Piano FAQ

I'm a beginner, how long does it take to be good at piano?

Well, that depends on a few things. First of all, how much time are you going to put into it every day? If you want to progress quickly you're going to need to practice at least 30 minutes to an hour a day, the more time you put in the better. It's also good to break up your practice times into smaller sessions throughout the day rather than one large chunk all at once. The second factor is, what do you consider good? Some people consider good being able to play a few songs; maybe you just want to play Fur Elise, and once you do you'll consider yourself good. That's great if that's what you want, but there are also other people who would only consider themselves good if they're performing a massive concerto on stage with an orchestra, so as you can see being “good” might different in two people's eyes. If you just want to play for yourself out of fun, you could expect to get to a pretty good level within 2-3 years. By that time you should be able to play things that really satisfy you, stuff that you can really enjoy. If you want to be a concert pianist, that will take decades and many hours of work to accomplish, but if that's your goal and you're determined to get there, go for it!

How many keys are there on a full size piano?

There are 88 keys on a full size piano. There are also smaller keyboards some with 64 keys or less. Also, there are some pianos that have 100+ keys, but the standard full size is 88.

Am I ever going to need a piano teacher in the future?

If you plan to go on far into the future, eventually you should probably get a piano teacher to analyze your playing weekly. Let me be clear, there is absolutely no replacement for what a piano teacher can do live and in person. There is no course out there, there is no method, and there's nothing I can do from across the internet that will replace what a living breathing teacher can do sitting next to you. So honestly if you're serious, eventually you should get a teacher, if you're goal is just to have fun though, you might be fine with the information you can get from me or others, but no doubt you would benefit from a teacher if you decided to hire one in the future. One of the most common mistakes people make when they get a piano teacher is: They just get any old teacher they can find. You shouldn't have this mentality. Each teacher has their own style, plus their own personality, and they might be great with one type of person, and not so great with another type. It's your job to make sure you like who your piano teacher is, and you get along with them. What I'd suggest is, compile a list of 5 piano teachers in different price ranges; some high some low, and even call them up. The ones that made you feel comfortable, and felt like you had a connection with will probably be good fits for you. If you have more than one teacher that you felt good about, meet with a few of them separately for short “audition lesson” and remember, the teacher is there to serve you, not the other way around. Find a teacher that suits your needs and wants, but more importantly someone you feel comfortable with, and feel like they can teach you well. Keep in mind that everyone is going to be a stranger so you might not feel really comfortable with anyone, they might not feel comfortable with you either, but you should feel some sort of a small connection with a teacher that will suit you well. Also the more expensive teachers are definitely worth every extra penny; in fact you're usually getting a much better bang for your buck if you go with the more expensive teachers. So, don't rule the expensive ones out! My own teacher for many years: Lori Elder is the most expensive teacher around here, but for all the value I get from her, I say I actually end up getting WAY more than I would from cheaper teachers, she is absolutely amazing and I wouldn't trade her for anyone!

My hands are small…. Do you think I'll still be able to play? Or is there no hope?

Actually, many people with small hands play piano, I've known people who have small hands, but have their master's in music, and are amazing at piano. Here's a good test, stretch your hands out, and now try playing from C with your thumb, to the C above with your pinky finger. If you can reach that, or almost reach that, your hands are big enough to play most things. If you pass that test you're set! Even if you don't pass, there are still pieces you can play for smaller hands. You shouldn't let that hold you back from your dreams!

I'm having trouble playing hands together. Is there something wrong with me?

No! There's nothing wrong with you at all if you have a difficult time playing hands together. It's a normal challenge all beginning pianists struggle with, especially when it involves more complicated rhythms. Think of playing hands together as trying to learn a 3rd hand. You can learn each hand separately and play them well, but don't assume you can magically put them together right away at full speed. The trick to getting hands together is to be patient, go very very slowly while playing both hands together at a steady pace. If you can't yet play them steady together, go back to separate hand practice, than come back hands together later and just take it one note at a time if you have to. Over time your brain will put the two hands together. As you get better and better at piano, playing hands together takes less effort. In the beginning stages of piano, playing two hands at once is very hard for almost everyone at first. Relax and remember it's normal, focus on beating the problem. I hope that helps!

I'm in my late 70's am I too old to learn to play now?

You aren't too old. One of the best things about piano is as long as you can move your fingers/hands you can learn how to play piano. Most people play piano well into any age. If you're past the age of maybe 15 it's unlikely you'll be able to be a concert pianist, but less than 0.05% of the players out there get to become concert pianists anyway, so don't worry! Piano is a wonderful pass time, and actually learning it at any age will help keep your brain sharp. It improves memory skills, motor skills, reading skills and keeps you thinking in general. The bottom line is, if you want to learn piano, but there's a voice inside your head telling you, that you're too old, that's a lie, because you are never too old. So take control of your life and learn what you desire!

I don't understand harmonic & melodic minor scales can you explain it to me?

Well, the question you're asking isn't that uncommon, that's why I devoted a whole video on it. I think I can explain it better in a video then on here. Here's the link to it.

Do I have to learn notes to be able to play piano?

Yes, and no, you don't really have to do anything, you could just play by ear, but that's much less reliable. My personal answer is you should learn how to read notes. It would be like someone asking, “Hey, do you think I need to learn how to read words so that I can read a story from a book? Or can I just listen to someone else read the story for me, and then I'll try to recite the story word for word and commit it to memory!” Which do you find to be more practical? The thing is, it doesn't actually take very long to read music, I once had an adult student from Russia named Valeria who started piano when she was 29, who never took a piano lesson in her life, but always wanted to learn. In 2 weeks of study, she could read notes quite quickly, and she was reading the notes for an easy piano version of Fur Elise. In one month she could play the whole thing! You know what her secret was? She just wanted to learn badly. She got flash cards and studied. My point is, you can learn your notes as fast as she did if you just decide you want to. It's possible to learn how to read in less than a month, and its worth that if it means you don't have to suffer through it for the rest of your life right? So, get out there and start learning your notes!

I don't understand what it means when I see 4/4 or 2/4 or 6/8 at the start of a piece, can you help?

It's actually pretty simple. 4/4 means there are 4 quarter notes per bar, 2/4 would mean 2 quarter notes per bar. Let's explain why: the top number is the number of beats in each bar, the bottom number determines which type of note will be counted as one beat. Here's an example: Say a piece is in 3/4….the 3 tells us that there are 3 beats in every bar, and the 4 tells us that a quarter note is worth one beat. If we had 3/8, the 3 would tell us there are 3 beats in the bar (just like before), but now the 8 would tell us that an 8th note is one beat. See how the bottom number tells us which kind of note is equal to one beat?

In review: the first number tells you what you're going to count up to every bar. The second number tells you what type of note you're going to be counting as 1 count.

What can I do to keep myself motivated?

Well, there are a few things you can do. First, think back; why did you want to learn in the beginning? What did you want to originally do with piano? Maybe you started with something basic and you're afraid to just try to mess around with what you enjoy and really want to do deep down. Sometimes it can be fun to just play around on the piano and experiment, discover new things, play up high, play down low, and make up your own songs. Why not? What do you think the first musicians did in history? Of course the first musicians had no rules, they just had untuned pitches, and they messed around until they found something they liked and it went from there. Whatever you're doing right now, try something different. Everyone can have fun with some type of music. Music is something that everyone can relate to and enjoy. You could also try new styles of music that you haven't tried yet. There are many options out there! Sometimes playing easier songs can help. Mix up your practice with easy tasks and bigger harder tasks; don't try to take on the world all at once! Find what you enjoy and do it!

Should I buy a keyboard or a piano?

Ahhh, this is a very popular question that I get asked A LOT. My suggestion is, do you have money? Do you have space? Are you pretty serious? If you answered yes to these questions, buy a piano. If you don't have much space, or you're short on cash, go for the keyboard, but don't go too cheap, because a very cheap keyboard won't be worth it in the long run. You could also get a keyboard you're just testing the waters and you want to see how you like it first. Having a great instrument is important if you're buying it for yourself or child, playing on some crappy thing will make practice and performances dull, so please buy the best you can afford within your budget.

People say I should learn intervals. Why?

Learning to read intervals fast is so worth it! It will improve your ability to read sheet music at least ten times over. If you don't know what an interval is, it's the distance between two notes. Like from C to a G is an interval of a 5th. You get this number by counting up from C to G…C is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is G thus it's a 5th. There's fast ways of learning to read intervals. The best way is to practice them of course, but it also helps to remember that odd numbered intervals will share the same type of placement. Like a 3rd a 5th or a 7th etc, both notes will be space notes, or they'll both be line notes. If the notes are not both on the same type then they have to be even numbered interval, such as a 2nd 4th 6th 8th etc. Intervallic reading can help get you reading faster by reading the distances rather then trying to recognize each note by letter name. It's the next step up from reading note by note.

I'm having pain or stiffness when I play piano. What can I do to help protect myself from developing long term problems?

Pain and stiffness are a pretty common problem. I've heard that there has been great success with the "Alexander Technique" but I cannot personally confirm this myself. There is also another article targeted more towards pianists at Besides those resources here are some quick concepts that can be applied to hopefully help reduce your pain.

General tips:

  • Keep relaxed whenever you're not playing, and stiffen up just for the second you start to push the keys down. Once the keys are being held down, you can relax and let the weight of your arms hold the keys down.
  • Don't contort your hands in weird ways to play a chord. If the chord or position is painful, modify it so you can reach it without doing damage to your hands. It's not worth having so much damage to your hands that you can't enjoy playing down the road.
  • Learn to recognize between long term pain and short term pain. Sometimes playing makes our hands and arms hurt just out of fatigue. Other times, it's because of long term damage being done. Long term pain can feel like sharp zapping pains, a pulsing/throbbing pain, and/or excessive achenes. There are many other types of pain, and everyone is different, so if you have any concern talk to your doctor and study how your body works.
  • Playing with a softer touch will greatly decrease the amount of strain on your body. Play softer whenever you can.
  • Lastly, it's important to take many breaks, don't play for extended periods of time if you can help it. Only practice for 15-20 minutes at a time. Doing hands separate practice can save a lot of energy.

Why are scales important?

Many people don't want to do scales, and think they're boring. Maybe they are, if you let yourself get into that mind set! What are scales good for anyway? Well, think of playing scales as like, going to the gym, but for your fingers and arms. There are many benefits to playing scales. Playing scales increases their strength, so you can play harder and more accurately. They increase your finger dexterity so you can move more quickly and gain more control of them in general. You'll also have more stamina so you'll be able to play longer, and also play harder pieces with little to no effort! You can show off to your friends, “*You playing piano very fast and impressive* Your friend: WHOA! You're amazing! I wish I could do that!” Also, have you ever had that thought: “Arrgh!!! Hey finger! Hit this key like I'm telling you!” but the finger just won't do what you want it to? Well, by doing scales it will help fix that problem and your fingers can fly freely. It's because inside your brain synapses' have stronger connections or “bond's” with other synapses' over time and over use. When we play scales we're improving our connections, and we're gaining more control over our fingers. So the fact is, scales have so many pros and almost no cons, as long as you can get over the fact that they might be ‘boring' you'll be a much better pianist in any way you ever choose to play. Maybe it could help to look at scales as a challenge instead of as a pointless task, that could make things more enjoyable and less boring. You should also be aiming to get a wonderful touch, a steady pulse, and an overall elegant sound from your scales. They should be fast, yet controlled, and very smooth, no harsh bumps from note to note. You can even start by just playing a few scales for 5 minutes a day. That should be enough to get you going! Try buying a scale book and going through the different scales. Then gradually increase speed and keep playing them daily. Enjoy yourself; make it a challenge and have fun!