accomplished flutist learning to play piano : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I started playing piano in the fourth grade and flute in the fifth grade. I quit piano after only a few years but continued on with the flute. I am now 30 years old and teach flute lessons and very much regret that I ever gave up on the piano! I tried to start up again in high school, but it was so very frustrating! It's very, very, very hard to be such a good musician who is hardly able to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! It's hard to slow myself down. I'm embarrassed to take actual piano lessons because I don't want anyone to hear how awful I am! I don't understand how I can be so good at reading one line of music for flute and so horrible at reading more than one line to be able to play the piano.

Is it a possible for an already accomplished musician to teach themselves piano without giving up? I already know how to read music. I have the proper fingerings for scales, but I think they are impossible! (Again, I can play them in my sleep on my flute, but in front of the piano, you'd think I'd never heard of a scale!) Also, my beginner piano books clearly mark specifically which finger I should use. I'm scared of what will happen as I progress and the fingers are no longer marked. How will I know which finger to use? Help!

-- Kristen Brown (, November 02, 2004



I teach a lot of students in your position. What I have learned is that reading a single line instrument that requires combinations of fingers to produce one note (like any woodwind instrument does) is much different than reading at the piano where using more than one finger gets you several sounds simultaneously.

With flute reading, you learned one note and its corresponding finger combinations. With piano reading, you must learn intervallic relationships. One thing that has proven helpful is to work at sight singing with solfege, preferably moveable do, not fixed do.

Your beginning piano book is probably not the most helpful for the skills you want to acquire. I suggest that you look at Keyboard Musician by Frances Clark. It is an landmark/interval approach to reading and is designed for adults. I have had a great deal of success teaching instrumentalists to read at the piano with this book.

I also have a special way of teaching scale fingerings, but I can't really put it in here. If you email me privately, I would be happy to send you my scale chart.

And finally, don't be afraid of taking lessons. In fact, you might find a piano proficiency class to be right up your alley. Most of the students in the class would be doing exactly what you are doing. Most universities require their music majors to take such a course, so check around. You can probably do it pretty cheaply and would find friends to commiserate with.

Good luck!


-- Arlene Steffen (, November 02, 2004.

Hi Kristen, you sound like me!! I play the clarinet quite well and reached a dilemma 7 years ago. I decided to start learning the piano at the age of 32!! I thought that since I was a fluent player with the clarinet it would not have been taken me that long to learn the piano. Wrong!! However, it is still a wonderful experience to go to lessons and only recently I was intriduce to Chopin's nocturne...a challenge but worth it! So, I strongly encourage you to go to lesson. You need them. Besides, it helps you being empathetic to your adult students. I understand better how my adult clarinet students feel when they are faced with similar technical problems I experience when learning the piano. Although I am a busy induvudual with some adjustments I decdicate on average 1 hour of piano practice a day. Now I am at about grade 5 of ABRSM and my challenge is to see how far I can go...the sky might be the limit! Conatct me if you want to talk furter .. Sal

-- salvatore tomasino (, November 03, 2004.

Thanks to you both! It's nice to hear from others who understand. I float back and forth between "I can really do this" and "what was I thinking?" My goal is to be able to accompany my flute students, but I look at the music they are playing and think I must be crazy! My first goal is to be able to accompany my junior high school students. The piano parts are fairly simple for the younger players.

I have a friend who plays for our local philharmonic orchestra who has agreed to take me on. She doesn't know what she is getting herself into! Having played a treble clef instrument for so many years, my bass clef skills are quite poor! I don't think I read notes in the bass clef, but patterns instead. I think I need to pull out some flash cards and figure out the notes in the bass clef. I can get read the notes from middle C down one octave. Anything above or below that range, I have to count lines and spaces! That's so frustrating!

I think I'll give a go for a year and see what happens.

-- Kristen Brown (, November 03, 2004.

i admire your spunk for trying a new thing. ideas are such sentimental trappings for our reified and latent skills.

you and i are about the same age. i began studying piano when i was in first grade. i'm not bragging, though. i don't think i started to get anywhere until i finally quit taking lessons in high school.

i didn't start to become satisfied with my playing until i finally quit paying attention to my hands, or what key i was playing in.

my newer philosphy-theory (which has served me well), is that if you can exercise your brain(/spine) by enough auditory and somatic stimuli, then your analytical mind/subconscious will start to apply the music theory to the actions afterhand. kinda like fuzzy logic, or what is called successive approximation circuitry in audio analog- digital converters in electronics.

the faster your auditory reflexes get at hearing/isolating a tone, comparing it to the intended note, contemplating the error distance, and physically correcting the playing, the better you will get.

the way that i do this, is to avoid sheet music for a while and just play along with recordings that i enjoy. the recordings provide timing cues as well as pitch cues.

the nice thing is, if i hit a wrong note but it still sounds harmonious, i make a physical/mental note (memory) of the occurance and keep going. if i really need to, i pause or repeat the recording. even when i notice which notes sound harmonious, i'm not really thinking much about note names or scales or intervals, it's more a recollection of the feeling or sum data of the moments.

it's not important to perfectly remember each harmonic note, because there's always another one coming down the pike for as long as the playback is going on. it can be more relaxing this way as well.

one of the best ways to do this is to play in the dark by yourself.

obviously, this technique would seem to be terrible for learning sheet music. i understand this, but my emphasis is on the learning of the fluidity of playing and acquisition of nuances. you can still study the theory stuff, and even study the theory with books and conversations totally away from any musical instruments!

this is all really long-term learning, but the good new is that with your flute-playing/sight-reading skills, the technical and intellectual overlap is guaranteed to start combining with somatic/aural stuff later. you'll savor this kind of patience as it all comes together.

lastly, when i get frustrated with one instrument, i temporarily discard it and continue with another nearby instrument instantaneously. this probably helps strengthen the ideological connections between intervals on one instrument and intervals on another.

when i get tired of that, then i switch to something else entirely like cooking or poetry or painting or whatever. the nice thing is that if you can still be thinking about playing the piano while you do anything else. if you get really analytical about how your mind/taste/smell/actions allow you to cook, for example, it will tell you something about hearing tones/feeling keys/moving your hands & fingers.

i don't read recipes either. but i like cooking. i'm not a very good cook, and my kitschy kitchen habits are barbaric, but the experimentation has demystified cookbooks greatly. both music notation and cookbooks are merely elegant recording/mnemonic mediums keyed by a reliable/accurate clocking device and nimble handycraft. in both situations, merely slowing down can prevent a lot of mishaps.

hopefully this isn't just a myopic experience of mine, but something that you can build upon in your sophisticated experiences.

ok. i'm done. don't i sound nice and arrogant and self-righteous like an amateur wine taster? no? i should. but honestly, i think you'll accomplish your decent goals well in good time.

-- a former piano student (, November 16, 2004.

Dear Kristen,

I am glad to see that I am not alone. When I was in high school I studied percussion at Eastman and then continued my percussion studies at Ithaca. Howard Hansen was then the dean at Eastman and he insisted that all students, at least percussion students, take piano. It was probably to overcome the old feeling of "I have twenty five musicians and a drummer". I took it but only because I was forced into it. I really regret not studying piano harder. I play marimba and vibes but like you I have actually trained myself to only read the treble clef when playing from piano music. Now at almost 70 I have decided to actually learn to play piano correctly. I say correctly because I can play popular piano from lead sheets but I know that I am missing a lot by not reading. I also thought this would be a snap as I am proficient in reading both treble and bass clefs as timpany and some marimba is written in bass clef but putting the two together at the same time is a challenge. Then making your fingers do what your brain is telling them to do is also interesting. If I play a particularly difficult piece at church I have only to open my beginner's book and start to practice my piano to bring me back to earth. It can be a humbling experience. I volunteer at a local school and work with some beginning percussion students and my sojurn into learning the piano has given me much more empathy with them when they have trouble with a particular percussion part. Don't know if this helps but at least you know you are not alone.

Bob Wooley (

-- Robert Wooley (, December 14, 2004.

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