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Teach Yourself Piano – How to Avoid Piano Lessons Using the 80-20 Principle

Teach Yourself Piano – How to Avoid Piano Lessons Using the 80-20 Principle

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 piano.

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 ineffective 80%, which means that past a certain level lessons become less and less useful.

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 piano.

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 impact.

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 necessary); 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.