7 Myths about Learning Piano
Updated: May 18
Let’s talk about dream crushers: lies you may be believing about playing the piano.
Have you ever quit piano lessons? Think you don’t have what it takes? Keep reading. I may be able to get your runaway dream back–for good this time.
Musicians used to be taken for granted, there were so many. Even today, in many countries, music is deeply ingrained in the culture.
Kids, from the day they’re born, grow up singing and playing traditional songs with family and friends. It’s not just a lesson once a week or a monthly recital. Music is their way of life! It becomes as natural to them as speaking their native language.
Then there’s good ol’ America. The land where even the most basic singing and instrumental skill is attributed to some kind of “magical ability” that one is either born with or without.
Whenever I start talking with someone about playing an instrument, they always sigh and tell me their sad story of how their childhood piano lessons failed and their fingers are clumsy. They sadly try to convince me that there’s not even a crumb of potential in them. When I try to tell them otherwise, they shake their head and say something like, “It’s just the fate I was born with, like most everyone else.”
What if I told you there’s a simple cure?
Myth: It Takes a ton of Repetition
A very classic mistake everyone does is try to learn simply by repetition. They start the song, wait until they mess up, grimace, and then start over from the very beginning. This leads to tension, frustration, and ultimately quitting.
The minute you walk away from the mistake and start over, you have lost your opportunity of correcting that mistake. Inevitably, you are doomed to make that mistake again (or be repeating everything about a billion times per mistake. Boring!).
You start to feel overwhelmed by just how many mistakes there are to work through, and how much repeating you will end up doing to fix them. Then you think “If I can barely even play this one song, how will I have the patience or time to learn anything on the piano?”
Their conclusion is that they have no talent and then give up on their dreams.
Repetition is vital for building muscle memory. Each move you make triggers a neuron pathway in your brain. The more that pathway is triggered, the stronger it gets. So guess what you’re accomplishing by repeating the same mistake over and over for about 3 hours? You’re digging your own grave!
Here’s the right way to do it:
Stop. Identify the mistake. Slowly teach your fingers the correct way to move. Repeat the correct way, as slow as you need to, breaking it down into as small pieces as necessary.
When you’re satisfied with your newfound skill, THEN try playing it in the song again. Practice it a few times in the song, as slow as you need to.
If your fingers just need more strengthening (which is usually the case), leave that song and go do some exercises or some easier songs. Build up your finger strength. It’ll help a lot.
With this process, you can plow through many mistakes in just one sitting. You’ll be playing that song flawlessly in no time!
The added bonus is that you not only taught your fingers how to play that one song, but you’ll find yourself applying those same skills to every song.
Myth: It takes a ton of talent
Does any of this sound familiar?
“I don’t have the talent for music.”
“I just don’t have the skill for piano. I wish I did.”
“I tried and I failed at everything my teacher gave me.”
“There’s no way I could play an instrument. I don’t have the ear for it.”
To those people, I just grin and say “So when are you free?”
Why? Firstly, I don’t give up. I love a challenge.
Secondly, playing the piano is not about talent. It’s about your brain.
People think that if you have “talent” for something, that talent is only useful for that one thing. Like a magic potion that suddenly gives you the power to play music, and nothing else.
The brain is not so simple. Did you know that playing an instrument involves your entire brain? Did you know that playing an instrument also uses the same skills you need to understand and speak a language?
So technically, if you can read this, you already have most of the skills you need for music. And since playing instruments requires 100% of your brain, then your brain can’t be all bad, can it?
Hey, I get it! You may be struggling with learning music right now, but I want to get down to the real reason why. Certain parts of your brain are stronger than others. That’s what makes you so unique. What part is strong? What part is weak?
When I meet a student for their first lesson, I spend most of that time just getting to know them. I’ll ask what their dreams are, what they’re good at, what school subjects they enjoy, what they like about music. Then I’ll watch them play something on the piano. If they have no prior experience, I’ll teach them a few simple things. I’ll watch very closely at how they do because the very first attempts (without any practice) reveal what is really going on in their brain.
I’ll notice some may have excellent hand-eye coordination but lack a natural ear. Others may have terrible hand coordination while possessing an excellent ear. I’ll take note of how they process the information–logically, by patterns, by memorizing, by experiencing, by ear, etc.
That’s the beauty of learning to play music. Your strengths and weaknesses become readily apparent.
You could even write a song without knowing a musical instrument! Worship Songwriting: the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide has everything you need to know to get started right now.
Myth: It takes a ton of money
Understandably, this one is really huge for most people. The average piano teacher charges a whopping $40-$60 an hour! Usually, the teacher crams the same exact lesson plan for every student they ever get. So if the teaching style isn’t for you, then all that time and money go down right the drain. Sometimes for years!
I meet these people years later and they sadly tell me, “Yeah I took lessons for a few years. It didn’t work out. I still can’t really play the piano. I guess I just don’t have the talent.”
This society thinks that just because someone has gotten a Masters in college, tours the world, and written a hundred songs, that he’s perfectly suited to teach them piano.
But everyone’s learning style is different, just as everyone’s teaching style is different.
And, for the record, piano players who actually have the skills to teach are very rare. Most of them can’t make heads or tails of how they do what they do, thus the “magic potion of talent” myth was born.
The other expense is the piano itself. Pianos can be pretty pricey. My advice:
Get the right piano to fit your dreams. If you’re planning on playing complex classical music and spending many hours practicing, get a good quality digital piano or (preferably) a real one. Your wrists and ears will thank you. Have you ever tried to paint with Bob Ross on a napkin? That’s what playing on a keyboard is like compared to the real thing.
Free or cheap upright pianos are out of style now. Ask around! They’re a dime a dozen these days. Facebook groups or Craigslist are great places to start.
Ask your church if they’ll let you practice in their sanctuary. I did that for years (just don’t ever play in the cold. It will harm your wrists)
Myth: It takes a ton of lessons
This one really depends on the person, their learning style, their dreams, how far they want to go. People do, like me, take piano lessons for several years. I loved it! I didn’t want to stop, but we moved away.
The myth here is that it has to take years before you are able to play the piano. Most of my students can decently play songs in mere weeks. If all you are aiming for is to be able to join the worship team, then no, it won’t take years of lessons. At least, not when I teach.
If you’re worried about how long it will take to be able to play by ear, that may take years. But it doesn’t have to stop you from playing on the worship team. I have plenty of tips and tricks to show you how to get by without an ear for music.
When it comes to playing by ear, there’s no telling how long it will take before your brain figures it out. Even while you sleep, your subconscious is still working to solve this puzzle called “music.” You might be terrible at it for a while, then overnight suddenly be able to play by ear!
Myth: You have to start young
Yes, there are perks to being a child. While their brain is still developing, they can soak in everything like a sponge. The habits they learn will be deeply ingrained in them throughout their adult life.
But there was a limit to how much music I could understand when I was a kid. Now that my brain is pretty much developed (it doesn’t actually finish till you’re 25), I’ve found that I can understand music a lot better than I once did.
The structure, the logic, the patterns, the science of it just makes more sense. I never really mastered playing by ear until I became a young adult.
There are perks to being an adult, even an aged one. Both ages deserve respect. What I hate about this myth is the idea that the older you get, the less of life you’re able to enjoy. It’s like they say, “Whether you can or can’t, you’re right.”
I want everyone to see that there’s beauty in all ages. Beauty they can be proud of. Life isn’t about fitting into a cultural “norm.” It’s about being the best you that you can be!
Myth: My hands aren’t the right shape/size
There’s no such thing. There are many successful pianists with small hands. That didn’t stop them, so why let it stop you?
Like I said, life isn’t about a cultural “norm.” If you can’t play mainstream music whatsoever, then create your own style! It’s called “music theory” for a reason: It’s only a theory.
My childhood hero is a famous pianist who has been playing piano since he was 3, but he still failed music class in college. Why? He was born blind and started playing by ear (obviously), but learned the wrong fingerings. He retook it and learned the correct fingerings to pass, but went right back to his old habits. It doesn’t bother anyone a bit! Especially not him. Watch him play! It’s absolutely stunning!
Don’t treat your uniqueness as a burden.
Myth: You must learn to read notes (or you can’t really play piano)
There was a sweet young girl who loved the piano. She could learn anything thrown at her and loved to create her own masterpiece songs. I watched her fingers fly on the piano flawlessly. She had such a perfect ear and genius touch! I asked her how long she had taken lessons. She said “three years.” I asked her if she had learned all that in her lessons. To my surprise, her answer was, “No.”
She didn’t understand chords or chord sheets, but yet she could play in complicated keys all with just her imagination. She couldn’t even name what the black notes were! Her fingers danced over the black keys, even making delightful jazzy chords. The excitement on her face was priceless.
Then she played what she had learned in her “lessons.”
Eyes glued to a crinkled paper, she played a very childishly simple piece of sheet music. Two bars, two notes at a time. She had to stop to find the right “section” of the piano. Her face wasn’t lit up anymore.
And that was it.
Three. Stinking. Years.
I was so furious! So much talent wasted! She confessed that the teacher was also mean to her, telling her that she wasn’t smart, that she should stop “goofing off,” that she had no talent for the piano.
The worst part of it was, even though she had the ability to play on her Dad’s worship team, they were also convinced she couldn’t play any “real” music that “complex.” They believed the teacher.
The teacher (probably unintentionally) discouraged her from using her natural talent. This poor little girl was heartbroken, thinking that her playing around on the piano and creating those beautiful songs was worthless and didn’t count for anything.
The worst of it was that, in those three long years, she hardly even learned how to read sheet music either. She knew a bunch of random rules that didn’t have anything to do with… anything! It’s okay to teach a kid a few little tricks because, obviously, they have to start somewhere. But this was ridiculous! I could hardly teach her anything! I had to give up and explain why we’re not going to use any of those stupid rules. They’re in the way of you living your dreams.
Sadly, this is the story of almost everyone who has taken piano lessons. They go into piano lessons so excited and then leave with broken dreams. They think that the teacher has the final word, that learning to read music is the only way to play the piano.
She deserved better. You deserve better.
In my article, How to Finally Ditch Sheet Music, I explain the real difference between playing by chords, playing by ear, and playing by sheet music.
Now, all of those are extremely valuable. I highly recommend mastering all three if you can!
Reading sheet music does not allow your brain to engage WITH the music. You are simply repeating what you’re told like a robot. Robots cannot create music. Real music comes from deep within your soul. It is this skill that most traditional sheet-music teachers fail to teach. Many students, if they survive the rigorous training, grow up to be nothing more than bored robots.
Why don’t piano teachers teach how to really play music and instead just teach robotic mimicry?
The reason: it’s difficult. They would rather go the “easy” route and teach someone the straightforward rules of sheet music than to actually teach them how to play music. Either they’re lazy, greedy for money, or just don’t know how to teach it.
I do sacrifice money in order to teach people how to play music. The students learn so much faster and have more fun. Before I know it, they’re off into the sunset living their dreams. I love that smile on their face more than the money.
Which would you rather? To learn how to play and understand music is a matter of months, which you can then use to quickly master anything you put your mind to? Or years and years of just sheet music lessons that give you zero skills to learn how to play any other way?
I’m grateful for my classical piano teacher. She understood how to teach real music. While she did teach me how to read music, it was supplemented with many other musical skills, like playing by ear. That is the teacher you want to have!
Depending on what your dreams are, it may not take quitting your job to live in a basement full-time while repeating the same thing over and over for months. It might not break your bank or take 20 years to learn. It definitely will not require mastering sheet music first and foremost. There’s so much more to music than just that!
Let’s do this!
Did you find this helpful? Agree or Disagree? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below what you think.