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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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jrd3820's picture

Oh God...And Michael just watched Fight Club

He's going to go all Tyler Durden on me and pour lye on my hand lol

I thought about it. If someone is going to pour lye on my hand, I suppose it can be him. Pour gently though Michael. Or ya know....chess and or calligraphy are always options also.

Anyways, just like Tyler Durden for some reason I think he might have a method to the madness so I'll take a chemical burn from him if that is what he chooses.

Guitar for me

And thank you Michael!

I took one lesson in a

I took one lesson in a classroom years ago and gave up in despair. Maybe I'll have another look. Thanks, Mike.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Yeah Velveeta - give it another shot

I have a friend back home in Seattle who plays the piano. Every year of so, he learns a new piece. He picks one he likes and just chips away at it, practicing every day until he gets it down.

Back in the late 90's he was leaning Liebestraum No 3. We worked together as stockbrokers, and I had taken two weeks off to go visit Portugal. I was in my late 20's, and it was my first international trip in a long time. I fell in love with a girl from Berlin, and when I got back to Seattle, I was heartbroken and deflated. I'd never see her again, I thought.

We were sitting in his living room. His roommate had an old upright piano that he'd gotten from his dad. I slumped on the couch in his living room, the sky outside grey and cold, while he played this for me on his piano:


It lifted me up out of my misery. Especially, right at the end. The resolution sounded like a spring shower, and assured me that everything would be all right. And when I came out of my trance, I felt refreshed.

That's what music can do. So yeah, give it another shot. I'm still trying to decide what I'm going to learn.

Michael, try this:...


This guy is the best teacher of any kind I have ever encountered.

As a musician he has played with Frank Zappa, Emerson Lake and Palmer and has had at least one top selling instrumental album in the UK.

Use to be you do an "understanding of music" seminar (and it stands up totally to its name) in one weekend.

Then you use what you learned to groove in some basics and then you do a song-writing seminar also on one weekend where you learn techniques (extremely simple) used by any composer from Beethoven to the Beatles.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Looks interesting - thanks.

Now I understand why the transhumanists would like to copy / paste themselves a million times over.

There is so much to do! And only a finite amount of time.

I'd differ...

...on the 'finite', but that's a whole other can of worms. :) From this perspective it seems so. Even for those who believe in eternal things, I never understood why they wouldn't want to live longer here, despite the pain and struggle to bring Love and beauty, in new ways to a dark world now, rather than later.

Michael Nystrom's picture

You got a line on some infinite amounts of time?

Where do I sign up? :)

Yeah. Steve Jobs' life was

Yeah. Steve Jobs' life was cut tragically short and look at what he accomplished in his lifetime. Makes us all look like slackers.

Bought the old "Boat Anchor"

...some years ago (1995?)...it weighs 800 lbs....rolled it into the back of my pickup, and somehow got it into the house.
A Kohler-Campbell upright piano.
Dad (God rest his soul) showed me a few "fingerings" for some basic chords...and the rest came along with time..practice...and by ear.
I am lucky to have a good ear...play mostly by ear, including guitar, the sax being the only instrument upon which I was "schooled".
And the internet helped greatly also.
Please enjoy:


"Beyond the blackened skyline, beyond the smoky rain, dreams never turned to ashes up until.........
...Everything CHANGED !!

michcrow's picture

I wish I would

I wish I would have discovered this guy years ago. If you get a chance watch one of his specials on public tv. It's well worth it. You won't be able to play classical music. But you will be able to play some music that you like.


I can't vouch for any of the other videos that he has made on youtube, because I haven't seen them. But if they are indicative of what I saw on pbs then they should be pretty good.

Two shorten the road.

I've been playing piano for 23 years

and am getting my doctoral degree in piano performance. I've been teaching piano privately for about 10 years now.

I can honestly tell you, with my experience, if you want to learn piano, you need to practice daily. And properly. The hardest thing is not how much you practice, but how well you practice. 10 minutes of good practice will beat an hour of bad practice any day of the week. That's not to say that the length of practice time isn't important, but poor practice habits are detrimental to getting better.

Adults that want to learn piano (that have very little experience) have the hardest time because learning and getting better because they don't have a lot of time to dedicate to practice AND they can't develop the physical technical skills like a child can over time.

I practice between 4 and 8 hours a day---that's pretty much necessary for being able to perform the greats, like Chopin, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Bach, and everyone else.

Adults CAN learn to play the piano---don't get me wrong. But it takes an enormous amount of time and dedication, and it's unfortunately, very easy to get discouraged.

Anyone that wants to learn piano should do it. But don't expect to be able to learn how to play legitimate Classical music overnight, the way those "Piano for Dummies" books say.

Here's how to play a piano in 10 minutes.

First, get some red paper and some blue paper.

Cut the papers into about 20 1/4 inch squares each.

Now, decide which key you want to play in. Example: G (major).

Memorize this sequence: 2212221

Tape a blue square to each G key

Count up 2 half-steps from the first G - which would be A, and tape a red square.

Count up 2 more half steps - to B, and tape a blue square.

Count up 1 half step to C and tape a red square.

Count up 2 half steps to D and tape a blue square.

Count up 2 half steps to E and tape a red square.

Count up 2 half steps to F# and tape ANOTHER red square.

Count up another half step and your to the second G which should have a blue square.

(bonus) count up 4 notes to your 'fifth' note - in this case 'D' and tape a red square to it.

Now you can fake jamming in G major - stomp the blue notes for the major tones and the red notes for the relative minor. You'll get the hang of it soon enough.

If the song is in a minor key change the spacing to 2122122.

9-11 was a panda job.

jrd3820's picture

Thats great Chris

But what skill are you going to learn this year?
Michael is in on my challenge. Maybe Ed and Paul also.
So, pick a skill. Meet back here later and let us know what you are going to learn and let us know how you are doing.

This year I will become an expert on 3D printing materials...

other than that I'm going to town on the Spanish, and I'm thinking of trading my guitar for a bass because my fingers are to short to do bar chords.

9-11 was a panda job.

I've always wanted to learn to play the kantele

so I could be like Vainamoinen (who was the inspiration for Gandalf). May be I'll start that journey this year.

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

jrd3820's picture


This is your life Ed and it's ending one minute at a time.
20 hours is all it will take.
Just sayin.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Putting the lessons of Fight Club to immediate use

Good! I like that.

Did you watch it too, Ed? I haven't been over to that thread yet today. I'm going to watch it tonight.

So Ed, where do you get one of those things?

20 hours man. Let's go!

maybe has more power for me

Saying "I will" brings the desire fully into consciousness and dissipates the energy. I like to let the energy build up in the subconscious until it erupts into action.

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

Michael Nystrom's picture



Any takers?

Been thinking about this for a while

I have really been wanting to do this. I think that finding a local teacher prior to buying a piano is my best option. Thoughts?

Truth before all else.....it is what will allow us to emerge with dignity and honor.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Do you know much about pianos?

I don't know the first thing about them, aside from that they're big, and probably expensive.

I think the first thing to do would be to study up on pianos. There are excellent digital versions as well nowadays, with weighted keys, and real piano sound. Plus you can plug headphone jacks into them so you don't bother your neighbors, or your wife, or husband, or cats if you want to practice in the middle of the night.

So I'd say first, study up. I'd start at Amazon, and look over their selection. There are a wide variety of price ranges, too. But I think you should test it out in person, and a local teacher would probably be helpful in making a decision.

For someone in a little apartment like me, it would probably have to be a digital piano.

Let us know what you end up doing! Good luck.

michcrow's picture

The price of pianos

How about for free? I can hardly believe it but sometimes people give them away for free on craigslist. [sorry moving this comment here to reply because it seems more appropriate here]. Although if someone is giving it away it is probably in rough shape(but not always). And of course the problem is moving them around.

Here's one I found on the Boston craigslist. (I'll end up editing this out because the listing won't last).


Two shorten the road.

I should probably...

...get something that has a headphone option sometime. :) (Thanks for a fun topic, by the way!) My fear has always been that those around me (family, usually) will get so tired of me practicing and polishing certain pieces on their pianos when visiting them, at the wrong tempo at first, etc. that they will just yawn by the time I get the Chopin polonaise or whatever to where I'm liking it. Sometimes I practice very softly and liltingly so it kind of disappears into the background conversation/sound; but then that's hardly ideal for training an appreciation for the subtleties you pick up with the proper dynamics. Someday when the $ is right maybe. :)

I'm confident most people can learn -- just takes a focused frame of mind, to not only move the fingers mechanically but to lose yourself and become passionately absorbed in listening to the quality of sound that it produces. The tension of anticipating a certain stretch to be more difficult can ruin that connection, make you rigidly rush or force your way through it. And then if you practice that section over and over again in the same manner, you can get bored and frustrated and physically strained. Slowing down at first and 'feeling the love' for the textures and sounds helps me avoid all that.

Oh, I've also discovered that it's very hard to play Chopin well with a one-year old wanting on your lap and your three-year old trying to 'accompany' it with the sounds from a 'Curious George' episode. But I wouldn't trade the 'music' and joy of those little ones for a grand piano and my own private concert hall. All a balance, I guess. :)

If you want to be able to

If you want to be able to play a real piano, I believe the weighted keyboard is essential. Synthesizers don't feel the same, even though they have after touch and pitch bending.

, the Kaufman clip reminded me of Ground Hog Day

Thanks to my dad, learning something new is what we did. What he did long before I came around.

The interview was great. I can vouch for all of the steps, but being aware of them will prove useful.

Free includes debt-free!

Michael Nystrom's picture

Useful indeed!

What are you going to learn Paul?

jrd's going to learn something, and I am, too. It'll only take 20 hours. What could possibly go wrong?

Useful yes. I can see where misunderstanding what's needed

often encouraged discouragement.

A couple years ago I listened to a German language CD when I hauled metal to the aggratators. Listen and repeat. My accent improved.

I want to learn German enough to read Herman Hesse's MorgenLandFahrers and Das GlasSperlenspeil in the original.

The translations I've read seem to merely reflect the brilliance of the original. I'd like to find out.

Free includes debt-free!

Michael Nystrom's picture

I only read one book in Japanese

Norwegian Wood. I met it at a very strange time in my life.

Understanding in another language is difficult. So many nuances.

jrd3820's picture

You should take it.

It will only take 20 hours.
I can't buy the book, but I read the articles, watching the video now.
I have a few skills in mind. I'm going to narrow it down here in a few days and meet you back here and tell you what I chose and then I'm going to learn it.
What are you going to learn?
Let me know when you figure it out.

Gee...my DP homework list is becoming quite massive. Reading list from the DP is now 6 long (doesn't count the last 4 I recently powered through from the bookshelf).

I have a movie list growing, for some reason I keep thinking someone else seems to think I should add the matrix to that list because of the amount of times he has referenced it lately. It's on there. I hope in the near future I have a thread I can talk about it in.

Now I'm going to go learn a skill.

So, yeah.... what are you going to learn?

WAIT!!!! Edit!!! Wanna make this even more fun? Why don't I narrow it down to 3 skills and then let you chose which 1 I learn and you do the same. I challenge you. If you don't want to do it like that that's fine, I'm still in. There are no excuses to not want to try at all though, right? I just think it'd be fun with that extra little twist.

Ok, 1 more edit, (I'm 'taking notes' in class right now geez Michael)

Idk if this theory will work. But I'm going to try. That being said. I don't think you need me to tell you this, but you can train your brain to do just about anything you want it to do whether you use this method or not. I know these things.