I learned to play the piano without a piano substitutes are everywhere

I was 11 years old when I asked my mum for piano lessons, in 2010. We were in the fallout of the recession and she’d recently been made redundant. She said a polite “no”.

That didn’t deter me. I Googled the dimensions of a keyboard, drew the keys on to a piece of paper and stuck it on my desk. I would click notes on an online keyboard and “play” them back on my paper one – keeping the sound they made on the computer in my head. After a while I could hear the notes in my head while pressing the keys on the paper. I spent six months playing scales and chord sequences without touching a real piano. Once my mum saw it wasn’t a fad, she borrowed some money from family and friends, and bought me 10 lessons.

I still remember the first one. I was struck by how organic the sound of the piano was, as I had become familiar with the artificial electronic sound. The teacher tried to explain where middle C was but I could already play all the major and minor scales, as well as tonic and dominant functions, and the circle of fifths.

Here is the full story by Andrew Garrido.  Via Ian Leslie.


Same thing works with a woman.


Yeah if you are playing the equivalent of chopsticks. But if you want to play a sonata in two movements with your tongue you need to practice on the real thing.

There's a kind of people that finds resources from nowhere, and then there's the kind of people that consistently finds excuses for their incompetence.

Libertarians are against informal personal loans? [Citation needed]

There is a specific word used "borrowed", it implies loan, not gift. So your troll is not just too obvious it is also too wrong. Sure, I am feeding you right now, but you could at least make it less obvious.

'There is a specific word used "borrowed", it implies loan, not gift.'

It certainly does imply that - but how many times have you turned down a relative wanting to 'borrow' money, when you know that they cannot pay it back? Particularly in a case such as this, where the money is going to a child, and regardless of how one defines borrowing, you are giving (see how easy that is to write) the money for the child.

Cannot say anything about the trolling, which seemed to have started with Bigot.

Those are unwarranted assumptions. That can be true, but not always. We are going way into the weeds here chasing prior's attempt to create an anti-libertarian point where none exist.

Yes, Libertarians have a well-known fear of the concept of credit and capital.

Today it would be even easier with all the free videos such as learning to play the piano via YouTube.

This reminds me of Bill Gates and Paul Allen developing the first Microsoft product, Altair BASIC, without access to the computer it was supposed to run on.


Nin Jin writes in comments "I've often been dubious about 'natural musical talent', believing that it's just practice from a young age that makes it possible".

He's even misspelled his own name, which is obviously Nit Wit.

I wouldn't go as far as that comment, but I do think "natural musical talent" is an overrated concept, and a large portion of it is input effort.

How about Mozart? Or, to go away from a truly exceptional case, how about any composer or singer? Instruments certainly require much effort and practice, but that is not the whole of natural musical talent.

Composing and singing are both largely learned skills, too. I say that as someone who attempts both.

I have learned how to make up songs, by spending countless hours sitting at the piano improvising, trying to write songs since middle school (early attempts were bizarre and terrible), as well as learning theory and spending lots of time listening to songs and then figuring out what they are doing. This is no different than any other learned skill.

Singing is largely learned--vocal control, etc. Yes, there are some physical constraints that affect your range and tone, and set limits. I could never be an opera tenor, just like a short person (well, also me) is unlikely to be an NBA star. But within these limits, it's effort that makes one into a good singer or basketball player.

I'm not saying that natural talent plays no role. Mozart clearly had huge natural talent. However, he also had a father who was an accomplished violinist and violin teacher. He looked on at the age of three while his older sister was being taught. He spent a lot of time playing clavier, and his father gave him lessons from 4. So, he put in many hours of effort, at an early age when the brain is able to learn rapidly. He was not a prodigy who never had to learn anything (though no doubt he learned far faster than the average person).


'Composing and singing are both largely learned skills'

Maybe composing is not the right word - how about creating songs? And sure, one can attempt to create music in any number of ways - yet some people seem to be able to do it fairly effortlessly, though nobody really starts from zero. After all, we have many songs that are still sung, though they were not composed in the sense that Mozart composed. Or songs which seem to be sui generis, to a fairly major extent - it is the imitators that make such songs seem deritative.

As for singing, sure there are aspects to be learned. However, those aspects tend to do with preserving one's voice and/or projecting.

I think this is a bit of a strawman argument. To be world class at pretty much any interesting human endeavor, both talent and practice are necessary and neither is sufficient. And in many cases, some good luck is often what pushes it over the top .......

pianos. As a highschooler, I am not old enough yet to vote for President, but I must say Mr. Trump's bizarre behaviour does not bode well dor America's future. I really feel worried. How can America succeed in allowing every citizen to develop its talents to the utmost when a crazy leader creates international mayhem by meddling in China's i ternational affair?! How would we feel if, say, Germany were funding and promoting Califorinian separatism?! I think Mr. Trump must go. Moreover, we should not forget the president's involvement with prostitutes. I really hope Congress has the moral fortitute to do right by America and the world.

It is great to see young Americans waking up to the farce American politics has become. Isn't it funny that Trump, who shrank from serving his country in Vietnam, is a hawk who antagonizes the Chinese and the Brazilian peoples? Maybe Trumps likes trade wars because he was too coward to fight a real one when he was expected to do so. Food for thought, folks.

You're taking me too far from my original programming!

I have no idea what you are talking about.

The counter is messed up - there are 10 comments, though 16 are noted on the front page.

However, there does seem to be a thread. Anything mentioning comments are disappearing is disappeared. The site maintenance should fix that problem, since it looks like some hacker is messing with this comment section.

He did not "learn to play the piano" at all. He gained a valuable head start on some of the concepts and made excellent use of his time. But in no way did he, nor can anyone, learn to "play the piano" without playing a piano.

Stop overselling things! It discredits you for gawdsake.

Well, this seems somewhat like learning to play, in a dry run sort of way - 'I would click notes on an online keyboard and “play” them back on my paper one.' I'm assuming he means combinations of keys - I know basically nothing about piano playing.

did you miss the part where he could, in fact, play the piano after practicing on his imaginary piano?

My elementary school offered piano lessons. You needed to have a piano at home. The poor kids didn't have pianos, they had electric keyboards. You could do it with an electric keyboard for a year or two, at which point you were heavily pressured by the teacher to buy a real piano because the electronic keyboards couldn't do the thing where the sound is harder or softer depending on how hard you pound the key.

One of the girls in my class was from a really poor family (single mother) and begged and begged her mom to buy her a piano so she could continue. Her mom eventually broke down and did. I hope she still plays the piano today, it seemed to be a major expense for their household.

It seems like old pianos are being given away or people are even paying to have them taken away nowadays. So not such an issue today. I must admit something about this story doesn’t sound right, you can buy cheap keyboards even ten years ago, he had a computer but not a keyboard?

Thank you, hun.

In graduate school I had a part-time job typing in a language and alphabet that I didn't know. Before applying for the job I made a cardboard keyboard for practice. It worked out well enough.

Before having children, though I would have found this article interesting, it likely would have been forgotten shortly after. But now I believe it remain in mind for long time to come. It is a great reminder of the influence we have, and don’t have, as parents.

*another change from having children - understanding for those who attempt air travel with theirs

This is a beautiful story. Many thanks, Tyler, for posting it.

In the movie, Running on Empty, the main character mostly learns and practices on a fake piano keyboard because he rarely has access to a real one. At the time I first saw the movie (over 30 years ago, now), I thought the idea was ridiculous, but with Youtube today, you can listen to a piece of music and follow along with the sheet music. It is only a small step from there with a fake board to work on a lot of the mechanics. Of course, at some point, to make further progress, you have to have the real thing.

This has a whiff of the old Malcolm Gladwell BS/exageration to it.

I think I am uniquely qualified to comment on this as I, as an adult, three and a half years ago, began piano lesson as a complete beginner. I could already read music on the treble clef, having played woodwinds since childhood, but I had never touched a piano and didn't know the bass clef.

1. I think his memories are clouded. I cannot remember learning the oboe at age 12. My piano teachers, when I ask them certain beginner questions, obviously are not responding from memories of their own early days, but only from experience with students they have taught.

2. The piano keyboard is three dimensional. Your fingers draw cues from the sensation of the cracks between keys and the positions of the black keys. Your fingers need to adjust three dimensional shape to get around the black keys without depressing them. In addition, the keys have a surface feel that can be slippery, so for the black keys the vector pressure needs to be straight down and not too hard. I do not think any of these skills could be acquired from a paper keyboard.

3. As a beginning pianist I was advised to record myself. This is because the reality of the sound waves that you are producing does is for some psychological reason not what you hear while playing. That is, you really suck in a lot of ways you are not paying attention to while playing. This kind of feedback is impossible on a paper keyboard.

I read the entire article at the Guardian, and there were several hints in it that were not in Tyler's excerpt that the fellow is not exactly claiming to have "learned the piano" from a paper keyboard.

1. He says that after starting lessons it took eight lessons to pass the ABRSM Grade One piano exam. As an American I had to research this. This exam is extremely simple, as is the lowest level exam for anything in such graded exam series (low level exams are real money makers for examination companies). You have to play three pieces. If you can read music, Google for some sample Grade One sheet music in Google Images. For instance, one piece consists of constant eigth notes in left hand and quarter notes in the right, with the notes different by one full scale note from note to note. Yes, you can do this after eight lessons if you are not a very young child.

2. He says that he learned scales from the paper keyboard. I think it is plausible that he got a head start on scales. Scales consist of three things: You have to know the position of the notes; you need to know the pattern of where the two half notes per octave go; and you need to know when your fingers cross over for each hand, per each key (scales are played as clumps of three and four notes, per octave, with finger crossover following a pattern). The first two things are more music theory than piano playing, and you can learn music theory from a book. As for the last, I doubt he had any proficiency in any scale but perhaps C, and maybe F and G. And he was probably very slow and inaccurate on the real piano at first.

I remember as a child I started to write programs without having a computer available. I even managed to have a friend copy it (from a paper) into his computer and it worked :) (it was about 50-lines long real-time game, so something rather non-trivial for a total beginner)

My high school Fortran class had us hand printing the code and sending it by school mail to the Los Angeles school district HQ, where the night staff keypunched it on Hollerith cards, ran it on their IBM 360 mainframe (3 times the computing power of an Apple Watch), printed the code listing and output on tractor paper, and returned it by intra-svhool mail. You had to be patient.

Comments for this post are closed