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See The Top 4 Piano Playing Myths (A.K.A. Excuses) Busted

Myths and wives tales have been around since the dawn of time and while no one knows how they started, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Especially when it comes to playing the piano because often times, myths can prevent people from learning the piano.

Myths about piano playing can discourage beginners from starting to learn to play the piano. I’m going to dispel some of those myths in this post. Read along if you’ve ever been nervous about playing the piano or heard some of the following and want to know the truth…

Myth 1: You’ll never be a great pianist if you don’t have long fingers or large hands.

 

I cannot tell you the number of times someone has walked up to me after a workshop with an open palm wanting me to do a “size test” with my hand against theirs.

 They are sure that their hands and fingers are sooo much smaller than mine and they will never be able to learn to play. Too funny! Invariably there is no meaningful difference. 

There have been, and always will be, GREAT piano players with little stubby “cocktail weiner” looking fingers (e.g. Elton John). Inversely, there are plenty of very “well endowed” long fingered piano players that are positively mediocre.  Now, can longer fingers come in handy in a few advanced situations? Sure. But believe me when I say it is not a prerequisite in any way to have larger than normal hands to be able to have a ton of fun playing piano for the rest of your life.

No more finger length anxiety please …  🙂

 

Myth 2: You can never learn to play the piano without being a good note reader.

I’ve found pretty empirically that it’s not the “hands on piano” part of teaching someone to play that ever stops them from succeeding (at least in traditional, classical lessons.) What stops everyone from progressing is the incredibly difficult job of trying to become a good piano notation reader. Even worse, no matter how long you continue to take lessons, that continues to be the “leash” that holds you back. 

sheet music on piano

 In classical piano, there is an unbreakable link between your reading ability and your playing ability. You can’t get to be a better player without a corresponding increase in your note reading skills. As I see it (and I know I’m an outlier compared to traditional teachers), the cart got before the horse somewhere along the line in classical music education. It seems reading piano music became a higher priority than actually playing the instrument! In my mind, music reading skills are nothing more than a means towards the end game of playing tunes you love, not the end in itself.

I (and I assume you too …) want to be known as a great piano player, not a great piano music reader. Do you ever go up to a piano player you’ve enjoyed listening to and say, “Boy, you were just reading up a storm tonight!” Of course not …

The way I deal with that in my teaching is, I truly believe, one of the main reasons for our fantastic success in getting people playing and having fun in such a short amount of time. By focusing exclusively on only non-classical piano styles, I am able to completely alleviate that “deal breaker” of a roadblock that is–needing to spend years trying to become a great notation reader.

You: “You mean I can play without becoming a great note reader?”
Me: “Yes”
You: “How? “

By letting me teach you to read the style of notation that is musically correct for non-classical genres of music, and is what professional musicians use when out playing gigs or working in recording sessions. It’s not any gimmick I invented like “play by numbers” or “play by color” or anything else hokey like that … It’s the way pro musicians have been learning tunes for years and years. It’s just that almost no traditional private teachers will teach you this way because it will not help you progress playing classical music, and they likely are not comfortable playing from Lead Sheets themselves.

Now in the interest of being fully transparent, if you ask me,”Scott, is there any notation reading we will need to learn?” I’ll say, “Yes, absolutely. There is a bare minimum amount of note reading I’ll need to teach you to read a Lead Sheet correctly.”

But, it is the same thing they get kids in band or choir doing in junior high within a few weeks. All I can say is … No one fails to learn to have fun playing piano using my instruction due to an issue with note reading. No one. It’s just not that big of a mountain to climb the way we do it …

Myth 3: You need to practice scales and études daily to become a good piano player.

 
Although the physical workout for your hands and the added “bench time” behind the piano certainly won’t hurt, daily “drills” are NOT required to get to a point of having a great time playing piano.
 
The trick as a beginning adult student is, rather than spend precious early time doing drills, to instead make sure you are playing tunes you really are into, and can sound good playing regardless of your potential lack (yet) of note-reading skills.
 
Stepping back and taking a view from 10,000 feet, I think there are two different routes you can take to learn how to play (particularly non-classical) piano. One way requires learning, practicing and memorizing hundreds of scales, chords, études, etc. out of context (taking months and months to accomplish) and only then learning how to use them in tunes.
 

The other way, which I feel is by far the superior way, is to learn chords and such through playing them in tunes. It’s kind of like on-the-job training. I have proven to myself through the people I have taught in this style, that learning, memorizing, and getting new chords “under hand” is greatly simplified when you learn them in the context of a tune that you are excited about.

Educationally speaking, we know that an enjoyable, multi-sensory, hands-on approach to learning anything is far better than a drill and practice approach! We need to apply this reality to piano playing. Have fun playing tunes while you’re learning to play the piano and you too will be successful!
 

Myth 4: It’s easier to learn to play piano as a child. As an adult, you’ve already “missed the boat.”

I just couldn’t possibly disagree more with this common myth. This isn’t like learning a foreign language, which in fact IS proven to be easier before your brain gets all hard and crusty like ours are now. Instead, it is very much a physical endeavor made easier by full sized hands (not necessarily big though … see Myth 1 above) that have had a lifetime of manipulating things.
Cute… but no competition against you in the piano realm!
In addition, I think that an adult’s grasp of why it is they want to learn (as opposed to “because Mom is making me…”) acts as a HUGE motivator lacking in child students.
Finally, a lifetime of listening to music that an adult has acquired and packed into their noggin goes a long way in subconsciously helping you as you learn new tunes (particularly in the non-classical genres I teach) because you already know what the heck the song is supposed to sound like! It’s not like you are going to be saying to yourself, “Boy, I am SO excited to play this tune that I’ve never heard in my life before!” Right?
Instead, you’ll be trying to learn a tune you’ve actually wanted to learn to play because you just love it, have heard it a thousand times throughout your life and it emotionally means something to you.
Well the very fact that you know the tune in your head already, and are super motivated to learn to play it makes all the difference in the world as far as giving an adult an advantage over a child student.
 
There you go … 4 Piano Myths that are just that. Myths.

Now go have some fun learning piano! 
40 Comments
  • Stan Dural
    Posted at 07:56h, 25 October Reply

    Thanks Scott, I am re-establishing myself to play piano .

  • Roland Domingo
    Posted at 10:34h, 25 October Reply

    I do not have an IPhone or Ipod, wish your online lessons are compatible with Amazon’s Kindle tablets.
    Your publications are truly encouraging, especially to me, a 75-year old man, whose regret in life is not to be able to play the piano. I have not given up though!

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 11:59h, 25 October Reply

      Check to see if you can play any videos on your Kindle from vimeo.com. If so, it will most likely work with our program as that is who we use on the back-end to deliver the streaming vids in the lesson environment. (There are some Kindles that work with our program, we just can’t keep up with them all …) Also, we have that 30 day money-back guarantee so if you do end up enrolling and for some reason things aren’t working, you’ll not risk anything.

    • Chip Creech
      Posted at 12:48h, 12 September Reply

      Check out the local welfare stores. I have seen pianos and the smaller
      key boards in them. great place to shop for many items in great shape

  • Tony
    Posted at 10:49h, 25 October Reply

    However some chords e.g. Sevenths and more require a largish ‘reach’? What do we do about those kids of hand stretching chords?

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:01h, 25 October Reply

      The answer is “inversions” and “voicings” Once you advance a little, you very seldom play those larger chords in root position which can sometimes be a stretch. We talk about all that ad infinitum in the Method as you progress through the Courses.

  • Larry Finke
    Posted at 11:40h, 25 October Reply

    I understand and like what you’re saying,l but as a teacher of children (grades 1-8) I feel the mental process of learning notes and learning to transfer the page to sound gives them a great brain workout.

    Your comments?

    (I am teaching a 6th grader to play using you chord method. She’s doing great, along with her note reading skills.)

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:16h, 25 October Reply

      Hi Larry,

      Couldn’t agree more re: the brain “calisthenics” comment for kids. I’ve always said that there is a TON of great things children get out of taking music lessons, most of which has nothing to do with music. From the brain workout you describe, to the seeming math advancement most students experience, to the needing to be accountable to someone other than their parents on a weekly basis, to understanding the “eating an elephant one bite at a time” necessity when tackling really large goals, etc. No question there is terrific stuff going on there.

      But I focus pretty exclusively on adult students, to whom this exercise has one end game: to have fun getting to experience the human joy that comes from being a music maker (as opposed to just a music listener/receiver). So I do everything in my power to get students there as quickly as possible, knowing that if I succeed I will have lit a fire under their rear end that will keep them going as they inevitably come across more difficult things as they strive to play better.

      All of the theory and technique and more advanced reading skills can come after someone gets to a point of loving to play. IMHO, if you do it in reverse order 95 out of 100 folks will bail because they are not having enough fun, and will get cheated out of ever having a chance to enjoy what all of us who play a little experience and love so much.

      I’ll get off my soapbox now … 🙂

      Tell your 6th grade student I said hi, and that I am super proud of her! Have her send me a vid or recording of something when she feels like sharing. I’d love to see it …

  • mike bondi
    Posted at 12:32h, 25 October Reply

    Hi Scott, I agree with most everything you have said about the 4 myths. I am an old guy over 70 yrs now, and play fake music from Alfred Pub. Co. fake music albums like, “JUST Standards REAL BOOK, etc.; “C” edition. The problem I have with fake music chords, is in playing the minor -11th chords, and the13th flated-9th. The 11th chords seem to be a pain for me, and the minor-11ths a double pain. I play these chords with the left hand only,. while the right hand plays the melody note/notes. Another problem I have with fake music is playing it too fast for someone that sings with me. When I play Hal Leonard’s “150 Easy Piano” songs music, I slow down because I am trying to play the right hand as it is written with my fake chords on the left hand. Reading the full right hand slows me down in playing the song. thanks mike, Please advise me if there is an easy ways for playing minor-11th chords on the left hand?

  • Stan Smith
    Posted at 13:47h, 25 October Reply

    Scott,
    Thanks for slaying these dragon myths. I needed them. I wanted to tell you my “The Way You Look Tonight” story. I have sorted through your books to find the Sinatra tunes to play and played that one so much at home the last few years that my Daughter picked that song for our Father-Daughter dance at her wedding recently. It helped overcome my clear deficit in rhythm because I knew that song so well. So a big shout out to you in returning my love for piano playing and even helping me get through my baby girl’s wedding.

    Hope you have a great week. Thanks for enriching the lives of others.
    Stan

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 13:48h, 25 October Reply

      Thrilled you are having fun! Thanks for sharing the story. It’s the best! (Tell your daughter congrats, BTW)

  • Kevin
    Posted at 13:53h, 25 October Reply

    After reading Myth #3, I wondered what is the specific routine of your practices. How should we practice? Is there some structure/organization to your practice sessions? Many times I’ve sat at the piano and don’t know where to start especially when I only have a free 10-20 minutes and need to start Now! Thanks for any suggestions!

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 15:35h, 25 October Reply

      I think one of the first things I would do is reframe my mind from using the term “practice” sessions, and shift it to “playing” sessions. I would let whatever it is that I am currently trying to play inform my decisions on what it was I was going to work on in the limited time I had available.

      For example, if the tune I was currently working on had chords that I did not yet know, I would clearly spend the time looking up and memorizing whatever chords I needed to know to get through the progression. Next, I would then spend as much time as needed making sure I was comfortable moving from chord to chord throughout the progression.

      If I had the chords pretty well down, but did not feel comfortable with the melody line yet, I would spend the time working on that.

      If I had both the chords and the melody line pretty well figured out but was unhappy with what I was doing stylistically (for example playing a Latin tune and wanting to sound more authentic with a bossa nova rhythm), I would probably dig into some of the “rub your head and pat your tummy” type of hand independence things to try to get the genre sounding authentic.

      See what I mean? As long as you are always cranking through some song or some style you are interested in, it should always be pretty straightforward to figure out what it is you need to work on next.

      Hope that helps… Scott

      • Kevin
        Posted at 09:28h, 27 October Reply

        Thanks never thought of practice as playing. Will give that a try. Thanks again.

  • Chuck Chapman
    Posted at 16:02h, 25 October Reply

    Do you have a list of popular “lead sheets” that we
    Can buy?

  • Timothy Donham
    Posted at 17:12h, 25 October Reply

    I started playing 6 years ago at age 66. I have almost all your DVDs. I have used a lot of your tips and tricks in much of my music now. I have committed many songs to memory, and yes at age 72. Anyone who sincerely wants to play is able to do so. Stop waiting and get started. By the way, I love the lead sheets without all that notation. Thank you Scott. Tim D. Houston, TX

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 09:50h, 26 October Reply

      Thanks for the nice testimonial Tim! 1) I appreciate it, and 2) I am SUPER happy (although not surprised) to hear of your piano playing prowess 🙂

  • Art
    Posted at 00:33h, 26 October Reply

    Scott, it is always encouraging to hear about the success of many people who want to learn to play the piano. Especially t those who are senior s. I am in that category but I also have a challenge with no vision. Meaning that it is difficult to see on a smart phone or tablet your programs. Having not seen then I assume this will be a challenge for me and others? We often hear about people who play by ear But not sure how we would learn?

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 10:21h, 26 October Reply

      Thanks for the comment, and it is an interesting challenge. Hmm…

      I am thinking that a great solution would be to get the video lessons that stream in our online method onto a much larger screen for viewing – like your TV. Although I am sure there are more, I can think of offhand a couple of options for getting my computer’s image onto my large screen TV like A) using an Apple TV which allows me to wirelessly project my Mac’s screen to the TV, or B) even easier, most TVs have an HDMI input these days, as do most computers have an HDMI output, so you could just plug a cable between your computer and the TV and use it as a giant monitor.

      That would solve the video image size, but you would also need to possibly enlarge the physical books that we work through in the Courses as well. I would guess you probably already have that figured out someway, maybe with a full page magnifier or something similar?

      I hope that might help as a thought starter, and Art, please do let us know if you get something worked out so I can share it with others. I hope you can find a solution!

      Regards,
      SH

  • Tom
    Posted at 01:30h, 26 October Reply

    As a child I was taught the classical way. I could play a few pieces but soon forgot them. You have opened a whole new world of piano playing in the later years of my life. Thank you so much.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 09:51h, 26 October Reply

      Couldn’t be happier to hear that Tom! Yeah!

  • Betty Dye
    Posted at 17:42h, 26 October Reply

    A few years ago, I travelled to Bettendorf, IA to study and take lessons with Deborah Story who taught your “Piano in a Flash” method. Outstanding teacher and method. However, she quit, and I have been unable to find a teacher in the Iowa City, Iowa area. Would you please give me names of your teachers in our area.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 18:00h, 28 October Reply

      That program we had doing the classes in stores is unfortunately no longer in existence. However, the method is the same as I use exclusively in our online method here at pianoinaflash.com. So, I would encourage you to jump in at whatever Course you left off. I’ll be your teacher, and you won’t have to travel to Bettendorf to see me. Ha! 🙂

      • Betty Dye
        Posted at 11:56h, 29 October Reply

        Thanks much. I will try to figure out where we left off and give this a try.

  • Mark T.
    Posted at 19:16h, 26 October Reply

    I’m a self taught guitar player. No music lessons at all. So I know nothing about measures or bars or whatever. Can I learn to play piano without any real musical background?

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 17:57h, 28 October Reply

      For fear of sounding like I am telling you what you want to hear … Absolutely. Positively. Yes.

      Most of my new students have no experience whatsoever and we start at the very beginning in Course 1. No prob…

  • Chris
    Posted at 01:09h, 27 October Reply

    While reading this article I had to explain to my wife, who is classically trained, why I was smiling. The answer is, everything in it is so true and pertinent to non-classical players like me. Your method has brought such joy to me since I can finally play the songs that are meaningful to me, and in my own way. A thousand thanks!

  • Muriel Kahsen
    Posted at 13:26h, 29 October Reply

    Hi Scott;
    I love your shows. I need a reference sheet or pamphlet that shows me the chords to play with e.g. 4 sharps or 2 flats, etc. I go to the nursing home near me and play for the Alzheimer patients. They are mostly sitting with their head down, but when they hear a familiar song, they sit up straighter and sometimes even sing the words. It is very satisfying.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 09:27h, 31 October Reply

      That’s the best! I need to ponder doing that myself at some nursing homes around here… What a nice thing.

      If you just mean chord charts for chords in all keys, if you have my original Play Piano In a Flash! book, all the chord charts are in the back of that book, too. Or finally, a quick tool to figure any chord out (which we sell a ton of) is the Chord Wand.

      Hopefully that will get you what you need…

      SH

  • emil
    Posted at 08:09h, 31 October Reply

    Hi
    Is there a course especially on Blues and Boogie Woogie? I started with your walking, boogie left hand and then the combination of left hand and right hand together with the G,C and D chords It’s gradually improving… Thanks for that!

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 12:33h, 03 November Reply

      In the online method here at pianoinaflash.com blues is a MAJOR part of of the curriculum throughout the entirety of the course. That is because blues (or at least the blues changes / chord progression) is such a foundational building block of almost all non-classical genres. Boogie woogie, a “subset” of the blues, is presented in Course 5 and then continues on into Course 6. Boogie is mechanically so challenging that is the reason it is not introduced earlier as most students simply don’t have the faculty to get it “under hand” until that point.

      Although it is a little “wonky” to see it like this out of the context / flow of the Course materials, here is a syllabus listing everything covered throughout the 6 Courses: http://3.136.150.220/syllabus

      Hope that helps!

  • Carolyn Kooles
    Posted at 10:35h, 15 June Reply

    Hi
    I am 72 and have always wanted to play the piano. As a youngster I could play the guitar by ear somewhat. I am struggling to convince myself I can do this and know nothing about what kind of piano to purchase. Help convince me please. 😗

    • Hannah Derleth
      Posted at 18:08h, 10 August Reply

      Oh, Carolyn! If you can already play the guitar, you’re off to SUCH a great start. The chords you played on the guitar and the chords you will play on the piano use the same ideas, you’re just able to play a melody line along with the chords on the piano! Anyone with past musical experiences already has a head start on learning the piano.

      Let us know how lessons go for you!

  • David Shaw
    Posted at 12:31h, 29 August Reply

    I am a past organ player. I used to be good but it has been many years. Could you help me get going again? Honestly don’t know what I may remember.

    • Hannah Derleth
      Posted at 09:57h, 31 August Reply

      Hi David!
      Unfortunately we only offer piano lessons at this time. However, if you’d like to try your hand at the piano, we would love to help get you started!
      — Hannah

  • Divine Ezekiel
    Posted at 15:25h, 18 September Reply

    I’m trying to get better in the key of F# and I’m also tired of playing boring chords

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