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I'm getting married in a year and the venue has a piano that we can't move but we can play.

I'd like to learn a song for my wedding day but I want to surprise my future wife. We don't already own a piano and she would see it as odd if I just brought one home one day. I don't have any friends with pianos either.

Is it realistically possible to learn piano without a piano? Are there places I can go to learn piano for an hour or two at a time?

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Do you have prior musical experience? –  MrTheBard May 16 at 14:35
    
The closest I have is Rock Band. I know it's apples and oranges but that's about it. Maybe related, I have heard that musicians make good programmers and programmers make good musicians, so maybe that'll help me out. –  Corey Ogburn May 16 at 14:38
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do you live together? not music related, but it's going to be hard to get away for lessons without telling her where you're going. "Hmm, my fiance sneaks away for a couple hours a week and leaves me in the dark about it" is not the thoughts you want to leave her with a few months before your wedding... –  corsiKa May 16 at 18:45
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Pay a visit to your local thrift store, you might be able to score a $10 electronic piano, which is far better than nothing at all. –  sebleblanc May 16 at 21:34
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Also note that it's hard to anticipate one's reaction to the nervosity of performing in public. If you do learn a piece, I suggest you perform it in front of some friends first to see how you handle it. –  Trillian May 16 at 23:35

17 Answers 17

Learning piano without owning a piano is not realistically possible. However, if you do have somewhere that you can go practice, you could possibly learn a song to play for your wedding day.

Some churches have pianos that you may be able to spend some time with. If you take a piano class at a local college, you will have access to a piano. Also, music stores have pianos that you could play, but I know of no store that would be okay with someone coming in for hours at a time to learn on their merchandise.

You could also potentially hire a piano tutor that has an in house studio with a piano, but even so not owning a piano presents a serious challenge.

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+1 for lessons at a college. They would probably give you access to practice rooms with pianos, making it possible for you to practice regularly without tipping off your future wife. –  Kevin May 16 at 18:25
    
The only tricky thing with the college option is that they may have prerequisites before you can take a piano class. But I think it's the best way to go if you can get into a class. –  Bradd Szonye May 16 at 19:25
    
You don't necessarily have to take a class. You could literally ask administration for permission to "post a flyer to become piano student to surprise wife at wedding, looking for 6-9-month piano teacher." and you'd get plenty of results. I would be willing to teach a person how to play one song (for free), if for the right cause (which it is), even without knowing how to 'properly' read sheet music. –  Chris Cirefice May 17 at 2:48

Your best bet is to take a few piano lessons. Many piano teachers give their classes at their own place, on their own piano. It may be a fairly expensive option, but I am sure you can find a teacher who will give you a few sneaky lessons and teach you just that one song.

But then again, I hope for you that this song isn't anything difficult. :)

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Getting piano lessons are a good idea, if and only if they are in the piano teacher's household. Otherwise, that would defeat the point of secrecy and ruin the surprise. But having a teacher would be beneficial. It would be in the OP's best interest to say that "I want to learn this single song first and after that you can teach me how to really plya." –  Chris Cirefice May 17 at 2:45

If the only reason you want to learn piano is for ONE song at your wedding, I'd say don't go down that road. A non-sucky wedding song is usually at least intermediate level. Pay someone to do it right.

Then learn the piano later if you're up for the amount of time and money that takes. Are you going to be ABLE to practice for several hours a week? Are you going to be able to afford a digital piano, music, teacher, etc? Piano is a deep skill. If you're going to do it, do it right.

Also, from what I remember of my wedding, the less stress the better!! The goal here isn't to impress your bride. You already did that when you proposed and she said yes. It's in the can. The goal here is to reassure everyone else at the wedding that "YEAH WE ARE SERIOUS about this! We might even have kids and we would DO A DAMN GOOD JOB!!". Your goal at the wedding should be to enjoy the heck out of it. And giving yourself extra jobs to do won't help. You've already gone through the invitations, right? Looking forward to the thankyou letters, are ya? :)

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I want to disagree with your first paragraph. I think that a lot of people (myself included) would find it endearing if their significant other took the time to learn a new skill just for a special occasion (especially music). Even if he doesn't play it perfectly, I still think his fiance would enjoy it, even if she already said yes to marrying him. For me, it's like the 'sugar on top'. –  Chris Cirefice May 16 at 18:23
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I'm willing to dedicate the time to make it a quality performance. I have one year to practice one song (that I haven't selected yet) and if I'm not good enough by the wedding, I won't play it. That's the best part about keeping it a surprise, I can't let her down if she didn't see it coming. –  Corey Ogburn May 16 at 18:33
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Oh you've got a year - that should be manageable if it's a simple enough song. The church must have a piano, but they may charge to practice on it... Good luck to ya. I sure wouldn't bite into something like that for my wedding day:) –  Stephen Hazel May 16 at 19:12
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As a musician, I want to encourage all music-making aspirations. As someone who has been best man in a wedding, I feel somebody's being remiss if he doesn't grab the questioner by the shoulders, shake him vigorously, and demand, "DUDE. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" –  Codeswitcher May 17 at 0:05
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@ChrisCirefice No, it's not intended as a slap in the face to the OP. I don't think it matters how much time he has to practice. I think that even if you are a very accomplished performing musician, planning on performing at your own wedding -- when you will already have a million and one other responsibilities, including memorizing your vow, possibly (if you follow traditions) learning a first dance, managing contentious relatives, etc -- is adding a really remarkable amount of unnecessary stress to what is for most people an entirely adequately stressful experience already. –  Codeswitcher May 17 at 5:06

Ten minutes per day is far more effective than longer, less frequent practice sessions. If that's difficult, then try a compromise: play a duet ("piano four hands"). The other guy plays an elaborate accompaniment. You play a one-note-at-a-time melody. You can learn that in once-per-week sessions.

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I want to say good idea but playing a duet on piano (in my experience) is harder than playing alone. You have to not only play your part correctly, but also play in time with your accompanist. Considering that 50% of the people I know don't have any sense of rhythm, playing a duet could be a decent or bad idea. I still find duets confusing, because coordination is harder (to me) than standalone skill. –  Chris Cirefice May 17 at 2:54
    
On the other hand, playing with others develops rhythmic (and musical!) skill quickly because there's nowhere to hide: in a train wreck your peers force you to stop and retry it. That's why my piano professor encouraged the grad students in his studio to play chamber music. –  Camille Goudeseune May 19 at 17:10

My suggestions are the following.

Places to practice:

  1. University/community college campus
  2. Local church
  3. Local library
  4. The bar

Universities often have sets of rooms specifically for music students, most of which have pianos in them. While I was in high school I used to go to my local community college and play on theirs after school was out, because they were open longer.

Local churches usually have pianos. I know that my grandmother's local pastor was always welcoming when I wanted to play the piano in the church, as long as the church was open and service was not in session.

Libraries sometimes have pianos available for playing (they may not be in the best shape). My grandmother's local library has a music event every Thursday, where locals are invited to come and play music (either on the piano, or with their own instruments).

Edit: I forgot about bars. One of the pubs down the street from my apartment has an upright piano that is free to play for all the patrons (even without ordering drinks!). I'm not sure how appreciative the employees/customers would be about you playing the same song over and over, but it would be another place to practice all the same.


Learning to play:

I taught myself how to play piano in a single week while I was in high school, while having only a month of (self-taught) guitar to back it. Personally I don't think it's that difficult to learn (overall), and I think it's even easier if you only plan on learning one song.

I would suggest finding a visual guide for the song you want to learn (plenty of visuals on Youtube, as well as software that can visualize sheet music), because that will be easier to learn than learning all of the notes, time signatures, etc. before learning the actual song.

Practice following along, donate more time at the start (to understand how the piano works, and learn the song). I would say one to four 30-minute sessions per week to start would be plenty. Once you learn all the notes, it's just repetition.


Considering that you want to learn a single song for your wedding, and that you have a year to do it, I would suggest doing it simply for the extra 'sugar-on-top' that it will be, another pleasant memory of your wedding day!

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It should be possible to learn playing something like "Love me Tender" or "Amazing Grace" if just one note sounding at time (very first exercises for piano lessons often contain such a melody lines). Convert notes into ABC notation, learn letter sequence first, then try to remember where do these letters are on the keyboard.

Simply tap over keys drawn on the sheet of paper from having nothing better, or there are some smartphone apps that would show a piano keyboard on touchscreen (should anyway be the correct layout, the rest can wait).

Then listen for the song and try to reproduce the longer/shorter note pattern to make it sound similar. I have learned my first song from zero this way (and till this level only) relatively quickly. A piano teacher, if available, may help to find a suitable song.

The proposed path cuts many corners and this is not how piano is supposed to be played, but wedding is not a piano exam after all. You can learn better later.

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Just wanted to throw in here that everybody here has been taught music the 'correct' way. I know a lot of friends who can perfectly play relatively complex songs just from copying songs from youtube going along just with the hand movements. Either way, don't go down the route of learning to read notes etc. as there is a fair reward in the end for that investment, but not one that's worth it for a situation like this. Now the good news is, depending on how 'talented' you are I have seen people being able to pick up a song from youtube in just a couple of days (with virtually no skill), although others are completely unable to do it. My advice would be to go visit a friend with a piano sometime and just ask him for once whether you can try it out for an hour or so and see how far you get in that time. If you feel like you're getting somewhere then go full steam ahead (see the other answers for advice@finding pianos), otherwise either give up or get proper 'correct' lessons (which will cost a lot of time).

Tablets?

Lastly, there are apps on tablets where you have a virtual piano. Truth is, they are (of course) bad. Still though, lacking a real piano, I do think at least getting the melody into one hand might be learnable on one of those. It will still take time to then convert that muscle memory into actual skill on the piano~ buuut~ it might just work :)

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I'd like to point out that you're wrong in your first statement "everybody here has been taught music the 'correct way." I taught myself how to play piano and guitar, and I'm teaching myself how to play the mandolin, ukelele and violin. I have literally zero 'musical practice' experience. Still, I can listen to a song and understand the melody and supplemental chords, and 'improvise' (if you will). I don't know how to read music, but I still play it. Careful with your accusations about who-knows-what ;) I do agree on your point about tablets though, piano apps can be a useful learning utility. –  Chris Cirefice May 17 at 2:39

You need a piano to learn the finger action. You could buy a keyboard (not necessarily a full one), cover it with a blanket in your man cave and use headphones to silence the music.

It is obvious you want to invest in yourself. What would impress your future wife much more is for you to learn the piano for life, and start taking lessons with her knowledge now. Then you could play songs she likes for the rest of your life. This is priceless.

Actually you could try to figure out which instrument your wife likes to hear best, and learn that one.

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The problem with synth keyboards is that most of the cheap ones have a touch much more like organ than piano -- and learning to play one of those does not translate easily to a real piano. If you can get one with "weighted keys", that will be much better for this purpose but cost considerably more. I'd recommend instead finding a real piano to practice on, as others have suggested. –  keshlam May 17 at 0:37
    
@keshlam agreed, because a keyboard without weighted keys is a very poor 'piano'. Real pianos are better, and if you can invest $500+ into a decent weighted-key keyboard all the more power to you. But the OP is asking about learning one song. We don't know if he wants to learn to really play. For just one song, finding an acoustic piano that he can play on semi-often is enough for a one-year venture on a one-song performance. Buying a piano, on the other hand, is a more serious commitment. –  Chris Cirefice May 17 at 2:51

Don't forget "Come up with a plausible alibi for spending many hours a week learning piano but keeping it a secret from your fiancee."

Learning guitar here. It's a 30-to-90-minute commitment most days of the week. 8 months in, I'm a mediocre player who can squeak out a couple of folk songs. If I had to keep my practice time secret from my lover, he'd likely think I was off seeing another human rather than my instrument.

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I know someone who had this exact situation, but not for learning an instrument. His girlfriend accused him of seeing someone else because he was often inexplicably absent. In fact, he was restoring a rather lovely Karmann-Ghia (beautiful old car) for a surprise for her birthday. Tricky! lol –  user2808054 May 28 at 16:04

It might be possible, but I don't know how practical it can really be without some form of feedback. You'd probably just have to pay attention to how consistently you are pressing the right "keys".

Flake, from the band Rammstein, apparently started learning without an actual piano:

Lorenz is known to be an educated pianist. Flake says he chose to play the piano because a childhood friend of his played from the age of three. His parents sent him to a music school. Flake "began by painting the keys on a window ledge" and "practiced one-half-year on the window ledge". His parents bought him a piano for one hundred East German marks for his 15th birthday.

Source: Wikipedia

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I happen to have heard just yesterday of this piano restorer artisan who got interviewed and talked about when a young Giovanni Allevi (a famous, if contested, piano player) used to go to his lab to play piano, because he didn't have one.
Ask people in the surrounding area if there's any place where you could nicely ask to stop by and play somebody else's piano. Someone named churches but I also add repair labs, music shops, antique stores or even the venue you've been talking about.

Of course you need a lot of practice and possibly a teacher - my answer only really gives you more ideas about where to find a piano.

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I generally won't take a student if he or she doesn't have a piano at home. I would make an exception if someone showed me a practice plan that was well laid out, but I've never seen that before.

In your case, with the idea of learning a song in a year for your wedding, I'd do what I could to help you, though. Anyone who's willing to give their best and at the same time risk doing something badly, just to show his woman how much he loves her, gets any help from me that I can give. :)

You'll need to find the time to practice. I wouldn't take Chris's experience ("learned to play piano in a week") as anything like normal.

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At most universities and colleges, the music department have a bunch of practice rooms with pianos in them. They usually won't have a problem with you using them.

A few years ago, I really got the urge to play piano again and over the course of a summer I learned several pieces just by using the practice rooms at a nearby university.

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@CoreyOgburn one possibility I would like to mention, if you practise 5 hours a week and after 6 months you may feel what I am doing for just single song, and I have to continue doing this for another six months. Is it worth? Rather you set a goal to learn the piano not for performing on that day, but in general. Then you can enjoy your learning piano. Maybe after a year you will be confident enough to play a piece.

FYI, I am learning piano for last one year with average 6 hours a week and I can play few simple songs, but far away from performing in front of public. It may take another 1-2 years as I guess.

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I'm surprised this thought didn't come up yet, but maybe a MIDI keyboard could be an option. Plug it into your computer when your future wife is busy / not around, a big plus here is that you can play with headphones if she would be at home. Of course most of the cheaper MIDI keyboards are not exactly the same as a real piano, but you could learn to just play the song on it, and then take two or three lessons to work on your intonation etc.

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Is it possible for you to buy an electronic keyboard, with weighted keys, without your fiance suspecting? I don't know your circumstances but I guess something like thaat would be easier to keep hidden, and the weighted keys would belp learn the finger action for a real piano. That combined with lessons might well do the trick ?

Maybe you could have it at a friend's house and and drop round there for a practice now and then ? Some aren't really that big so you could maybe store it out of sight somewhere.

Given you can play most/all of them through earphones, you could really practice anywhere where you won't be disturbed. Maybe even at work after hours, if you have that kind of environment ?

Incidentally I'd LOVE to learn piano - I've been playing guitar 30 years and am pretty good these days, and I know what I would like to play - eg I know the shapes of the scales I would like to use from playing guitar, but because I don't have a piano I never get to practice, and so I don't have any dexterity on a piano, so actually I can't play one (yet....).

My point is that learning up and getting it all straight in your head is one thing but you need to physically practice & learn the finger technique to build up the muscle memory & make it sound natural. So although you dont need to own a piano, I think you do need regular access to one.

I'd guess you should be able to nail one song quite well within a year- depends on the song of course, but there's plenty of time there to travel the path :-)

Good luck, I hope this works out for you and have a great wedding !

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You're planning a single performance, to play 'right first time', as a surprise.

Is it possible to learn piano without ever touching one? No! Forget it. Unless you can get regular time at a real piano, it will be a disaster. If it's not at a real piano/good keyboard (preferably with a sustain pedal), it is not practice, it's just revision or something.

Is it possible to learn to play 1 song, to performance quality, within a year? Absolutely it is... Well, performance for a solo in that situation is also as much about personality as it is skill. You can always decide not to go through with it if you don't feel ready. You will need lots of practice, regardless of what path you take. You have to be able to play this in your sleep!

A professional musician can do this within a day - given a simple enough arrangement.

Choose a song! If you don't read music, you might be better off translating it into a notation you can read more easily (invent your own if you have to). If there's a how-to-play video for your song on youtube, and you think you can do it, fantastic, start there. If there's a midi version, there is software you can use to see the notes that are played on the keyboard (e.g. http://midisheetmusic.sourceforge.net/)

There are many different ways of playing the same song. Many beginner books have 'easy-to-play' arrangements for example based on the song's vocal and a chord chart.

If you go for an easy arrangement, you can always build on it if you master it (e.g. playing chords with the right hand instead of a single-fingered melody). Whereas if you choose to learn a more complete arrangement to begin with, it might be too ambitious. The pitfall in this approach is sometimes easy-to-play arrangements are in a different key (for reasons unknown to me!).

If you have some friends that are half-decent singers, you could all be in on it, and all you'll need to do is sit at the piano and stab the right chords/rhythm whilst everybody sings along, if you choose a well-known song and get the whole room singing, you won't need to worry about your performance as much, and it will be no less of a surprise for your wife that you played piano.

If you get a teacher, make your goal clear. For example, I don't see that learning scales, sheet music, etc, is necessary for this particular goal.

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