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By the author of What School Should Have Taught You: 75 Skills You’ll Actually Use in Life
So let’s say you have a kid who’s very much into music, and you really think that it would be in their best interest if they started to learn to play the piano. They like music, you like music – it just seems like a good idea.
You’ve asked the kid, and they seem excited about the prospect, and so now you’re looking at what it would take to get them lessons.
While I by no means play the piano, I once tinkered around with the concept and did a bit of research before making a few purchases that kind of influenced my thinking in this regard. Here’s what I found:
Keyboards are the way to go.
If you don’t already have a piano at your home, I think that keyboards are the best way to add one so that the kiddo can learn to play the piano. I picked up mine used for something like $40 (I bought it from a friend), it sounds great, and it really helped me to practice.
No, it’s not the same as playing on a grand piano, but unless you have several thousand dollars and the space to throw at an instrument that big, that’s just out of the question. Find yourself a used keyboard that sounds good, and go from there.
The three routes I went to find mine was searching online, checking pawn shops, and then just telling my friends what I was interested in. You do that, and you’ll find a reasonably priced keyboard pretty fast. (That said, the price for a brand new one really isn’t that bad either.)
Lessons to learn to play the piano
The smattering of piano that I once knew just came from watching Youtube tutorials. I took formal lessons when I was younger, which was pre-Youtube, and that’s great, but if we’re really looking at the most frugal means of learning piano as possible, I think that Youtube is actually a great option. (We’ve posted other articles about the awesome things you can learn from YouTube, as well as its entertainment value.)
Keep in mind that I’m not proficient with piano by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever, but when I was self-studying piano about ten years ago, Youtube tutorials helped me to actually learn the songs that I wanted to know how to play instead of just playing “Hot Cross Buns” for the umpteenth time.
There are great tutorials out there that can help to teach a kid to learn how to play anything from the theme song from Up (the last great Pixar movie), video game theme songs, or what the kid will now refer to as “oldies.”
Personally, I think this is one of the reasons that people lose interest in learning an instrument. It’s hard to get a lot of fun out of playing stupid nursery rhymes over and over again. If you let people learn at least the rudiments of the songs that they actually like, interest is cultivated, and I think they’re more likely to stick with it.
I quit practicing simply because of time issues, so take my two cents here for what it’s worth, but it worked for me with the ukelele and the Irish whistle, so I think it applies elsewhere as well.
While I typically just play by ear, I do think there’s a lot of benefit to learning to read music itself. Again, I would just use Youtube tutorials to learn how to do this, but if you’re looking for actual sheet music I think your first and best bet is to just print it off from sources online.
Find a song that you like, and odds are that somebody out there has created a free PDF of the sheet music for you to play. For piano, you may want to check out MuseScore.com, 8notes.com, or Pianoshelf. Each of these will help you to find the resources you need to start reading sheet music.
Well, they’ll give you the sheet music, rather. To learn how to read it, use Youtube.
It’s all online.
Pretty much everything you would ever want to know to be reasonably proficient with any instrument ever is already online. Whether you’re interested in the piano or the digeridoo, you’ll be able to find it.
All you have to do is do your homework and practice. This can save you a significant amount of money, especially when it comes to getting a kid to learn an instrument that you do have questions as to whether or not it’s really worth the investment for them or not.
With some instruments, such as the cello, violin, or saxophone, you’re going to have to put a large amount of money upfront just to get the instrument in your house (unless you rent, but I hate renting things). But with piano, you have a bit more leeway and it’s something that I think you can become reasonably seasoned with for very little cash.
But what do you think about all this? Do you disagree with a passion (aka you’re a music teacher)? Have you found my findings here to be the case as well? Have you ever learned to play an instrument without official lessons? If you play, how did you learn to play the piano? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments section.
Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper, An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.
4 thoughts on “3 Thrifty Ways to Learn to Play the Piano”
One thing about a keyboard. My first keyboard did not have the 88 full sized keys. Other than that, I have enjoyed playing again. Good advice!
Regarding piano costs — Just a few years ago I checked on pianos at my local thrift store. They were in the process of refusing to accept any more used piano donations because the market price for such used pianos had plummeted dramatically. That was a surprise.
But before committing to a piano purchase it’s best to look over several piano types and brands to compare tone, touch, feel, and general quality. Remember that a piano that’s been sitting unused (and often untuned) may sound pitiful — but once tuned properly (assuming it’s otherwise mechanically sound) there’s a good chance of it becoming a legitimate jewel. And I’m describing mechanical non-electric pianos with the classic three-pedal controls — each of which has its own legitimate purpose.
Though I grew up with a classic and ancient Baldwin upright … many years later when I was ready to purchase I looked over used Wurlitzers, Bosendorfers, Steinways on the high end and el cheap pianos on the low end. That way I could better judge the quality. Before I made my purchase from a used piano dealer, I learned from him how to move an upright piano by myself. I learned to rent a truck with a power lift-gate on the rear of the bed … and to use a 4-wheel dolly (from Harbor Freight) to slip under the piano to load and unload it on and off that truck. Then I could roll that piano (on the dolly) up the sidewalk into my house and across the living room where that piano sits even today. That was a one-guy operation about which I’ll always be grateful to that used piano dealer for teaching me.
This was many years after I put the military and grad school years behind me so I didn’t have to worry about frequent moves.
During my grade school and high school years I had taken piano lessons for about 10 years. A non-obvious benefit was that on the rare occasions when I felt like slacking off, both my mother and my piano teacher were there to “encourage” me not to give up.
Many years after owning the Wurlitzer I settled on, I found a local computer-oriented flea market with several electronic pianos and organs. After giving them a thorough checking out, I learned that I like the touch, feel, sound and controls of the classic mechanical pianos much better.
Though I don’t play the piano, I’ve been married for 50 years to a man who does, and I completely agree with you about the difference between a real piano and an electronic one! There’s no real comparison between the two.
If you or someone in your family has the slightest interest in playing the piano, I urge you to follow through. At the age of 13, my husband was forced by his mother to take the first lesson – and he fell in love with it. Two years later he was doing well enough to become his church’s organist (the church had bought an organ which included free organ lessons). By high school, he was playing piano for the school’s glee club, as well.
Hearing him play everything from Beethoven to Floyd Cramer has truly enriched my life.
Tragically, not many people are learning to play. Recently a friend of ours was trying to give one away and it took awhile before he found a church who would take it. When I was a kid there were 3 ladies in our small church who played but that has changed. The last 2 churches we’ve attended haven’t had anyone to play until we started going. Very sadly, the pastors were using canned music. I’d rather sing a capella than karaoke.
Real pianos are truly off-grid. Unlike a keyboard, they’d be completely unaffected by an emp going off, or sky-high electricity rates.
Buck the trend. Play an off-grid instrument. They enrich our lives.