My Recordings

A Cruel Angel's Thesis (残酷な天使のテーゼ) from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Recorded in 2020.

2nd movement of Piano Sonata No. 8 (Sonata Pathétique), by Ludwig van Beethoven. Recorded in 2017.

Can adult learn piano?

I learned to type on a computer keyboard with 104 keys, why can't I learn to play on a piano with 88 keys? This was my thought when I decided to learn piano in 2016, when I did not even know how to read music scores. I was totally naive and ignorant about the real challenges, but I'm glad that I did not back off.

The short answers is "yes". There are many successful stories online and many posts comparing the advantages and disadvantages between adult and young learner. So I will not repeat them here. An interesting analogy is swimming: swimming and professional competitive swimming are totally different things. The latter requires tedious training to precisely control your muscles to achieve the best possible performance. So starting young gives you a huge advantage of much more training time, among other things. But if you just like swimming, then it's never too late to learn.

So the most important thing is to make sure you enjoy the process.

Resources and tools for learning piano

Here are some tips that I found useful during my own learning process. Please use your own judgement.

Piano » An acoustic piano is the best. If you don't have access to one, a digital piano will also work. But a keyboard or MIDI Controller might not.

  • MIDI controller (e.g. Akai LPK25): usually portable and un-weighted. You need to connect them to other device such as a computer to make sound. They are commonly used in composing or digital music creation instead of performance.
  • Keyboards: usually un-weighted or semi-weighted. They are very versatile instruments, but different from pianos in many ways.
  • Digital pianos: usually weighted, meaning that they try to mimic the feel of playing on acoustic pianos. Although there is still a big gap in the simulation, digital pianos are generally cheaper and allows you to practice with a headphone. There are also hybrid models (e.g. Yamaha N2 AvantGrand) that use real piano key mechanics.

Teacher » Learning by following online tutorials or even apps is possible. But having a teacher makes it way more efficient. Teachers helps identifying problems in your performance and ways to improve it. It will take much longer time to figure them out by yourself without direct feedback. Most of my 45-minute lessons are me playing homework exercises and the teacher giving me feedbacks. It is hard to quantify what exactly have I learned each lesson. But my own progress lagged a lot when I'm not learning with a teacher.

Music scores » One of the advantages of learning about classical music is the availability of scores, most of which are freely available on IMSLP.

Recording » It is important to record your own performance and listen to it regularly. Most smartphones nowadays can record audio tracks. The sound quality is not the best, but enough for casual recording. For a higher quality recording, if you are using a digital piano, you can record as MIDI. Otherwise, a portable e multitrack recorder such as Zoom H4N PRO or a USB microphone connected to your computer / phone should work.

Softwares and other resources

Learning apps » I had used an app called Yousician that could listen to your performance and tell you which note you played wrong, too early or too late. It also has integrated courses that teaches you the basics in a progressive way. The achievement system and interactive interface could be fun to play with. I would like to see more innovations in this direction, but right now there is only a limited number of things it could do. The fact is that there is a huge gap between "pressing the right key" and "playing piano" that the app cannot help with.

Interactive scores » SyncScore is a set of apps that displays the synchronize a recorded performance with an indicator marking the current segment of music on the score. Amphio also created two very high quality apps, one is for Beethoven's 9th Symphony and the other is for The Liszt Sonata. The app shows and visualizes scores, live performances and analysis of the musical structures. Highly recommended.

There are also other more interactive apps. For example, in addition to play the built-in audio at various speed with synchronized music scores, Tido Music can recognize your own performance and sync the score in real time. Tomplay is an app that you can turn on and off different audio tracks and play with it, which is useful for people who needs to practice performing with an orchestra. Although for Piano solo pieces, there is no separate sound tracks between the left hand and right hand.

Sight reading » Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer is an iOS app for practicing sight reading for rhythms. Another app for practicing your sense of rhythm in general is Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, which I find very difficult. I use an iPhone app called Notes by Ryan Newsome to practice recognizing single notes in my early learning days. Read Ahead is a terrific idea implemented with a crappy app. It includes a curriculum of sight reading exercises. When you start practicing, the music will start disappearing bar by bar, forcing you to learn to look ahead of what you are currently playing.

Music theory related » musictheory.net and lightnote.co are two good websites for learning about the basics of music theory. There is an iOS app called Tenuto that generate random music theory exercises. In the end, one cannot do much in music theory before memorizing and getting very familiar with the basic musical structures. Two good reference apps for chords and scales are Piano Chords and Scales and Piano Chords, Scales Companion.