If you want to avoid having to pay for piano lessons, there is an effective
method which can save you both time and money. In essence it involves doing
the opposite of everyone else. I have used this principle to jump several
piano grades in a matter of months, on my own; I’m confident that you can
teach yourself piano using this concept.
One of the keys to doing this is to analyse what works and what doesn’t –
and adjust what you do accordingly. This is a common concept in business,
but I have rarely seen it applied to piano practice. Using it you can avoid
having pay a teacher. It is invaluable when you want to teach yourself
It’s called the 80-20 Rule.
Also known as Pareto’s Principle, this is a highly effective concept which
has helped me to eliminate most of the less effective parts of my piano
practice, and allowed me to learn pieces 10 times faster than my peers. I
was also able to cut out the teacher element, which acted as a bottleneck,
and began to teach myself.
The principle simply states that 80% of output comes from 20% of effort or
time (or 90-10, or 99-1; the exact ratio doesn’t matter, only the rough
concept). Applied to learning piano, we discover that 80% of progress made
is due to only 20% of effort. Therefore most of what people do when
practicing has a small impact compared to several very important things.
Unfortunately, often what a piano teacher does ends up in the inneffective
80%, which means that past a certain level lessons become less and less
The problem is, which 20% is most important?
Obviously when learning a piece, actually looking at the sheet music is
fundamental; if we don’t do this, we can’t learn the piece. Memorisation is
second; if we don’t memorise a piece, we can’t play it properly. So to begin
with, we must scan the piece and memorise it as fast as possible.
I do this by deconstructing the piece, using a pencil on the score. I mark
out all the different sections (look up different musical forms, such as
A-B-A and Sonata Form), count the number of bars, analyse the key changes,
work out any repeat sections, work out where the melody and harmonies are,
figure out any patterns in the piece (whether in the melody, harmony,
scales, arpeggios), and label all the different parts.
This is the best way to memorise a piece: by analysing it to death. Only by
doing this can you attain any high level of skill when you teach yourself
This activity is perhaps only 2% of what most people do during the entire
time they are learning a new piece, yet it accounts for a good 50% of the
end product. So it makes sense to maximise the effect of this by focusing
more time on it than usual, and by going as in-depth as possible. In order
to balance the time, we also need to eliminate things which have less
So, what can we eliminate?
Things which I had largely gotten rid of include: scales and arpeggios (at
least more than once or twice a week for more than half an hour – more than
this is overkill and not necesary); practicing easy bits (you don’t need to,
they’re already easy!); not getting carried away and practicing too much
(maximising post-practice improvement).
Remember, learning a piece to 95% proficiency only takes a few weeks at the
most, but learning a piece to 99% proficiency can take months, or even the
better part of a year. Stick with passable accuracy rather than invincible
technique; most audiences can’t tell the difference. Most teachers don’t
know this, but with this knowledge you’ve attained the first step to being
able to teach yourself piano.
About the Author
Sebastian Mitchell is the author of “Learn Piano More Quickly in 3 Hours or
Less”. He has been using unorthodox piano learning techniques for
2.5 years, winning competitions against much more experienced players.
Please note: This article is copyright and protected. You may publish this article on your website providing you leave the article “as is” and retain the author’s biography box. All contents Copyright © 2008-2020. All rights reserved. Graham Howard, author of The Digital Piano Bible (a buyer’s guide) and The Howard Score (piano rating system).
Now this worked very well. Often one can get frustrated when practicing a difficult piece.
However, by breaking it down this way, it made the practice session much easier and piece more digestible.
Top stuff! Thanks.