How To Learn The Piano Or Improve Your Keyboard Skills From Home

April 21, 2020

When CPR Classical host Matt Weesner is not behind the microphone he's behind the piano. An accomplished jazz musician, Matt usually spends his spare time practicing music for his next gig. Now that he finds himself with extra time on his hands, he's focusing on the basics of piano playing technique.

Because in-person learning is not happening right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we collected a few free and paid resources to help you start playing piano from scratch or improve your skill level without leaving the house.

Video Learning

Kanopy is a video streaming service for desktop computers, TV and mobile devices. They offer access the Great Courses 36-episode series, How to Play the Piano. The series begins with basic rhythm and fingering, moves through chord progressions and arpeggios and covers advanced topics like Sonata form. It also comes with a supplemental PDF for working on your own.

Access to Kanopy is free through a Colorado public library or university. Sign up here. If you don't have a library card, check with your local library. Many are offering ecards right now and waiving residency requirements. Douglas County Library, for example, is providing self-registration cards and access to digital content without restriction.

Lynda.com (or LinkedIn Learning) is another service that offers a learning path called Play Piano and Keyboards. The 16 hours of instruction begin with correct posture and hand position, covers how to play a song and learn a new one, and ends with optional instruction on jazz improvisation.

Lynda.com can be accessed with many Colorado public library cards including Denver County, Douglas County, Arapahoe County and Jefferson County.

Book and eBook Learning

OverDrive is a collection of ebooks, audio books and video offered by most Colorado public libraries. Collections vary by library, but a quick search for "piano instruction" resulted in several options for beginning students.

If you don't have a local library card, Denver Public Library is currently offering eCards to all students and residents of Colorado.

Host Matt Weesner is using The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine and Essential Finger Exercises by Ernst von Dohnanyi, both appropriate for people who have some working knowledge of the piano.

For people who are absolute beginners, Alfred Music has been creating quality courses for teaching yourself (or a child) how to play piano since 1922. One of the most popular is Alfred's Basic Adult All-In-One Course for piano. Many of their books are available digitally and they have a collection of video courses as well.

John Thompson's Adult Piano Course was created specifically for the adult learner and provides the basics plus familiar classical, folk and originals. This course is available from multiple distributors including Hal Leonard, who offers PLAYBACK+, a multi-functional audio player that allows you to slow down audio without changing pitch and set loop points for practice.

Black and white photograph of Bela Bartok seated with his hands clasped in front of him.Public Domain
Béla Bartók in 1927

Perhaps one of the most fascinating piano book series is Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos. Six volumes of piano exercises increase in difficulty from beginner through advanced. The series helps the brain beef-up sight-reading, helps hands play independently, and encourages truly reading what's on the page, instead of learning by ear. By composing music that doesn't go to the "usual" spots, or always resolve diatonically, Bartok created a series that builds technical skills without relying on the ear. These skills then make it easier to work on more and more difficult pieces. Also, where beginning methods and melodies become trite to an adult learner, these unusual exercises are a breath of fresh air. Bartok began writing these exercises in 1926 to teach his 9-year-old son, Peter. Up until that point he only accepted advanced piano students.

Interactive Software and Apps

Piano Academy is an app for mobile devices that teaches the basics of piano playing and sheet music. It's free for the first seven days and a monthly subscription thereafter. The straightforward app uses either the device's microphone or an on-screen keyboard to evaluate progress.

Flowkey is a subscription-based app for desktop computers and mobile devices that uses your microphone or USB connection to evaluate progress. Certain Yamaha digital keyboards come with a free 3-month subscription to the service.


Already play the piano? How did you learn? What resources would you recommend? Send us an email to classicalrequests@cpr.org