Learning the Piano

Updated 28-Jun-2024

Learning Piano app (Simply Piano)

My seven year old started to learn the piano at age 6, at first it was messing around with an app (Simply Piano), though he committed to 15 minutes per day. We did that for about six months, but using an app has many drawbacks.

My children like this, but it is very limited in terms of instruction. And it is expensive. Nothing is ever mastered. Instead there is a smattering of partial songs that are played over and over again. As far as we can tell, there is little progression, and only the slightest music theory. The gamification is what the children focus on, which impedes them from focusing on their own mastery of songs, and increasingly technical skills. Now I've got my children in weekly piano lessons taught locally, by professionals, using Alfred's Premier Piano Course books. Here is the Lesson 1B book and Performance 1B book.

Update 2024 - My seven year old is now eight and his younger brother is six. I'm starting the six year old on the introductory Alfred books, and dispensing with the app. I think we are making better progress than with the app.

MIDI Keyboard

We invested in a good midi keyboard, a Nektar 61-key (five octave) keyboard, the SE61. This cost 4,900 baht (around $150 USD) on Lazada. After that, a piano stool was needed, and a music stand that sits on a desktop. The keyboard lives under the desk on its own stand, and we pull that out, the stool, and a footrest, when it is time for the piano. All of the accessories bought on Lazada.

Free Piano MIDI VSTi

The software we run (on a Windows 10 intel NUC 7) is the excellent FreePiano which is a free and open source project. It can load VSTs and includes the mdapiano VSTi. From there it is only a matter of plugging in the Nektar via USB and starting the FreePiano application.

Metronome Online

We uses Metronome Online which is a free app that auto starts and stops when playing, and records how many minutes were spent in the app, which helps track practice time. Now we use a free Android app called *Natural Metronome".


For sheet music, the multifunctional MuseScore is a good source and we subscribed to a Pro version, on sale for $39/year. It gives access to a huge selection of music that can be printed from PDF or imported into MuseScore which allows various kinds of manipulation as well as playing directly. See more on how to install and use MuseScore.

Note: I've found this not worth the price, as I usually find scores online from free sites, rather than inside the paid MuseScore. I've discontinued our subscription.

Piano Lessons and Lesson Books

The only way we started dramatic improvements was to shift to actual weekly piano lessons with an instructor in our community, and using well designed books combining lessons, theory and performance (Alfred's Premier Piano Course).

Update 2024: We've discontinued lessons for the past six months, and instead are continuing self-learning at home. This has lessened the time and financial committments, while not dropping piano altogether. It still requires a bit of time for their father to monitor and guide the practice, but that was already the case.

House rules for piano practice

  • No banging
  • Follow metronome
  • Start slow, always accurate
  • Read music, don't look at hands
  • When reading new music, figure out which notes, and which fingers, then add timing and phrasing
  • Daily practice, try for 20-30 minutes of sustained practice

Additional online resources

  • There are excellent PDF handouts available on Opus Music Worksheets.
  • This video talks about five pointers for beginning piano students:
    • Learn and focus on chords
    • Absolute accuracy rule (AAR), meaning you hit the notes, regardless of timing, then add speed and phrasing.
    • Use a metronome and learn the rhythm (tapping on shoulder of the student helps them)
    • Focus on sight reading, so that later can more quickly learn new pieces (and advanced pieces)
    • Learn to take piano practice seriously, and also learn to have fun