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Taking Piano Lessons vs Self-Taught: Which Is Better?

Last Updated: August 22, 2016 / by Helen Baker



So you have decided to take piano lessons. Great! The benefits of learning music are countless!

If you want to learn how to play the piano, the ideal first step will be to find yourself a piano teacher. However, it's definitely possible to teach yourself how to play the piano.

But be careful, because learning an instrument is challenging enough as it is, and struggling on your own often sees many people give up due to frustration without professional guidance. 

With that being said, there are numerous reasons why you might have decided to fly solo. And in today’s day and age, flying solo is not that scary with all the different resources that are available.

At the end of the day, as with anything else, you must have a plan if you want to succeed, and it's prudent to know what challenges might await you during piano lessons so that you know how to tackle it head on.

Being Your Own Piano Teacher

Being a self-taught pianist takes discipline.Time to get real. It’s going to be a long road - although rewarding - before you will be an accomplished piano player. Proper research and planning is essential before you attempt being your own piano teacher, just so that you know know what will be expected from you to succeed. Here's what you need to know:

Music Theory & More Music Theory 

Most piano lessons will firstly focus on laying the foundation for reading music. In order for you to be able to read music well, you need to learn the names of the notes, what they look like on paper, as well as how they correspond to the piano keys.

The ability to read music establishes a good foundation for the understanding of music theory. This is important if you want to know how to play the piano, and not just how to play songs on the piano.  Know your music theory, and you will be able to explore music in more detail.

Basic Patterns

Playing fluently comes down to you and your fingers learning the patterns during your piano lessons. There are two basic patterns that you will find everywhere in Western popular and classical music, namely the scale and the arpeggio. The better you are at playing these patterns, the more music you will be able to master.

Many students find these patterns tedious to practice and will try to avoid it. This is especially true for people who are teaching themselves because it can be frustrating when you struggle to see and find these patterns on the piano. In this case, the interaction with a piano teacher will help you stay focused and motivated.

Take Smaller Steps

With technology advancing so quickly, it’s no wonder we expect results a lot quicker too. Piano lessons are no different. Everything is now just a button-click away.

This is the same reason we want to practice a piece from the beginning to the end...for the instant satisfaction.

But in reality, it’s not the most efficient way to learn. Breaking your practice into smaller sections and moving onto the next piece when you have succeeded will help you improve. Remember, quality practice is more important than long, tedious hours of repetition.  

Find The Balance

Being a skilled pianist is about finding a delicate balance between technical skills, reading music, music theory and playing the music you are passionate about. But don’t forget to explore different techniques and sounds during your own piano lessons and practice routines! That is where the fun comes in! 

Some self-taught students get lost between the theory and forget to experiment with different sounds. Setting a little time aside to play with patterns and rhythms helps you to grow. To succeed in the learning avenue, it all comes down to balance.

Bad Habits When Teaching Yourself

Many accomplished pianists have been self-taught, but it's not always possible without the aid of a piano teacher.The thing about being your own piano teacher is that you will never be able to avoid problems. There will always be challenges during piano lessons, and when you are flying solo, it can be scarier and more intimidating. 

Many students that taught themselves before deciding to go to a piano teacher found that it was more of setback than an advantage. They found that they had to re-learn most of the things that they taught themselves. This was not because they were bad teachers, but because it’s easy to overlook some things while focusing on so many different aspects at once.

Here is a list of just a few bad habits, or possible challenges, a self-taught pianist might face:

  • Poor body posture
  • Incorrect sitting position
  • A poor hand/arm posture
  • Not playing in time
  • Little or no technique

The fact is that not all self-taught pianists will face these problems. There have been great and innovative pianists that were self-taught without taking any piano lessons, but not everyone will succeed in doing this.  With so many things to focus on, it’s definitely worthwhile considering a piano teacher that will be able to correct your behaviors before they become habit.

Investing In a Piano Teacher

An experienced piano teacher might save you a lot of time.Bad habits and other problems are not going to disappear when you have a piano teacher, but it will make your piano lessons less frustrating while you will also be progressing faster.

The job of the teacher is to see the things you don’t see and to provide the necessary interaction. Flying solo can be difficult when you don’t have someone knowledgeable to ask advice from, or to encourage you, when you get frustrated.

There is no doubt that, if you are passionate about it, you can teach yourself how to play the piano. There are many great pianists who can prove this. But the truth is, it's easier when you have an experienced piano teacher that suits you and your unique needs. 

One can easily get overwhelmed and feel clueless about what your problems are while trying to cover all the basics. So instead of wasting time to unlearn mistakes or bad habits, investing in a piano teacher will help you and save a lot of time. The best thing about having a teacher is that the previously impossible becomes possible.


About the Author: Helen Baker

I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.


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