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So you want to learn to play the piano...

A friend of mine who's currently overworked casually mentioned that next year he'd like to work less, and learn how to play the piano. So this article caught my eye this morning, and I thought I'd share. If anyone has read the book, or has insight into this method, please chime in. - Michael

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by Richard Eisenberg | NextAvenue.org

Every day, I walk down the stairs into the living room and there it is: The Piano.

This glorious grand Knabe belonged to my mom when she was a child in Newark, N.J. Then, my sister, Robin, tickled the same ivories growing up in our family’s suburban house (I can hear her playing Beethoven’s “Für Elise” now).

But when my parents downsized to an apartment a few decades ago, they had no room for the piano and neither did Robin. So my wife, Liz, and I inherited it. We don’t play.

I can bang out a tune by ear with the wrong fingers, but that’s about all. Periodically, I’ve thought about taking lessons and decided against it. I felt that I’d be embarrassed about playing badly, which would lead to aggravation and then anger. What fun is that?

The way to overcome my fears

But after interviewing Josh Kaufman, author of the new book, “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast,” I’m beginning to reconsider.

He convinced me that I can get past my apprehensions by following his rules. If you’ve put off learning a skill due to similar concerns, you should rethink your inertia, too – especially if you’re in your 50s or 60s.

Continue reading H e r e

Video of Josh Kaufman explaining the method, from his website:


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Really enjoyed the video

I'm thinking about what I want to do. I'm leaning towards setting a couple of hours a day aside for writing a book.

The Conscious Competence Matrix:

Outlines the 4 stages of learning


9-11 was a panda job.

Great Video Michael!

I've never replied to you, so first of all thank you for building this community. It played a big role in my transition from statist to minarchist to ancap. Amazing resource.

So a few things. First, this reminds me exactly of learning guitar. I was about 13 and took lessons for a few weeks. After giving me nothing but books on theory, notes to memorize and scales to practice I quit, it was boring.

And then I approached a buddy of mine who played, and I said "I want to learn how to play 'About A Girl' by Nirvana".

Within 5 minutes I could play the chords to the verse. Within 20 I had memorized the chords to the chorus, so I basically knew the structure to the entire song. I had to practice my rhythm and timing and train myself to quickly move between chords, but for that specific song it probably took me a total of 45 minutes before I could play it well enough that it was enjoyable to play. And then I learned "Wish You Were Here", "Hey Joe" and on and on.

So within the very first hour of learning, I was experiencing the benefits of playing the guitar that I wanted. I wanted to be able to play certain songs. I wanted to be able to pick up a guitar at a party and show off and impress girls. And I could do all of that within the first couple of hours. Not only that, but when I was learning what I wanted to learn I picked up on what I needed to learn. I learned the notes and chords. I learned the scales. And over time I picked up on theory and everything else on my own. And had a blast the entire time.

I think this applies to not only learning, but accomplishing things as well. For example, writing a book - or starting a business.

Ironically I'm writing this from inside of a piano store - my father owns one. I sometimes come in to help out when he's short handed or when I want a quiet place to work. I grew up around pianos,I know more about them than most people, how to work on them, etc, but I don't know how to play a single song. You wouldn't know that if you came in though. When I was working here in my early 20's (around 10 years ago) I said "I just want to learn a few chords and a couple of riffs so I can demo pianos to customers". I learned how in less than an hour.

And today I can sit down and just improvise fun stuff that sounds good on the fly,or pick up parts of songs by ear. I've never mastered piano or guitar, I can't read music - and I doubt I ever will because I don't have the desire to. But I can sit down with either one and accomplish exactly what I want to and enjoy it - and it didn't take me years to get to that point, just an hour or two. All improvement since then was fun, because it was building on what I'd already accomplished.

A quick caveat about pianos (or anything). Don't make the mistake of thinking "I'll get something cheap to learn on", you won't enjoy it. The lowest end Keyboard I'd recommend is a Yamaha P-105, roughly $600. It has a pretty realistic feel and sound. Any step up from there digital-wise I'd skip everything and go straight into Clavinova's (~$2,500). There's a lot of junk in-between.

As for acoustics, you can find a descent used Baldwin for $1-$2k. Good new ones start around $4k. Again, be careful, especially on CL. TONS of junk out there with problems only a trained tech could pick up on.

Great video, I'm going to check out his book for sure. I may have to finally pick up Spanish this year.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Great post! Thank you!

First, I'm glad to hear that this community has been helpful to you! That makes a big difference to me to be able to help and touch people.

You're comment hits the nail on the head, and this is key. What is the reason you want to learn something. Do do what?

This is something I'm currently interested in with regards to Liberty. Liberty to what end? Will it all just be theory? How should we put Liberty into practice in our every day lives.

Also, good point on the keyboard. Really, there is no substitute for quality.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It will have an impact on me.

Re: Liberty To What End?

I just noticed your reply.

Not sure if you'll catch this one, it's an older thread. But one thing I've learned is that worrying about it too much can drive me crazy.

There's a lot of evil people doing evil things in the world, and in the big picture trying to do anything about it seems hopeless.

So I do a couple of things personally. The first is that I live free and I'm grateful for it. Not 100% free - I pay my protection racket dues to be left alone - I comply enough to not get thrown in a cage. But free enough to be happy.

The second is I change minds one at a time - and I don't push it. If people are ready to be receptive, I'll talk.

One close friend of mine was a HUGE supporter of Obama. And she likes talking politics. So over time I ask her questions, "If Obamacare is so great, why isn't it voluntary? If Obama is better than Bush, why is he dropping bombs on kids with robot merchants of death?"

When you align with people's belief systems (yeah, I DO think everyone deserves affordable healthcare. Maybe if the state didn't create a monopoly on the system and competition was allowed then it would be affordable, etc)they tend to be more receptive.

My Dad is a lifelong Republican. Same tactics. "You registered for your CC permit - and then the city sold the list with your name on it to the Feds, you trust them? I don't like socialized medicine either, you realize that was a Republican invention, right?"

I've converted many friends and family members to the idea of personal freedom. It's pretty awesome to watch.

You do it on a bigger scale - which is something to be proud of.

To paraphrase a quote (possibly RP) "The best way to defeat tyranny is to live free, to live a life worth living".

Liberty is an idea, and it's not a hard one to sell. I think you're doing everything that you can. And I think that those who learn from you will continue to spread it. Let it spread. You can't carry the weight of this fight alone, it'll kill you. Be proud of what you've already done and may do in the future.

The easiest way to learn to play the piano is

Piano Wizard.

Instantly play any song the first time, every time. Piano Wizard turn any song (MIDI file) into a computer game. As Mosart said, "All you have to do is play the right note at the right time". Piano Wizard works for ages 3-100. My friend Chris Salter created this award winning product, and as a former music teacher, I can say it is simply amazing!


"A vote for the lesser of two evils is a vote to keep things the same", Buckminster Fuller..
A choice for liberty is always a choice for liberty.

Currently, I am a

professional musician/comedian/entertainer. I have a partner and we do a musical comedy show. (Please do not ask me who we are, because in our act we do not do politics and out of respect for my partner I keep my politics out of our act). Also, when you go public with your political views you isolate half your audience. So I prefer to remain anonymous.

Having said that, I will offer the following advice for what it's worth. Best advice I ever got for how to achieve something was the following:

1) Determine exactly what you want.
2) Determine what price you will have to pay to get exactly what you want.
3) Pay the price.

Early on, when we were creating our act, I got the bills paid by teaching music/guitar lessons. I discovered early on that the majority of people would decide that they wanted to play guitar, so they went out and bought a guitar. The majority of those people, after a few months ended up with their guitars in a closet collecting dust...they never really learned to play.

Why? Because it is hard work for 98% of people. There are gifted people that learned quickly and easily but those people are rare.

So, my advice is, before you decide to do something, make sure you really want to do it badly.

The very first time I picked up a guitar, I was in love and I was determined to play. I practiced constantly from morning to night for about four years. I wanted it really really bad! So don't kid yourself.

As a teacher, I observed that 99% of my students did not have the passion I did. That's okay. I am a freak and I had lots of desire and lots of patience with myself.

I would teach my students to do 20 minutes of physical practice EVERY DAY! Minimum. If time permits do 2 or 3 20 minute sessions a day. And really concentrate and focus. Do this and you will get results. Also, mental practice helps. When I could not get my hands on my instrument, I would see in my mind, my hands making the chords and playing the scales...all day long. I would even dream about it. That is how I achieved my success.

You gotta really really want it bad. If you don't. You ain't gonna do the work. So, my advice is, Make sure you really really want to do the thing that your thinking of, that way the hard work will seem like play. It must be a labor of love.

Determine exactly what you want. Determine what price you will have to pay to get what you want. Then pay the price. Do this and you will get what you want. It is very simple but it is not always very easy...if it was, everybody would be doing it. Hope this helps.


I am also a professional musician. You can learn piano efficiently, but there is no short cut for dedication and time spent practicing.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Thanks for the story!

Great story - it helps! Thank you for sharing.

I've always wanted to learn how to play Drums

Music is part of my life. Growing up, I started playing the Violin, but I gave it up when I lost interest. From there I joined my school's chorus and loved singing (Karaoke, anyone?). Since then, I've learned a couple songs on guitar and piano, but I'm no expert. I always have a song playing in my head.

I think I could be good on drums. I know it's not comparable (barely) to the real thing, but I was an "Expert" on the "Rock Band" drums. I can keep a beat pretty easy, and I've always been drawn to the drumlines of songs. Hence the reason I like EDM, I'm pretty sure, lol.

Gotta leave work now.

Mike out!

My Political Awakening: I Wanted to Change the World...
I am NOT Anti-America. America is Anti-Me - Lowkey
How to Handle POLICE STATE Encounters

Michael Nystrom's picture

Drums. Good

Do you want to do this now?


Not right now, I've got a few things going right now: Quitting Smoking, playing the Dating Game, just moved out of my apartment back into the parents place while I go house hunting, looking for a new car, and I'm not too far behind but I gotta pay down some bills first.

Give me a couple of months, and I'll let you know what I've decided.

My Political Awakening: I Wanted to Change the World...
I am NOT Anti-America. America is Anti-Me - Lowkey
How to Handle POLICE STATE Encounters

OK count me in

I think I'll start working on writing.
Does this work better if you can consolidate a couple of related skills? Say you work on typing at the same time you practice writing to maximize the investment of your time.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Writing. Good.

For writing, I recommend this book: The Artists Way

My comment on consolidating related skills: Typing is a mechanical skill, whereas writing is a creative one. I'd say do the writing longhand if you're not a fast typist, then work on typing separately. These are the kinds of exercises you get learning to type:


Now is the time for all good men to rally to the aid of their party.
Now is the time for all good men to rally to the aid of their party.
Now is the time for all good men to rally to the aid of their party.

etc. It is purely mechanical. I took typing in high school, so it is second nature to me, but as a beginner, it is very frustrating and slow, so I don't think the two would mix so well.

I'd say an hour of writing, then an hour of typing practice. Of course, you could practice typing out what you wrote out by hand. That would be a good way to combine them!

Thanks Michael

I'll have to pick it up. I listened to the audio excerpt on Amazon and it sounds like I got off to a fairly good start on my own . I've always resisted keeping a journal, I never could get into it, but I started one for this. It seems like the biggest barrier is just getting started so I'm using the journal to practice general mechanics and typing at the same time. Even though the two skills differ I can still practice both at once, but I understand your point. Today was my first work day trying this. I had to realign my schedule a little bit but I managed to get in a little longhand writing practice before work too and there is a difference.
I used to be at least passable at writing but I've gotten out of practice and also picked up some bad habits (not to mention the ones that were trained into me), so it's almost like starting over from scratch. Thanks for the inspiration, impetus, and tips. Happy DP birthday, mine is coming up.

Mario teaches typing on PC.

I did everything but the number keys. I went from watching the keyboard to what I was typing on screen.

When I went to finish up, the CD was missing. That was a decade ago.

Has anyone else used it?

Free includes debt-free!


Teaches typing was awesome. Bowser's Castle was pretty tough at first but after using AOL And its Instant Messeage for months I we t back to Mario and kicked the game's butt

Michael Nystrom's picture

Learn Touch Typing Free

Paul, I don't know that one, but I did a search online and found this:


Anyway as for numbers, 1-5 are the left hand, and 6-7 are the right. I usually look when I type numbers anyway ;)

Michael, I have to say that is one B&W layout.

Eh! Mario was colorful and musical as he jumped and ducked on keyboard command. Trying to remember if you got coins or just points.

This site looks like it will work out fine. Thanks!

Free includes debt-free!


Took a few lessons, but many moons ago. Ha, ha. The juxtaposition of "banjo" and "moon" made me think of this:

Not that all banjo music is hillbilly music. Not that I have anything against bluegrass or anything, but I had something else in mind. So, the guy said to choose a small, manageable goal? Maybe this...


Here's Rod Stewart playing it. http://www.dailypaul.com/270001/time-for-my-nightly-jam-sess...

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
~ John Muir

Michael Nystrom's picture

The Banjo is a hard instrument

That was nice. Beautiful. I can see why you would want to learn to play. And a nice Rod Stewart song, too.

Here's a song by Ed Seykota, who is a legendary commodities trader, featured in the books Market Wizards, and Trend Following.

People kept asking him about the secret to trading, so he put it all together into this song, called the Whipsaw Song:


"You get a whip and I get a saw, honey
You get a whip and I get a saw, babe
You get a whip and I get a saw
One good trade, pays for 'em all!"

Guitar before banjo for me, but that sure is nice - that song you posted above.

Do you have a banjo?

That song is great. :)

In college, I enjoyed Economics, esp. Micro, Comparative Systems, and a course dealing with business decisions and maximization of profit that, to be sure, FIGHT CLUB threw me back to!

"A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one."

However, I have never (ever) enjoyed anything (whatsoever) to do w/Finance. But the Whipsaw Song? Amazing. I wasn't confused or intimidated in the least! In fact, next thing I know, I'm perusing the archives of the composer's blog, Ed Seykota's "The Trading Tribe." http://www.seykota.com/tt/faq_index/

I love his answers to "Frequently Asked Questions." If I sometimes might not know what they were referring to, an awful lot of the advice amounts to general life lessons. It's unclear how many questions he made up himself to just make a point, but it's fun to read. From this past week, a reply included this little John Lennon anecdote: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lu3k2lda6N1r1kfkzo1_500.jpg

Okay, banjo. I love Mandolin Wind and, really, that whole album/CD, Every Picture Tells A Story. Speaking of which, unfortunately those younger than my generation, who might only know Maggie May from the radio, might not know its beautiful intro (technically, though not artistically, a separate track). FYI, here it is, the first minute of this guitar lesson preview. Maggie May: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0K0Nffeo94 Btw, he's a good teacher and offers some free lessons. (It's how I learned EL&P's From The Beginning.)

Yes, I do have a banjo. In high school I took some lessons from a fantastic teacher. Even though it was just chords, no fancy solo or anything, in no time he had me playing two songs. I smiled to find them together here, no less by someone who's the spitting image of the beloved man whose banjo I inherited. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRzpTIrujeA

At the time, I tried to look up my old teacher. After all these years I'd be starting from scratch. But he'd developed a method that made learning the banjo easy. He'd written it up, notes long lost I hoped he could send me a copy of. Alas, he'd also passed away.

For a bunch of reasons, that was that. I'm grateful, Michael, for this post with a challenge reminding me I have some unfinished business here. (You kinda remind me of Ed Seykota trying to draw out the best in his tribe.) Mastering Mandolin Wind will be my 20-HOUR goal. From there, who knows. Maybe somthin' fancy. :)

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
~ John Muir

For those who want to learn guitar

I highly recommend checking out YouTube channel "CreativeGuitarStudio". All free lessons and the guy is an outstanding teacher and there are a ton of lessons/topics.

Even if you want to learn piano, his videos can probably teach you music theory.

Thanks dude

Need to learn something new and I think guitar is it.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Thanks for the tip, Kevin

That is on my list.

What are you going to learn?

jrd3820's picture

chess, calligraphy, wild card

Sorry, first comment of yours I found in here.

I have reasons for all 3 but I suppose they don't really matter right now at 3 am it just felt urgent. maybe most things feel urgent at this hour?

Wild card= name a skill, pick a skill, any skill. Something you think could benefit me in the future, something you think would be of no use to me but would be interesting to know, something you think would be funny to watch me stumble my way through (undergrad prof notorious for that, I don't mind providing entertainment).

Keep in mind with wild card i have limited funds, I cant just walk into a store and buy a piano, but can invest a little bit into this.

Look what you inspired Michael. People are picking up instruments and languages and has is going to write.

My thread inspired a food thread which is a great thread and the other numerous spin offs. Your thread inspired people to change and enrich their lives. That is magic. Like i said before some people just have magic about them.

Back to edit. Chess...my brain needs to change. I think people that know how to play chess have much more analytical brains than I. I wouldn't mind that, there is something wrong with my brain I should fix it if I can. Calligraphy. It's a dying art. Although I wouldn't gain much other than knowing how to make letters pretty, but I do like making things pretty. Wild card. I love surprises.

I would say that chess is not primarily analytical

Chess is primarily about memorizing patterns. They studied this. The correlation between analytical skill and winning in chess is not as strong as you would think. It seems to be mostly about who has a larger repertoire of memorized patterns. In conclusion, chess may be more right-brained than you might think.

“With laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.”
-Njal Thorgeirsson

Michael Nystrom's picture

This is good.

I studied calligraphy in the 7th + 8th grades. There is a great school on the West Coast - Reed College - near Portland, OR, where they have a fabulous calligraphy program. My Language Arts teacher went there, and so she taught calligraphy at our middle school. That was a great class!

BTW, Steve Jobs also went to Reed, though he never graduated. But he hung around in some of the calligraphy classes, and later he took what he learned about kerning and brought it to the Macintosh OS, which Microsoft later stole, and that's why writing on computers looks so much better now than it did is the days before the Mac. All because of a calligraphy class. He talks a little bit about this in his Stanford commencement address.

Chess. Good. Logical thinking. I used to play chess with my dad. I wasn't very good, and he usually beat me. I think there are some people around here that you can play with online. I think I heard some people writing about it here. Samantha and I went through a period where we were playing Chinese chess pretty intensively every night for a few weeks. The pieces are different, but the board and the moves are similar. You see old Chinese guys in the park playing Chinese chess in Taipei, just like you see old guys playing English chess down at the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square.

Hey, for your wild card. This is what I've been wondering about you, jrd. You love music so much - do you play an instrument?

On my list is:

- Learn to play guitar
- Learn Mandarin
- Learn to write a book.

But I think doing all three at the same time would be a little much. But done in serial progression should keep me busy.

If you need 20 hours, and you practice one hour a day, that is basically 3 weeks. Or four if you "take weekends off" (but I don't see that happening if you're really passionate about what you're learning). But we'll say four weeks anyway. One month.

But right now I have a football game to watch, so we can pick this up later.

jrd3820's picture

Don't look unless the game thing is over...

Hi :) Ok, I'm not trying to interrupt the distraction of leather toys being thrown about and whatnot, just want to post this now since I have a minute.

It’s funny I was hoping there would be an instrument on the list so I could come running back to tell you make music!!!! Yay music!!! Lol. But I see a different option here. Learn to write a book. That’s not altruistic. I’ve been dying for a new read. I have read some of your stories, I remember most of them even ones from a while ago. Your writing has personality. I know I’m reading from a human when I read your writing. That is my choice for you. But this kind of game is a lot of fun for me, having people give me a task and then going away and doing it. I read a comment from Ronzdaman up there. He is right, if you don’t want it, it won’t matter. Although I think you might want this one. So…I chose that you learn to write a book. But any of those choices will be good. I just want to know I’m not the only working on a new skill as it will be frustrating sometimes.

Here’s the thing with the instruments. I played flute for a while in middle school. I can strum a chord or two on a guitar (nothing fancy), I can play a few very easy kids type tunes on the piano (Twinkle Twinkle, Mary Had a Little Lamb, a few of those…) I also do well with maracas, tambourines, bongo drums…. Things that don’t require much attention so I can still get lost in my head to the other music going on.

Playing music is much like writing in that it is an aggressive act. It is saying; listen to me. It was never fun for me. I don’t like to hear myself when it comes to music and I don’t want others to hear me either. I like to hear other people’s music. However, I did throw the wild card out there for a reason. I knew there was a chance that you would take me out of a comfort zone, kinda like with The Matrix and synthesia. That article made me uncomfortable. I only clicked on the title because it was in the ‘art' forum (why did you put it there, I'm just curious it felt more like health to me),so I will take it if that is what you chose, you get to chose the instrument though also and I will go with it and give it my all and maybe even learn to love it. I really just do like people giving me tasks. Or I will take any other wild card. Really, I just want to be challenged I think. So chess or calligraphy would be challenging, or challenge me with an instrument or whatever lye you want to pour on my hand (Ok, but you can't have the hand I just recently slit with a razor, I'll have to give you the other one this time).

Can I ask you something really quick? Do you see what I see here? People’s main choices are picking up an instrument or learning a language. Both are forms of communication. That says to me that people want to communicate with each other despite barriers that may be in place. Isn’t it lovely Michael? I think it is.

Remind me again later and I'll tell you your sound, it's a good one. But you know I can't just tell you, I have to describe it and I already wrote a short story here.

Maybe I should work on brevity?

This is a chemical burn

wild card=something of a technical nature