 notes from the start of the previous scale).
7. Following the course songs vs. what I want to play
The course songs include favorites such as When the Saints Go Marching In, Marianne, Ode to Joy, Happy Birthday, and more. The ones covered in the early part of the course all score high on the boring scale.
All of these are included in the book that comes with the course; it's called Gig Book 1 and contains 72 songs.
As I was gaining confidence with my memorization of Happy Birthday, I wanted to branch out. So I looked through the book and found a few more enjoyable tunes, like Happy Together, Yesterday, and Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.
I fiddled around with Happy Together and Yesterday and decided to tackle Happy Together. For those too young to remember, it's a song by the Turtles from 1967.
8. How do I sound? Not great.
Here are a couple of audio clips of me playing Happy Birthday (both hands) and Happy Together (just the melody).
Note: These were recorded this morning on my iPhone using the Voice Memo app. I just laid the phone on the piano. The sound quality is less than good, but you'll get the idea.
Happy Birthday (17 seconds):
Happy Together (53 seconds):
8. What's next?
I'll start by saying that I'm enjoying this a lot. I feel like I've got an initial learning strategy and I can feel progress. As long as I continue to enjoy it, learn new things, and play songs that I want to play, I think I can keep this up.
I don't plan on writing every 30 days, yet I do hope to come back here and write about my progress; I just don't know how often that will be. If I had to guess, it will be when I think I'm playing something pretty well (could be a while).