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I studied piano for a couple years as a young adult. I enjoyed it, but got busy with school/activities/other instruments and it fell by the wayside.

I've been interested in picking it up again and have read some FAQs on the web that suggest a different way of learning than I've been exposed to...basically foregoing scales, individual notes, and complex fingerings, and focusing on learning chords (and patterns) to play full songs. This is interesting because it would allow me to play full songs pretty quickly.

Despite the more traditional concerns, is this a valid way to learn Piano? Has anyone done this with much success? And if so, any suggestions on how to do about doing this (i.e. take an online course, get a teacher, etc...)?

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I can't speak from experience, but you can definitely learn with this. A lot of synth/keyboard players start out this way. Songs where the focus is more on the vocals and the melody is uncomplicated are a good choice, since glossing over the melody won't be noticed or can simply provide a different feel to the song. I'm not a strong sight reader so being able to just play chords when I need to pick up and play a new song in a pinch is very useful. –  Matthew Read Jul 6 '11 at 23:44
The newest versions of GarageBand for Mac (not the iPad version) include video lessons for piano and guitar. To a certain extent, the emphasis in the piano lessons is slightly towards chords. Especially in the "master class" segments of learning to play pop songs from the artists themselves. –  UtopiaLtd Jul 7 '11 at 8:27

4 Answers 4

Most people who play piano/keyboards strictly in a popular setting (jazz, rock, country, Latin, etc) learn it exactly how you're describing: learn chords and chord voicings first. The only people who don't do it this way are the classical students (they learn scales and arpeggios.) But in my opinion the only thing useful about practicing scales is to improve your finger coordination and dexterity. It does little to help you learn how to make music, improvise, play with a band, etc. so it basically depends on what kind of music you want to play and in what type of setting. Also you should note that if you learn chords first, then you eventually pick up the right notes in the scales anyway, because the chord progressions tend to cover all the possible notes in the key. In other words, if you learn the chords and melody to some songs in the key of C, then you'll learn the C major scale without even trying.

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Learning chords before mastering scales can be a fast jump start because many songs only use 3 or 4 chords. Then, once you gain some confidence, you could consider learning scales one by one - ie. not all 12 at once. You would probably have mastered C, and perhaps F and G as well, so reviewing might be much easier than it seems. Try not to rush the process, enjoy learning one new scale each time until you feel comfortable playing in that key, then move on to another key... This way you would be able not only to jam, but also to solo.

After you master the keys of C, F and G, you might want to learn (or review, if you have learned it before), how to modulate from F to G. I have had a considerable success learning this way, and indeed, that modulation sounds exciting! It boosts my confidence and desire to learn more. Video lessons are widely available in YouTube if you find them helpful.

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I'm just starting to learn as well I think it's a good idea to make sure you get to play stuff you enjoy. Although learning your scales is important, I found it fun to look up the chords to songs I like and learn how to play them as well.

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Depends on your goals. A comprehensive mix of reading, playing by ear, improvisation and theory will take you the farthest but chords are a fun shortcut to good times jamming with friends or self-accompanying singing.

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