Piano frustration is something that most people experience at some point in the journey to becoming a talented pianist. Nobody just sits at the piano and suddenly finds themself with the ability to play to a high standard. Instead, it is likely to involve months or even years of work to get to the level you want to. This is fine, as long as you are realistic about it.
It is worth noting that the piano frustration a lot of people go through is the same. People experience the same stumbling blocks and points on their journey which we have analyzed in this post. Most of the frustrating aspects of learning have been covered below, and as well as reassuring you that a bit of piano frustration is pretty normal, we’ve included valuable information on overcoming these sticking points.
It should be said that the process isn’t identical for everyone. For example, some people find it relatively easy to start to learn how to read music, whereas others can find this as tough as learning a whole new language from scratch. We don’t know exactly what you are likely to struggle with, but we do know many of the things that can even make people give up on the piano altogether.
Once you commit to learning, commit to overcoming these difficulties too, and be warned that it is a long and arduous journey.
Piano Frustration #1 – Finding Motivation
There are some statistics floating around suggesting that 80% of people who take up piano will quit within the first year or two. There’s a discussion on this exact subject on Quora. It’s hard to know the specific numbers, but it is probably fair to say that most people don’t get to the stage where they can play the piano to a decent standard before they decide it is all too much.
It is one thing to want to be able to play the piano, it is another thing altogether to want to put in the long hours to get to the point where you are an established pianist.
Finding the motivation to play the piano, even when you are tired or don’t feel like it is one of the things that can set great pianists apart from those who can just about play a few songs.
We find that one of the best ways to deal with this piano frustration is to prepare yourself for the fact that it is going to be a long and difficult process. It is important to be realistic. Courses can get you started very quickly. In fact, following along with our academy can be a good way to be playing songs in a matter of hours of practice. However, getting to the very top of the game can take a number of years.
The best advice for your motivation is to set yourself realistic targets and to reward yourself when you reach them. Biting off more than you can chew is a sure-fire way to be disappointed, and can lead to giving up altogether.
Piano Frustration #2 – Finding The Time
This is something that a lot of people seem to struggle with. It may be time for some harsh, home truths, however. If you are struggling to find the time to play the piano, you might need to think about whether it is really the hobby for you.
Look at it this way. There are likely to be many ways that you could make 20 minutes a day to practice. Maybe this means getting up a little earlier, maybe it means giving up a TV show you like, maybe it means having a quick and easy evening meal instead of cooking.
Time is arguably the most precious of all commodities, but if you are dedicated to learning how to play the piano then you will find the time. If you want to, you can cut some of the steps out, and use “shortcut” methods to learn the piano. For example, you don’t have to be able to read music if you just want to learn a few simple pop songs. Things like this can reduce the time you need to spend playing the piano.
The more time you can devote to learning how to play the piano, the quicker you will be playing to a good standard, but that doesn’t mean that you need to spend every waking hour playing. Just finding a way to get to the piano for 15 or 20 minutes a day, or even watching YouTube tutorials to refresh your knowledge, can be a good way to increase your abilities with minimal time investment.
Piano Frustration #3 – Learning the Language
We use the term “language” lightly. What do we mean by this piano frustration? Basically, there are two main considerations of things you will need to learn before you fully understand what is happening on your own keyboard.
- You will have to understand reading music, or at least understanding chords and memorizing the keyboard. Learning which notes are which, and how to refer to chords as major and minor or sharp or flat will come hugely into your consideration.
- Learning the jargon that goes with playing the piano. This is more than just what is listed on the piano chord book, there are so many terms to get your head around. What is sustain? What are piano dynamics? A lot of teachers or tutorials will breeze through these terms as if everyone understands them, but actually, getting to grips with it is a key piano frustration.
Our advice? Stick with it, and get the right learning materials. A course such as the Pianu academy is specifically made to teach things in order as you need them, rather than bombarding you with technical terminology.
The other advice is just to develop the understanding you need in order to become the pianist you wish to become. You don’t need to understand every aspect of playing before getting stuck in. Don’t let the lack of knowledge on piano terminology, or how a piano works, stop you from playing.
Piano Frustration #4 – The Wrong Equipment
Let’s start by saying that playing the piano does not have to be a super expensive pastime. In fact, in the modern age, it is probably more affordable to get started than ever before. Some people still make the wrong decision when it comes to buying equipment or try to play with gear that, frankly, won’t do the job.
Ever tried to play a complex piano symphony on a 49-key keyboard that is designed for kids? It doesn’t tend to work. So, with that in mind, making sure you have the right equipment to start with is one of the ways you can avoid piano frustration.
In other posts, we’ve gone into a lot more detail regarding what kind of equipment you need, and what to look for in a keyboard for beginners.
You do not specifically need to buy a piano, like an upright piano, to learn how to play. For most people, this would be way too prohibitive and make life extremely difficult. We can’t all afford this type of piano, and they’re not portable, taking up huge amounts of space within the home.
Digital pianos and keyboards are a beginner’s dream, especially if you can’t get to a traditional acoustic piano for your practicing. To avoid piano frustration, consider the following factors:
- Weighted keys. This is the way digital pianos mimic the feel of an acoustic piano. With acoustic pianos, the harder a key is pressed, the louder the note that is triggered, this allows for all sorts of expression and louder/quieter playing. This way, if you plan to graduate to an acoustic piano in the future, you will be able to do so simply, knowing how it feels.
- The number of keys. A traditional acoustic piano has 88-keys. In an ideal world, you will be able to play a digital piano with the same number of keys, but don’t let it stop you if you can’t get one, or if you have to learn with fewer keys initially. 61-key models of keyboard are common, and for most pop and rock songs you won’t find this too limiting. Songs that require the full range of a piano are often classical.
- The sounds and sound engine. A sound engine is what is used to reproduce the sound of a piano. If you are playing on a poor-quality keyboard then the sound might be realistic, think of a toy piano you might give a child. This can be a cause of piano frustration, as we all want the songs we are learning to sound something like the original.
There is more to consider such as the brand, whether or not you need pedals, stands, whether it includes headphones, but ultimately, a few basics will ensure that the piano, digital piano or keyboard you are playing doesn’t end up as a source of frustration.
Piano Frustration #5 – Blowing Your Mind With Theory
A lot of people set out to learn how to play by getting theory nailed first. This is admirable, and there are so many great theory books to help explain exactly how music works. Music has a mathematical element, a scientific element and, of course, a creative/artistic element.
Our advice is to not go too deeply into the math and science of music before you have felt your hands on a keyboard and learned how to play a song.
If you are determined to work out things like scales, and which chords go together, and what a diminished chord is, all before you play a song, you will probably put yourself off. All piano knowledge is going to come in very useful in the future, especially if you plan to become a world-class pianist. However, there truly needs to be some sort of payoff.
What do we mean by this? Often, it is the “little wins” that keep us going when we are learning how to play an instrument. Learning how to play a really simple song, like the chords to Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, is quite a small achievement in the scheme of things. However, for budding piano players, it is exciting. What’s more, you’ve got an achievement that is tangible, and you can record yourself and send it to your family so that you stay inspired.
If you never have these achievements then it is easy to lose heart and give up. Think of them like rungs on a ladder, and each time you reach the next little win by doing, rather than just reading, you end up at the next step.
Music theory can be added to your knowledge afterward. You don’t need to understand why something sounds good, just know that it does. Did you know there are lots of very famous and successful musicians who don’t know how to read music, for example?
If you have time, you should check out this short (homemade) documentary about self-taught vs formally taught musicians.
It gives some idea of the differences between being self-taught and then learning theory, and learning how to play with the correct technique and traditional knowledge right from the outset. We live in the age of the DIY musician, and there are arguments for and against learning traditionally. Either way, be sure to give yourself quick wins and avoid piano frustration.
Piano Frustration #6 – The Wrong Teacher (or Learning Materials)
The chances of finding the right tutor without doing a little research, or getting the exact right course for you on the first go, can be slim. Instead, it is vital that you take the time to think about what you need, understand your own learning styles, and try and build your piano education accordingly.
Did you know that there are thought to be as many as seven mainstream learning styles? You can explore more about this subject here. The truth is that there is no “one size fits all” method that can guarantee the quickest results. Everyone is different.
Do you have a local piano tutor? Someone who visits the area who you are thinking about working with? Be sure to chat with them first and see if you click and if they can match your ambitions. If they are too focused on classical music when you want to learn how to rock out to some Queen songs then the way they teach might not be perfect for you.
Sometimes, you’ll find that a teacher just doesn’t really do it for you. Maybe they don’t understand your learning style or put things in a way you understand. It can undeniably be a huge piano frustration if you aren’t enjoying the lessons you have in person.
Not everyone has lessons in person, and learning online is all the rage, with good reason. So, spend some time doing the right research when you try to find a piano course or people to follow on YouTube. Read testimonials, check out what they promise, and prioritize different learning methods. The Pianu academy helps you to learn within your browser, with any USB-MIDI enabled digital piano or keyboard. This is perfect for those who want to learn when sitting in front of a PC. The song tutorials can guide you through note-by-note, at a speed you are happy with.
There are many choices out there for different courses and teachers, so it might take some experimenting to find the right one for you.
Piano Frustration #7 – The Multi-Limb Problem
We often compare this to having to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. If you have ever tried to do both simultaneously, you will know two things:
- It takes some getting used to.
- Some people are naturally better than others.
While there are some songs out there that you can learn using just one hand (many of them are displayed in this guide) you will find that eventually, you will have to use both of your hands to use the full potential of your piano or keyboard and to play the songs you love.
There isn’t that much you can do to overcome this piano frustration. Maybe this is why it is so frustrating! You can make sure you have learned both parts to a high standard, and this will mean that when you try to put together both left hand and right hand, you will hopefully pick it up a little quicker.
Like learning to walk when you were a kid, this is something you’re just going to have to keep trying until you get it right. For some people, this is the number one piano frustration. If you have learned to play the left-hand section perfectly, and the right-hand section perfectly, but putting them together feels impossible, then you just have to stick at it.
Eventually, you might even add pedals into the mix. This means that both hands, as well as feet, can be doing separate things. It’s not easy. Getting your limbs used to working independently is one of the top musician challenges and causes of piano frustration.
Piano Frustration #8 – Hand Speed and Reach
Some people find that no matter how hard they try to learn the piano, they are constantly let down by biology! For some pianists, both the speed at which you can move your hands and fingers and the reach of your hands can be the cause of piano frustration.
Handspan is measured in intervals. An 8th handspan for a pianist would mean that between pinky and thumb at full extension, you can reach 8 notes apart. Some pianists have handspans up to 13th. This awesome infographic by ClassicFM shows the span of a lot of famous classical composers.
What you should take away from this is that the span is not the biggest factor when it comes to learning how to play the piano. You may have a bit of a disadvantage, but plenty of women (and men) with smaller hands learn how to play. Don’t let it define your abilities. If you want to play rock and pop songs then you probably don’t even need the biggest span or the most speed.
Your speed can be built up over time, this is to do with your coordination and experience. Span is a bit less straightforward, but, by using the correct piano technique, you can maximize the space on the piano that your hand is able to cover.
A piano frustration for teachers as well as learners is getting the right-hand posture. This is hard to explain without visuals, so we will leave this to a Pianist Magazine tutorial below.
The important takeaway is that you simply must get your hand positioning and posture correct if you are going to meet your potential as a musician. For most people, once you’ve seen others get it right, you will find it relatively simple to adjust your technique, but consciously make this change early to ensure bad habits don’t develop.
Piano Frustration #9 – Losing the Fun
This piano frustration doesn’t get discussed enough, and we think it should. Being able to play the piano is fun, and at times, the learning process is fun. It can be a huge rush to learn a new song, a new technique, or a new skill. However, if we’re being totally honest, learning piano can be hard work at times.
There is no shame in saying when you are not enjoying it. This type of piano frustration is there for everyone whether they admit it or not. However, the key is finding a way to get through it.
If you’ve been overdoing it, and find that piano isn’t as fun because you are spending hours a day on it and not feeling the rewards, there is no reason not to take a bit of a break. You don’t have to practice every day, and a “rest day” might be a good thing. Just don’t let it become too many days in a row, or you might fall out of the habit of practicing altogether.
Try to turn it into a game, or actually play a piano-based game! There are specific games out there for overcoming piano frustration and helping your knowledge to stick.
Alternatively, change things up! Are you sick of learning scales or working toward the song your teacher gave you to practice? Learn a different song. Follow a YouTube tutorial, or just watch some mind-blowing performances online. Do whatever it takes to keep the instrument feeling fun and fresh.
The main thing to remember is that, at times, playing the piano is going to be difficult. Piano frustration is just part of the process. The key thing is finding a way to stick at it in the long term, whether this means experimenting with how you are learning, taking a break, or keeping it fresh in some way.
The chances are, even when the piano frustration kicks in, you’ve probably already made significant progress, and should be proud of it. Don’t throw it away because things are getting a little more challenging, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You should enjoy the process and learn at your own speed whenever you can.