Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coming Soon: (At Least) 22 Tips for Successful Learning of Piano

I tell my workshop students that I started to learn piano when I was 23 years old. It's true. That's how old I was when I decided I WANTED to learn about the piano and found someone who could teach it to me.

In actuality it started much earlier than that. My music lessons probably started the day I was born. That was the day I first heard music I'm pretty sure. Don't ask me exactly what was the first music I heard. I don't remember.

But there must have been some radio on somewhere in the nursery at St. Mary's Hospital. Or if not, I'm sure my mom must have started singing to me within hours if not minutes of my birth. The fact she was a professional stage singer had nothing to do with it. We naturally sing to our children. We can't help it.

So that was my first music lesson. Day One. And I've had a music lesson everyday since. I believe we get a music lesson every time we hear music played. Maybe it's just the subconscious mind that gets the lesson, but that counts.

By the age of four I learned to play records (78's I'm afraid they were) on the folks' Packard Bell phonograph. I still remember my favorite records. Tex Williams (Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette), Jimmy Durante, Spike Jones, Chico Marx, Oscar Levant (Malaguena).

Formal piano lessons started at six. They started again at seven. Then I started over again at seven-and-a-half. Then eight-and-a-half. By age 10, my piano career was over when I finally persuaded the parents that piano was not for me.

After all that time and with all those teachers I managed to conquer John Thompson's Teaching Little Fingers to Play, and got as far as page 19 of the John Thompson First Grade Book. Not exactly protege material.

Toward the end I was barely practicing 10 minutes a WEEK. Or maybe it was 10 minutes a MONTH. Piano was not what I wanted to do. So I was allowed to quit.

A funny thing happened after I stopped taking formal lessons. From then on you could not pry me away from the piano. I was playing around with it all the time. No direction, no lessons, no formalities, no practicing. Just play play play.

Later my attention turned to guitar and shortly after that to girls, but those basic years until about age 10 or so were very influential. And were very important to me.

What's the point of this?

By the time I was 33 I figured out how to present the one day piano workshop to adults, and since then I've taught the class to over 36,000 people (I think). It stands to reason that over that time, some people would come to regard me as an expert in the field of piano teaching.

Whether that's true or not is up for discussion.

But over that time, I've come to recognize certain key factors that contribute to ones development and success at the piano.

Earlier today I was staring out the window daydreaming when I decided to see how many of those key factors I could write down. Within three minutes I got to 22 of them.

So if you're interested, I'd like to share these factors with you over then next few issues. I'm sure that by the time I'm done I'll think of several more. These factors are often so subtle that we don't think about them. Yet they are very powerful. And often very simple.

Some of these key factors will surprise you. Maybe all of them will surprise you. And not a single one has to do with "practicing" as we know it. Stand by.


  1. My experience mirrors yours. I would love to read your factors.

  2. Being transparent is a wonderful thing...keep it up! Helps us know we are all in this together!
    Ready for your key factors! Thank you Robert!

  3. Robert,
    you got my attention!

  4. Also ready for your key factors, been studying piano for the last 6 - 8 months or so and have been practicing at least 30 minutes a day.
    Thanks, Robert

  5. Wow! I remember Spike Jones and his "Man on the Flying Trapeze". Just about wore out that one when I was a kid. Still a kid, but a retired kid.


  6. Robert,
    Thank you for sharing, it is always appreciated!

  7. My favorite was "Cocktails for Two." I even have it on my iPod.


  8. Teaching Little Fingers to Play....brings back memories. Surely you had exercises by Carl Czerny, as well?

    Roberta, Massachusetts

  9. Keep at it Robert.

    Peter de Wit

  10. Sounds wonderful to me! Especially since taking piano lessons as a child and giving them up for about 40 years, and then actually learning to play again through your class.

  11. I am quite moved with your story Sir. I believe i am in the same way as you do. I want to hone my skills in piano especially i love to play piano song all the time. Your story is very inspiring to me.