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Self Teaching Piano – Is it Possible? The Best and Worst of Self Teaching

August 27.2020
Self teaching piano. Can it be done? There is always something very impressive about hearing that someone is “self taught”...

Self teaching piano. Can it be done? There is always something very impressive about hearing that someone is “self taught” when it comes to any instrument. A lot of people assume that playing the piano is a bit too difficult to work out on your own and that you will, in fact, need a teacher in order to help you out.

To properly understand whether self teaching piano is possible you need to fully understand what the term means. It is definitely more than possible to teach yourself almost any instrument, but what is meant by the term “self-teaching”?

If you are new to the piano you might think “wow, this is impressive, someone has taught themself how to play the piano!” But it might not be as impressive (or unattainable) as it first seems.

What is Self Teaching Piano?

The first time you hear the term “self teaching” you might think of someone sitting at a piano, painstakingly working out what each note is, and gradually piecing together a song “by ear”. This is not the case at all. It would take you a lifetime to work out the piano with no help from any learning materials.

Most people’s definition of “self-taught” or self teaching piano is simply having no experienced pianist in the room with you to guide you through the process. Instead of employing a piano teacher to take you through it step-by-step, you can use learning materials to find things out for yourself. You may or may not follow a specific course or curriculum, but the key is that nobody is there in person specifically showing you the steps to play the piano.

If you have learned by seeking out information online, following tutorials or even a curriculum put together by someone else, you are definitely a self-taught musician. If you haven’t attended classes or studied the piano in an official setting such as a school, you can definitely call yourself self-taught.

Even following a full course such as the Pianu academy, you are still “self-taught” due to the fact that you have had to go it alone.

In the rest of this guide, we’re looking at the pros and cons of self teaching piano, whether it is a realistic option for you or whether you need to bite the bullet and go to a piano teacher.

Famous Self Taught Musicians

A quick bit of inspiration before we go into some of the more practical aspects of playing the piano and self-teaching.

Not all of those on the list are pianists, but we thought it worth including self taught guitarists, too, as there is an argument to say that teaching yourself how to play the guitar is even more of a challenge, with difficult hand-positions and finger strength required.

Thelonious Monk

The jazz icon is described as “mostly self-taught”. According to this post, “at the age of five or six, he taught himself to read music by picking out melodies on his family’s piano and looking over his sister’s shoulder as she took lessons”.

Monk’s ability on piano was incredible, and he could improvise as well as write and perform songs, showing that even when self teaching piano, the sky is the limit.

Jimi Hendrix

Okay, so he wasn’t a pianist, but the story of Jimi Hendrix teaching himself is incredible. He even started playing with a right-handed guitar when he was left-handed, and had to awkwardly play in an “upside down” fashion.

This shows one of the good things about self-teaching (improvising and finding your own way to do things) and the bad aspects of self-teaching (nobody correcting you to show you easier methods of doing things).

Hendrix is widely known to be one of the greatest musicians of his time, and is relevant for anyone who wants to learn an instrument and use the “go it alone” method.

David Bowie

Bowie was enigmatic, and in musical terms he was a bit of a “jack of all trades”. He could play a number of different instruments, from Saxophone to piano, and was famous for teaching himself basically all of the musical knowledge he had.

Bowie’s skills as a songwriter were incredible and though many know him for being a frontman and singing, the musical talents he had were clear.

These are just a few examples of self teaching piano and other instruments, but we have deliberately picked some musicians who would have been learning many decades ago. If you compare these to the aspiring pianists and musicians of today, and consider the learning materials available now compared to 30 years ago or even 50 or 60 years ago, the contrast is stark.

I’m sure a young Thelonious Monk would have loved to have the ability to search for something on Google or watch some YouTube videos to perfect his technique…this leads us nicely on to our next point about self teaching piano.

Self Teaching is Easier Than Ever

self teaching piano

There is a real boom in people self teaching piano and this boils down to the fact that it is easier than ever. If you think about how tough it would have been when there were no smart devices, laptops or websites to get information from, you will quickly start to realize how much more of a possibility it truly is.

If you wanted to teach yourself in the 60s, for example, you might have been relying on books, fragments of information and maybe some friends who could play a little.

It was possible to self teach piano back then, as is proved by our list of musicians above, but it is so much easier now.

Let’s look at an example of something you might get stuck with; finger and hand positions. If you weren’t sure which fingers should be playing which notes or how your hands should be positioned on top of the keyboard back 30 years ago, you would have struggled to find this information without a specific piano teacher. Now, it’s a 30 second search on YouTube…

Information is simply much easier to obtain, and the fact that you can get visual and audio demonstrations in the 21st century means that you will probably start to understand the basics of playing the piano quickly.

A lot of people get so much more out of learning in this visual way, but this is one of the ways in which the learning materials have improved so much. You can learn in whichever way suits you. If you are the type of person who feels you can get a lot out of having your nose in a book, then you have more choices than ever before for reading materials. Would you rather just watch videos and try and replicate what the piano player is doing? That’s fine too. Self teaching piano is all about finding the method that works for you and dedicating time to it.

In many cases, you can even learn in an interactive way. The way Pianu’s songs and course are built means that you can plug a USB keyboard into your computer or another device, and connect to your browser. The website can tell you whether or not you are playing the right notes! Interactivity is something that people could only have dreamt of when self-teaching 20 or 30 years ago.

Technology That Can Help Self-Teaching

It is definitely worth discussing some of the technology and learning materials that can be accessed in order to help you on your self teaching journey. Some of these are obvious, some are less straightforward ways in which you can learn how to play the piano.

If you have any of this technology available to you then you are in a far better position than many of the musicians who have taught themselves to play their instruments. You don’t even need the best, top-end equipment to get started. If you are considering which keyboard, digital piano or acoustic piano to buy, we’ve provided a guide to piano equipment for beginners, too.

Following a Course or Going it Alone?

Self teaching piano doesn’t mean that you have to be totally on your own and not have any guidelines for what to learn and when. There is so much information online now that you really can find out pretty much anything about playing the piano on YouTube or elsewhere, but it is incredibly difficult to get a consistent message if you are constantly flitting from video to video.

Following a specific course is probably the best way for most people to learn how to play the piano. This is similar to the approach a piano teacher would probably take; showing you the basics first and building upon this knowledge. If you don’t do it this way, you could get many months into playing the piano and realize you have been doing something wrong, or that you have a number of gaps and flaws in your technique.

Following a piano course does come with some expense. Some are more affordable than others, but they are a fantastic way to go from an absolute beginner to a reasonably strong piano player. The Pianu course is laid out in a way that means you don’t specifically need any knowledge to get started. It’s a course suitable for pretty much anyone.

What’s more, the course is interactive, as we’ve already stated. This negates one of the biggest downsides to teaching yourself, which can be failing to realize when you have made an error. Pianu can “score” your piano playing and give you feedback, in a similar way to learning with a teacher in the room with you.

Some online courses are more expensive than others, but the key consideration is how much self teaching piano will save you. Piano lessons are costly. If you pay $10 or $20 a month to access a great piano course online or via an app, you might be saving $200 compared to having one weekly lesson.

Following a course like this also means that you are not bound by time anywhere near as much as piano lessons, where you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. With Pianu, you can have a self taught piano lesson on the bus, at 5 am in the morning or while you are eating your dinner. It’s really up to you.

Going it alone means finding information from a lot of different sources. You might realize that you need to brush up on piano scales and perform a simple search for “piano scales”, you will find loads of content including videos, text content and graphics. You will also find information that is convoluted, and taught in different styles with different focuses. Even famous teachers all have a different approach to learning and teaching the piano, so if you are just plucking information from anywhere you can find it, it may be a struggle to find the exact information you need, or for it to make sense with the rest of the piano info you’ve sourced.

A well-made course will guide you through all the basic information you need and gradually introduce things at a manageable rate. If you are teaching yourself, it is easy to dive in at the deep end and you will then come across many concepts that are confusing for beginners. For example, you may have a song in mind that you really want to learn, but it proves to be very difficult. With a course, the songs are introduced at a manageable rate and all of the piano techniques, skills and concepts you need are introduced before you try to play it.

At Pianu, our course gradually introduces new songs that are slightly more difficult than the last, or that teach a new idea or technique that you will need to learn. We’ve spent years creating our system, built in a way to keep you engaged, having fun, and learning all the skills you need.

Downsides to Self Teaching Piano

If you do decide not to work with a teacher, are there any downsides? We’ve made a lot of cases for learning how to play piano without the help of a teacher or tutor, but this might not be the ideal method for everyone. Some people are better suited to having lessons and keeping human interaction throughout their piano lessons. As with most decisions in life, there are pros and cons to each outcome. Luckily, having lessons doesn’t stop you from using the same self teaching piano methods, so you can still brush up on knowledge in your own time, too.

So, what are some of the cons of self-teaching piano?

The Best Things About Self Teaching

We’ve already talked about some of the great aspects of self-teaching an instrument in this guide, but let’s revisit and summarize for people who are still undecided on whether to go the “traditional” route or whether to teach themselves how to play the piano.

This decision is an individual one to make, and it is easy enough to switch if you find that in-person lessons don’t work out or if the course you are following is confusing you a bit. It’s a good idea to think about which you are likely to get more out of, but they’re not mutually exclusive, either.


As we always like to point out here on Pianu, there are many different ways to get to the end result of being an accomplished piano player, and whether you aim to teach yourself or learn in a more formal environment, the end result will probably boil down to whether you are driven enough and give yourself enough time to build your piano knowledge.

The good news for those who plan on self teaching piano is that it is simpler than ever to do so, with more learning material being produced all the time, so you can find the course that is right for you, and build up your knowledge of playing the piano at a pace that suits.

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