Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong people, but I hear an awful lot of aimless wishful thinking (I Would Give Anything to…). The step from “I wish I could” to “I am!” is really very short. You don’t need more time, you don’t need perfect circumstances, you just need to decide.
Public schools have been cutting music and arts programs for decades, and it is very sad to grow up without learning to play a musical instrument. (Free hint to parents: you and your kids can do music and arts outside of school. It’s still allowed. For now.) It’s fun, it’s good for you, and you can always find people to play with. If you would rather be a hermit you can install an entire orchestra and recording studio on a computer, and spend your days in glorious solo audio production.
I played flute in school marching band, but after I got out of high school I stopped playing because I got pushed into playing the flute instead of what I really wanted, which was saxophone and French horn. Girls don’t play horns; they play flutes. Everything I ever wanted to do was things “girls don’t do”, which is child abuse and don’t do that to your kids.
All these years later I’m getting back into being a musician. I tried violin for a few years. Violin sounds awful when you’re learning and I couldn’t find a good teacher here in my tiny town, so I gave it up. Now I have an electronic piano, and that is one of my all-time smart decisions. Piano sounds good even when you don’t know what you’re doing, and you can get a good electronic keyboard for just a few hundred bucks with all kinds of extra goodies like auto-accompaniment, rhythm tracks, and bass, organ, strings, and other synthesizers. The idea is to have fun and look forward to playing; if you think of it as taking your medicine then it won’t be fun and it’s pointless.
One of the best features of an electronic piano is a headphone plugin. Then you can play any time of day or night, it focuses your concentration, and if you’re self-conscious no one else can hear you.
Playing Different Notes With Each Hand
The biggest hurdle to a noob pianist is training your hands to work independently. Our hands are like puppies; they want to do everything together the same way. This can be frustrating when you start out, but don’t worry– you will learn. Be patient and take it slowly. John Thompson’s Adult Preparatory Piano Book is my #1 choice for adult beginners. I don’t know if it is still in print, but you can easily find used copies. Do every lesson in order, and read all of the text because it is full of wisdom. Such as:
“Never play anything faster than it can be played correctly. Each time a mistake is made, some of the previous practice is undone.”
The trick to learning to play with both hands is to practice one hand at a time; learn your left hand part, learn your right hand part. Then try them together, as slowly as it takes to get it right. Take baby steps! You’ll learn faster than if you get impatient and try to rush it.
My practice sessions have three parts: review, drill, and new songs. I start out by playing songs I have already learned. Build yourself a little repertoire of simple songs. It doesn’t matter if they’re very simple; what matters is being able to sit down and play them easily. This is the best warmup because it is fun and motivating. It’s also essential to reinforcing what you have already learned.
Then I do the drills in my Thompson book, and I also do Hanon drills. I’m only up to the #3 Hanon, but that’s fine. The Hanon drills are wonderful for building strength and dexterity in all of your fingers, especially your 4th and 5th fingers.
Then I pick two new songs to learn and work on them. If you’re learning or re-learning how to read music, the Thompson book has clapping and reciting exercises which will bring you up to speed quickly.
Get a Teacher
The world is full of accomplished musicians who give lessons, and having a teacher has three benefits: because you’re accountable to a teacher you’ll be more disciplined about practicing, you’ll learn faster, and it’s more fun having someone to play with. Find a fun positive teacher; the classic stereotype of the demanding grumpy maestro is silly and it doesn’t work.
It has taken me about three months to learn a dozen simple two-handed songs, and to become reasonably proficient at reading music again. Your mileage, of course, will vary. I still have to work hard at learning a new song and getting both hands to work independently, but it’s easier with every new song, and I figure in another three months I’ll be able to spend more time on intonation and style, and less time on just learning the notes.