Learn to Play the Piano on a Shoestring

As a young child, my parents, noticing my long slender fingers and fine motor coordination, hoped that I would learn to play the piano. That dream was never realized because they simply couldn't afford a piano or a music teacher. Times have changed, and I feel no one should have to fore go this worthy desire simply because of lack of funds.

If our children learn to play a musical instrument while young, they will not only have learned self discipline, but will reap its rewards by having learned to create and play beautiful music that will soothe their soul in years to come as well as the souls of others; and even greater- to glorify God through their fingers.

When I began teaching my own children, I did not know a single note on a music staff but was determined to at least give my children a rudimentary knowledge of music even if I couldn't secure a piano and teacher for my children. I am happy to say that today, all three of my daughters play the keyboard beautifully, albeit different levels of competence. My twelve year old plays classical music as a means of private enjoyment. She also entertains house guests when called upon. Currently, she is working on creating her own little compositions but is just your average kid, too-- Mozart's blood is not running through her veins.

How did we accomplish this? Now if you have the funds to secure a piano and teacher, which is probably the ideal situation, then this post is not for you. But not everyone has that opportunity, so I'm talking to those who desire this skill for their children, but for one reason or another, need a creative solution.

Whenever I go about teaching anything to the children, I do my best to make it enjoyable while requiring self-discipline on their part. This combination has always worked well for them. So the first thing I did was research recorder and piano books for a very young child. I wanted them to be enjoyable and self-teaching as much as possible. (I always avoid books and curricula that require a great amount of time on my part.) While visiting the US one year, I discovered some books in a music store that seemed to fit this description. The text was simple, the illustrations were eye-catching and the program was easy enough for a young reader to understand. I bought the first one and we enjoyed it so much, I ordered the next two in the series. These books are only 10 dollars each. I will list them below. These are simply what we found. You can probably find something else just as suitable at your local music store or maybe even better. Buying a piano was out of the question since we move around so much, so we bought a simple keyboard for about 150 dollars. This has been a wonderful investment.

I began by teaching them to play the recorder because it is a gentle way to learn the basic parts of the music scale and the note positions. I bought an inexpensive plastic one. After a few years of this, we moved on to the keyboard. It took three years for each child to move through three simple, entertaining keyboard books at a leisurely pace. Then I gave them, via the advice of a musical family, Palmer's Teach Yourself to Play Piano. If I had begun instruction with this book, I think their eyes would have glazed over, but it is perfect for the older child and adult.

I let the books do the teaching but am available as a guide. They know that I will test them every 12 weeks by asking them to play a more complicated piece perfectly. I also make sure they are practicing daily. A few days a week is simply not enough time. I also don't want music to consume their life, so I tried not to overburden them with long daily practice sessions. Here is a brief outline of what we have done:

6yrs- Introduce the recorder with Progressive Recorder Method for Young Beginners Bk 1 and CD. Practice five days a week for 15 minutes. We usually accomplish a lesson a week, but mastery of each song is more important than finishing a lesson weekly. Let them perform at the end of the term for an audience. We have a Thanksgiving recital every year and invite a few close friends or family members to listen to our little musicians. We make a little program and serve refreshments afterwards.

7 yrs- continue recorder instruction with Book 2 and CD, 15 minutes daily.

8 yrs- Begin piano/keyboard instruction with Progressive Keyboard Method for Young Beginners Bk 1 and Book 2 with the CDs. Practice 20 minutes five days a week. Expect near perfection for every song played.

9 yrs - Continue piano/keyboard instruction with Book 2 and Book 3. Practice 20 minutes five days a week. Check on your children every few weeks to make sure they understand and are following the book closely. (I recommend blacking out the notes in this book so that the letters do not show) I made simple flash cards showing the treble scale with a single note on each card. I also made cards with various rests for them to identify. I just looked at the back of the books and copied them from the chart. We drill 10 minutes on Fridays.

10 yrs- Begin Alfred's Teach Yourself to Play Piano and accompanying CD. Practice 30 minutes daily. Continue using flash cards. (You can add the bass staff notes now.)

11yrs- Continue Alfred's book and begin Ricci Adams' free online/downloadable music theory course on Fridays. Practice 30 minutes daily.

12yrs-At this point, I find music scores online that appeal to my child's interests. One daughter likes the theme from Lord of the Rings, another likes particular pieces from Bach. I look for fairly simple renditions. One year, for Dear Daughter's birthday, I printed off several interesting free musical scores that I found via Google online and bound them in a book for her. She loved it and continues to add more to her homemade book. You can also buy music books for the intermediate piano player and let them pick what they would like to learn.

I also let the kids make some important choices now that they have matured in the decision-making process. One daughter wants to continue playing the piano, another wants to play the guitar. I will eventually try to secure a piano teacher to help Dear Daughter improve her technique. My guitar-loving dear daughter will continue to practice piano a few days a week but can concentrate more fully on the guitar now.

Update 9/6/2010:  Recently, we discovered through a thoughtful reader of our website, a wonderful online piano teacher who gives private lessons to serious musicians. So, we took the plunge and bought a spinet in very good condition from craigslist for 200 dollars.  My 15 year old daughter has been taking lessons from Mrs. Peery for six months now and we are thrilled with her progress.  Her technique has improved 100%.  The lessons are extremely affordable at only 20 dollars a month. Check it out at Peery Piano.  (By the way, her childhood lessons prepared her well for this next step in her piano education.)

This is not the only way to learn music on a shoe string, but it is one way. I just want to inspire you. You can do this!

one step at a time...