My Dad recently passed away and I want to learn to play "Alfie" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (1966) on the piano. I have no experience to play the piano, but would like advice on the best way I can learn to play this song so come next Aug 2015, I will be able to play this song at his Memorial service, while another person will sing it. Suggestions please??
I doubt that what you are attempting could be possible in the amount of time you have.
You should start calling up every piano teacher you can find, and keep going despite their rejections and see if you can find one teacher willing to teach you. Very few if any teachers will be willing to take on a student to learn to play "just one song", considering that you have no experience playing piano whatsoever. Virtually all teachers would expect you to start at the beginning of a beginner's textbook and work through numerous basic exercises to learn the fundamental techniques necessary to play the piano. You would have to complete these before you begin to learn to play any popular songs all the way through, let alone the one you want to learn. This will require many, many hours of work on your part before you can demonstrate the basics.
You might as well tell an airplane flight instructor "I don't want to learn how to fly an airplane and get a pilot's license. I just want to pilot one flight from New York to New Jersey, so skip all the basic lessons." The flight instructor will tell you that this is impossible. No one can learn to fly an airplane on one journey without first learning a lot about flying airplanes in general.
And please see my comment above.
First of all I want to say that I am very sorry about the loss of your Dad. And your ambition to learn to play this song in honor of your Dad is very noble indeed and I truly admire and respect what you are hoping to accomplish. I know he would be honored to know you were willing to even think about learning to do this for him.
The piano teachers will not like me for what I am about to tell you but you might very well be able to learn to play the song you want to play on piano - without learning to "play the piano".
There is a free software program called Synthesia that uses falling notes on a computer monitor or tablet to show you how to play any song you want - including Alfie by Burt Bacharach in many versions. If you can play songs on Guitar Hero, you can play a song on a keyboard or piano with this program. It was originally called piano hero until the folks who own the rights to Guitar Hero issued a cease and desist. But unlike guitar hero which uses a game controller that is shaped like a guitar, this program utilizes your real keyboard instrument.
All you need is a computer, laptop, or tablet such as an i-pad - and a keyboard musical instrument capable of MIDI input. You download the free software (donation optional) and then download a MIDI file (most likely free on-line) of the song you want to play and the program will teach you the song starting at rank beginner speed.
I know it works because I bought my daughter a Casio digital piano and she learned how to play many classical piano pieces with both hands by using this program. She got so good at the "game" that she could download just about any piano song and by slowing the speed down if needed, she could just play the song, even if she had never heard it. So I have evidence that it works.
My daughter learned Beethoven's Fur Elise (both hands) in a week with this program. My older daughter took piano lessons and she did not learn the song until after 2 years of lessons. Not a knock on piano teachers - but they often teach based on assumption that you are going to take 12 years of piano and play at a professional level. So they start with the very basic foundations. Which is good if you do want to actually learn to play piano instead of learn to play a song on piano. There is a huge difference.
If your goal is to play the song on a real acoustic piano, I would recommend learning and practicing with a fully weighted key digital or electronic piano like a Yamaha or Casio that has a midi input jack and weighted hammer action keys that feel more like a real piano.
You can use the program without MIDI input but you won't get the score or feedback on missed notes. But you can still follow the falling notes to guide you to the correct keys on the piano, and if you have a musical ear, you might be able to hear whether or not you hit the correct note. MIDI keyboard recommended for best results.
Here is a link to the website where you can watch a video about how the program works and download it if you want to Piano Hero Type Learning Tool - free download
Here is a Wikipedia article about the software Wikipedia Article on Piano Learning Software Synthesia
Here is a link to a more robust version that you must pay for on iTunes App Store Apple App Store Synthesia. But for just learning one song, the free version should be more than ample. If you develop a desire to actually learn to play the piano, then you can graduate to the paid version which also includes notation to help you learn to read music.
It would not hurt to have someone (such as a piano teacher) show you the most efficient fingering for playing the piece and then just keep practicing with the program until you have mastered the song. My daughter was able to learn to play the songs from memory after playing them often enough with the falling notes.
You can start at 10% speed and work your way up to 120% and then play at 100% over and over until you can do it without looking at the computer screen.
You can also find YouTube tutorials like this You Tube Alfie Piano Tutorial that might help you learn an appropriate fingering. Many folks have taught themselves how to play a song on piano, just by watching YouTube videos such as the one in the link. For best results, I would use the YouTube tutorials in combination with Synthesia - mainly using the YT tutorial for fingering suggestions.
You need to start as soon as possible and practice as often as you can perhaps several times per day using whatever speed you can hit the correct notes. Strive for a perfect score at 10% speed then move to 20% and work your way up to full speed. One nice feature of the program (game) is that you get immediate feedback on your performance. Don't speed up until you are consistently scoring near 100% on hitting all the correct notes.
Another cool thing about the program is you can select whatever MIDI version of the song you want to learn. Perhaps a simpler arrangement might be best. You will be able to listen to how it sounds when played on piano, before you download that version to learn with Synthesia.
After you can consistently score near perfect at 100% speed or greater, start playing from memory. Break the song into sections and memorize one section then another and then put them together and continue to build in that fashion.
Once you have memorized how to play the song, it might be helpful to have a piano teacher or an experienced trained pianist critique your technique and give you some pointers in case your rhythm or timing is off or something.
Then practice performing it for an audience to gain comfort and reduce "stage fright". Start with friends, play at a nursing home, go to an open mic, play it on a piano in a hotel lobby or on the piano in your Church sanctuary.
After you can comfortably play the song for your friends and random strangers, start rehearsing with your vocalist. Then invite some friends to hear your performance with your vocalist.
It is not a good idea to play the song for the first time in front of an audience at the memorial service. But if you can consistently perform it for an audience with your vocalist at a level of competence that you feel good about, then you are good to go.
Just to be safe, you could arrange to have a second pianist on hand with a second (even if portable) piano who can take over if you should fall apart mid performance - just for moral support - like a safety net. Or they could just stand by waiting to jump in and finish what you started. Or play the left hand part while you play the right hand part - so what starts as you playing solo - ends as a duet.
Another way to do a safety net is to make a recording of yourself playing the piece on piano on an mp3 file and have it playing through the PA at a level the audience can't hear. I am assuming your singer will have a microphone and a monitor. Maybe it's loud enough in your monitor that you can hear it but the pre-recorded track is not going to the audience.
But as a fallback, if you totally lose it, you can have someone on standby at the mixer who can with a nod from you turn up the pre-recorded track on the main speakers to get through the rest of the song. So worst case is - you start playing the song on piano, and the vocalist finishes to a pre-recorded track (your choice whether to pretend to continue to play or not). Hopefully you won't need to use the safety net, but knowing it's there may boost your confidence.
Don't listen to the naysayers who tell you that you can't learn to play this song without years of piano lessons starting with all the scales and learn how to read music and learn theory and all that. I can't assess your ability to learn a song on piano by the methods suggested above. Some folks are slow learners no matter what they try to learn. But I do know many people do actually learn to play songs on the piano using Synthesia - with no prior piano experience.
Get started now. Start painstakingly slow. Give it at least a week of practicing every day at multiple times during the day (morning, mid-day, evening). See if you are able to make any progress by going from 10% to 15% or faster by the end of the week and maintaining an acceptable score. You will know soon enough if you will be able to master this one song in time to rehearse it before the memorial service.
But if you have some basic finger dexterity, a little bit of rhythm and the ability to remember repetitive keystrokes on a keyboard after learning through a falling note game or YouTube tutorial or a combination of both, then I believe you CAN accomplish your goal! Give it a try. Or as they say in the Nike ad - "Just Do It"!
Quite the best is to find a teacher, as is said so often on this site. Explain what it's all about. There is no need to understand how and why all the bits work - but it might spur you on to learn other stuff!
You can learn the piece 'parrot-fashion'. It won't make you a piano player or a musician, but for you, just one tune is enough. A teacher will be able to assess what you can cope with, and choose a version which is most effective. It may vary from a single note tune to a proper accompaniment - they will guide you.
It will, of course, necessitate having a piano or keyboard to practise on. There are other questions which cover the pros and cons of which on this site.
There was an English comedian who did a similar thing - learned one tune on an instrument, then a different one on a different instrument. Maybe could only perform that one song, but, hey, it was an achievement and fun to watch. Good luck!!