Hello, I’m Keith Jacobsen and this is the advice page on piano playing. Note that this page is specifically about piano playing, a complex activity involving brain, arms, hands and fingers, and sometimes feet, all in a coordinated way. It also and most importantly involves heart and soul.
My own relationship with the piano is longstanding. I started lessons when I was seven and played the piano for school orchestras and choirs. At university and later with work colleagues I played chamber music and accompanied many gifted solo singers and instrumentalists. After my retirement I took qualifications in piano performance and teaching.
The Barnet U3A piano playing group
I have been running the Barnet u3a piano playing group for some years now. There are five members including myself. We all have different levels of experience and expertise, which is what makes the group tick. We learn from each other. We meet weekly in my front room, where I have a modest Petrof grand piano. Members take it in turn to play a piece of their choice, after which we discuss and make constructive suggestions. We take our learning seriously but have a lot of fun on the way.
What if I am a complete beginner?
Some instruments can be learned very effectively from scratch in a group but I do not believe the piano can ever be one of them. If you are interested in starting to learn the piano you will need the services of a qualified teacher. How to find one? Word of mouth is always a good way. If you know someone already having lessons you can ask for a recommendation. Or you can consult the website of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, who keep a register of qualified private piano teachers for your area (link below). Before starting lessons make sure your prospective teacher is sympathetic to the idea of teaching an adult beginner. Most will be. I have successfully taught adult beginners myself. They will find your enthusiasm and commitment rewarding.
How can I re-engage with the piano after a long absence?
It can be challenging. Adult ‘returners’ tend to be self-conscious and self-critical. If they have not played for a long time or only on their own, then it does take courage to expose to others what they see as their faults and limitations. Even those who achieved a high standard of playing in their younger years may find that physical and/or mental problems later on have erected barriers they fear may be insuperable. I reflect on these issues and how the problems can be overcome - and, believe me, they usually can be overcome, especially in a supportive environment such as a U3A piano group - in a longer article about Piano Playing after retirement .
Advice I can offer
These are the main issues on which I can offer advice:
(1) Forming a group. This takes time and patience and above all enthusiasm. There may be plenty of members in your area with an interest but someone has to take the lead and get things started. You will need access to a well-maintained and regularly tuned piano, not necessarily a grand. If you can meet in a large room or hall you will be able to accommodate more members than we can in Barnet, but the larger the group the less individual time and attention for each member.
(2) Advice on repertoire. Whether or not you are in a group you may want to seek advice on what pieces and editions will suit the level you have reached and your own pianistic tastes and ambitions.
(3) Practice methods. I can advise on how best to achieve the sort of focused concentrated practice which guarantees progress.
(4) Technical problems. It may be possible for me to advise on these without seeing you play, if you can describe the problem accurately. It is very likely to be something I have already encountered.
(5) Problems of interpretation. These are often linked to technical problems and the two can be addressed together. Interpretation is always subjective to a degree. But players need to take into account the environment in which their chosen composers worked, the nature of the instruments for which they wrote, and the extent to which they made their own interpretative intentions clear in their scores.
Whatever your query, you can contact me Contact the subject adviser