I have a question for you.

Have you (or your child) ever used YouTube to learn how to play a particular piece of music by ear or by watching patterns on the screen, and you have no previous skills at reading music?

How cool to learn quickly and easily to play a piece of music you love, right?

Well, yes… and no.


I’m the last person to squash fiddling around at the piano. I did heaps of it in my early teens. I was a bit fanatical in watching what another musician was doing before going home to try it out….when I was supposed to be practicing for some exam. Whoops, did I really say that?

So, given that I acted like that, why would I now be a bit cautious about encouraging someone who wants to learn a piece off YouTube visuals with no music reading needed?

As a music teacher I have seen hundreds of learners coming to learn a musical instrument (mostly piano) with a particular set of learning skills. I typically have a favourite way of getting someone started at the instrument.  I know this method can help me assess the kind of learner they are and what will work best for them. As I work through my course with them (Headstart Piano for beginners) I can adapt it depending on their age, their aural awareness, and make sure they are learning in their best learning space. The course is designed with all this in mind.

A challenge I face is from the child who has learned something quick and easy that sounds great but it is actually beyond their level of ability. What I mean is that they could not play something else of the same level because they have learned a skill by rote without understanding how it hangs together.

The reason it is a challenge for the music teacher is that the child perceives they are being taught baby stuff when taken back to basics. In point of fact the basics are crucial in learning to play the piano which includes learning to read music—a lifetime skill. In going back to the basics they understand how to process rhythm, beat and recognizing notes in written music.

My problem is that such a child comes expecting me to help them learn that cool stuff, assuming the quick and easy won’t involve much work on their part.


Learning the piano is not a video game! But if your child learns well with online material and you are keen to know more about my online course version of Headstart Piano!  Click here to be the first to know when it is available.

For those who really want to learn an instrument, it takes an element of commitment, regular practice and time: 3 things that are maybe not so popular in our instant coffee world!

Here’s the good bit. What I love to see is how when my pupils have learned skills at the piano (both reading and playing by ear) they can create more with what they know. They can also go and watch videos that help with what they are learning and enjoy the fun of that too. They are no longer limited to just the one song they have learned. It’s a bit like that saying:  “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

So Yes, it is cool to be able to play your favourite piece of music, even if it is the only thing you can play. But if you are shown how to read music properly from the start and develop those skills carefully with the right help, you will be able to enjoy so much more music throughout your life.


2 thoughts on “Learning the Piano is not a Video Game!

  1. I can imagine how difficult this is to work around when students come to you with these expectations! Something I often find as a singing teacher is that students will come with popular songs they really like from listening to the radio which are usually way beyond their technical ability and/or range. It isn’t often that songs on the radio are pitched for children’s voices (not to mention, a lot of the lyrics and themes are not so appropriate!).

    • Thanks so much for sharing this perspective Chuana. Yes I can also see the issue with lyrics being inappropriate for younger children too. It’s good to hear I’m not the only one who experiences the same issue. We don’t want to stifle the enthusiasm do we, but we have to gain a pupil’s trust so we can help them get to those favourite pieces one day. In the meantime there are a few things that need to be covered first. Another possibility is that a pupil starts on the basics needed, but alongside that, where possible, start learning small manageable chunks at a time of a bigger project. Not sure if that works for singing but is a possibility at an instrument. It would depend on the piece though. For example, if a pupil really wants to learn how to play Beethoven’s Fur Elise, they could play a simplified version of it to start with. I have an example of this in my Headstart Piano Book 1 that has proved to be quite popular. Along with it, I play the tutor part which is actually the left hand part that goes with the original melody. I have kept it all in the original key so that it can naturally extend to the original version as the learner advances.

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