Is it possible to learn to play piano without a teacher?

January 12, 2021

Adult Music Lessons - Adult Piano Lessons - Music Lesson Goals - Music Lessons in NYC - Online Music Lessons - Piano Lessons NYC

Relying on the Internet, digital technology, and emerging AI is an exponentially growing part of our daily lives. When it comes to learning a musical instrument, a valid question stands out: is it possible to learn to play piano without a teacher?

The idea of mastering playing a musical instrument by learning online from YouTube videos, apps, or other digital sources is very appealing for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps you are asking this question because you want to save money, or you feel like you will be able to go more at your own pace.

The idea of a self-taught musician is a really intriguing one: a raw talent that defies the “boring” academic structures and achieves fame without anyone else’s help. When we watch popular TV shows, some competing singers often proudly announce that they are “self-taught,” implying that they are 100% self made. 

The same somewhat romantic idea exists when we talk about the musicians from the past. Look at Art Tatum: many would say he was completely self-taught. He is arguably one of the most famous jazz pianists who ever lived!

If you actually dig into the biographies of the famous “self taught” musicians from the past or present, you will discover that in more than 9 out of 10 cases, they only started by teaching themselves and then proceeded with formal lessons. Even in the most famous case of Art Tatum, after teaching himself as a boy, he did take formal music lessons at the Toledo School of Music.

“Self taught” musicians might not have attended traditional music schools or received music degrees in college, but at the very least they took lessons from those who could explain and show the technique and the sound of the instrument. Another thing to keep in mind is  that those who we can more or less call “self taught” are often music geniuses who made it not because of a lack of music education;  they made it DESPITE that lack of formal education.

Focusing back on the world of today, with all the information at the tip of our fingers, is it worth it to learn to play piano without a teacher?

Things you CAN do without a piano teacher:

  • Study basic music theory. the basics of simple note reading, what the notes are called, simple music rhythms, and the markings for the dynamics, tempi and articulation.
  • Educate yourself about various styles of music through listening. The listening experience is a huge part of learning music. This will allow you to build your own music preferences. You need to know what music you really love and there is a lot to choose from!
  • Buy a musical instrument

Not so fast! You miss out on important things when you learn piano without a teacher:

  • Practice good technique. Without a music teacher, playing the piano or any other instrument will remain awkward, strenuous, and might even injure your hands over time. You need a teacher to correct your hand and body position to make it feel comfortable.
  • Knowing how to efficiently produce a good sound. Properly learning a musical instrument requires consistent feedback from another human on how not to sound harsh, weak, or unbalanced. When you learn piano without a piano teacher, you miss out on constructive criticism, which is important for all musicians to experience!
  • Gain a deeper understanding of music. You simply cannot learn how to deal with anything remotely complicated when it comes to textures, rhythms, or dynamics without an experienced music teacher. Trust us, most people who try to teach themselves get stuck on the first mildly challenging piece and eventually give up.

Playing any musical instrument is mentally and physiologically one of the most complex activities in the world. Trying to tackle this all on your own is not the wisest use of your time. For any instrument, musicians spent 50-400 years figuring out how to play it.  We say 400 years because every teacher passes on the experience and knowledge from their teachers and the teachers before them. Why not rely on the knowledge that is already there for you through the professionals instead of winging it on your own or using an app?

There is also a dangerous side of passive (non-teacher) digital learning. As companies try to make their online products more attractive and sell-able they often create the models that have nothing to do with how you technically play musical instruments. One example is the sort of music video games where the “student” needs to hit the right key at the right time on the moving timeline on the screen. Think like the Guitar Hero video game, if anyone remembers. Please believe us when we tell you that this is the worst thing you can do to yourself if you want to actually play music. This particular method creates stress, tension, and generally goes against how professional musicians read and play music.

Our advice? Don’t learn to play piano without a teacher! Invest in piano lessons and save yourself months and years of frustration – bringing joy instead!


To sign up for music lessons in NYC or to contact us with any questions using the form at the link below:

(212) 247-4900
Riverside Music Studios - Midtown
1727 Broadway, Suite 2
New York, New York 10019

Now Open!
Riverside Music Studios - Downtown
160 Broadway, Suite 900EB
New York, New York 10038