6

I have never taken piano lessons. I can read notes, not fast, but I can. I took tonal harmony course (just for fun) when I was at the university. I mean, I know the basics of harmony. Also, I can play fur elise and moonlight sonata mvt.1 for example.

So, if I start to take piano lessons, what contribution can the teacher make? Maybe I am holding my hands in the wrong position, so, the teacher can help me for that. And what else? Should I take piano lessons?

Edit: I answered my own question below, which may help those who are thinking of taking piano lessons.

  • Simple way to find out - find a teacher! However, a corollary to this question should be -how do I know a good teacher from a mediocre one? – Tim Sep 23 '14 at 16:12
  • My answer is too general to place below, but in my opinion a good teacher provides material and ideas which feed the student's interest while guiding them in empowering, not constricting, ways. Proper technique is a tool for reliable expression, and too narrow a view limits the possibilities. A really good teacher frees you and feeds your interest. I was lucky to have teachers who did this for me -- in high school my teacher let me bring in Pop books, and when I drifted toward Classical she provided me with sheet music. She let me play what I wanted and yet I learned a lot from her. – Epanoui Jul 8 '15 at 0:46
10

Virtually everything about piano playing is slightly less obvious than you would at first think. You just press down the appropriate keys, right? Almost certainly you already know that there's more to it than that.

At the most basic level, which fingers to set where is a question that opens a whole world of possibilities. A good teacher knows this world and can tell you which fingering will work well for your hand size, your level of expertise, your strength and your memory.

Hitting the right notes the right way becomes incomparably easier if you learn the right wrist and arm movements to guide the fingers. A lot of these are, in fact, rather counter-intuitive. A teacher knows these movements and can observe how well your movements work, and what you should change. (It's virtually impossible to observe yourself as well as someone else practiced in the art.)

The same goes for interpretation. The point of music is not to reproduce notes accurately - for that, put on a record, or a MIDI renderer. The point is to capture whatever it is that a piece expresses, and to participate in the joy or calm or pain or anticipation that it is about. A really good teacher can advise you shape your choice of tempo, articulation, dynamics etc. so that it creates the desired overall impression. Most importantly, through practice a teacher can enable you to make those choices for yourself, opening up the entire boundless world of music out there.

Those are just some aspects - there are many others, but the most important principle is that feedback by am empathic master is an incomparably more efficient way of learning than self-study and trial-and-error.

8

If you apply the four stages of competence, there will probably be certain techniques on piano that fall into each of the following categories:

  1. You're not doing it right, and you aren't aware of it. ("unconscious incompetence")
  2. You're not doing it right, but you're aware of it. ("conscious incompetence")
  3. You are doing it right, but it takes concentration or effort. ("conscious competence")
  4. You are doing it right, without even thinking about it. ("unconscious competence")

Progressing from 3 to 4 requires lots of practice that only you can provide, and progressing from 2 to 3 requires instruction (and more practice). But progressing from 1 to 2 requires gaining an initial awareness, which can be hard for a self-learner to acquire on their own.

So ideally -- especially for a self-learner -- a teacher is most useful for identifying and correcting which techniques fall into category 1 (things you don't realize you're doing wrong, or that you don't even know about). They can also be helpful in providing instruction -- and more importantly, feedback -- for techniques that fall into category 2. Without knowing you, I can't say what those areas are, so I don't know what specifically a piano teacher would help you with. Once a particular technique reaches category 3 (you are capable of doing it, but with concentration), the teacher will have a smaller role, perhaps just suggesting further pieces to practice and providing evaluation.

4

After taking piano lessons for several months, I want to answer my own question now. The piano teacher made me realize my mistakes and gave exercises to get rid of them. Some of my mistakes/realizations were:

  • Sticky fingers: When I press a new key, I was holding the note before for a short time. So, there were some time that you could hear both notes, which is disturbing of course.
  • Non-synchronized chords: I wasn't pressing all keys at the same time when I am playing a chord. That sounds terrible when you are aware of that.
  • Rushing: I realized that when I am not warned, I rush the tempo, so, at the end of the song I finish with +15 metronome.
  • Fingers not touching keys: Before playing a note, I realized that it is important for the finger to be on the key. i.e. this style is bad.
  • Playing fast: The teacher said: "Ok, you can play this fast, but let's try to play this in 60 metronome." It was very very very difficult for me, because I noticed that my fingers are not very independent. It is easy (on the right hand) to play sol-fa-mi-re-do with fast tempo; however, when tempo is decreased I noticed that just after sol, I mistakenly play fa.
  • Use of pedal: I learned the correct way to use a pedal. I thought I should release the pedal at the end of the measure, and press it again in the beginning of the next measure. That was leaving a gap between measures. The teacher told me to release and press the pedal during the first note of each measure.
  • Mordent: Say we have a mordent: do-re-do. I thought I should play all these three notes with the same volume. However, I learned that the volume should increase.
  • Finger numbering: My finger numberings were almost perfect. In only a few cases the teacher offered better finger numbering although mine was also acceptable.
  • Two notes with different volumes: I couldn't show a tiny progress in this. It is quite difficult to press two keys with different strengths. I needed this when I was playing the moonlight sonata mvt.1

So, taking piano lessons helped a lot.

  • How dare you suggest that Tom the cat is anything less than a musical genius ? ;-) As someone considering taking up the piano, this was a really helpful question and answer, thank you ! – user2808054 Aug 11 '15 at 12:09
3

I’m mostly self taught, but I also take lessons occasionally when time and money allows.

A good teacher can help you with technique, can give you direction, and can overall help you progress faster. They can help with simple things, like how to sit and play to avoid injuring yourself, with things like how to finger pieces, and how to figure out how to finger new pieces. And they can help you with musical interpretation, both how to do it technically, and help you figure out what what you want to express through a piece. You know how to play a few simple pieces. If you compare your playing to a professional recording of the same piece, can you say exactly what you need to do to make your piece sound as good as the professional one? Do you know what the pro’s hands are doing that yours are not? A teacher can help you with subtleties of music beyond learning what notes make a piece of music.

At the same time, these are all things a serious, self-critiquing student can learn on their own, through listening to good players, reading books about music, and having conversations with other, better musicians. A teacher is not necessary to make progress, merely helpful sometimes. I’m exceptionally good at self-teaching. If I’m taking lessons from an average quality teacher, I generally don’t get any more out of it than I can learn on my own with some good recordings and books about technique. But with a good teacher, they push me and help me focus so that I lean a whole lot faster than I would on my own.

The question of if a teacher is worth it is wholly a matter of opinion. But there is no question at all that you can benefit by finding the right teacher.

2

There are certain generally accepted rules how fingers should be used. If you learn self dependently without taking this into consideration, even if your music is correct by sound, any person competent in piano will see you are not professional. My child keeps correcting me because I am self-learned myself but hire teacher for her.

Depending on the goals of learning, this may or may not be a problem (I play just for myself without ambitions for public performance). Very simple, beginner level, music is surely playable also if using fingers incorrectly. However even pieces a usual pianist would not consider complex may be very difficult to play with the self-learned techniques more hindering than helping.

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