This article is written by Virtual Piano Academy Founder + Head Teacher, Amy Jørgensen. August 2021.

Do you have what it takes to play piano?

We all want to know whether we have the “X” factor….that little something extra that will take us the extra mile. We all want to be good at something. To really excel. I've been contacted countless times by parents wanting to get piano lessons for their "talented" child. Turns out, the child is a complete beginner and knows nothing about the piano! So, what does it really take to be good at piano? Are you born with it? Is there a secret?

First up. Lots of people want to be able to play piano, but don't even try because they immediately find an excuse. "Oh, I'm too old for that". "I think I'm tone deaf". "I hated my piano teacher as a kid". "I don't have any talent for that".

So, are these excuses legitimate?

You’re not alone in coming up with excuses not to try something. We all do it. We can't fail at something if we don't do it in the first place, right?

But if you legitimately want to be able to play the piano, finding excuses not to learn is a much bigger failure. But you're here because you want to know if it's even worth your time investing in lessons in the first place, right? At the heart of it, you're worried you won't be any good at it. You're worried you won't have any talent. Well, let's unpack what essentials you actually need to be able to play piano.


1. TALENT

"Haha! I knew it! I knew it was all about talent! And that's my reason to exit this whole thing right now". I can hear you saying that loud and clear! But wait up. Hear me out.

Despite being told we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it (thank you Disney movies!), the brutal honest truth is that we often can’t. There’s just no way I will ever wake up one day and be Oprah Winfrey. There's no way I'll be able to play basketball like LeBron James. Sad, but true. So, guess I better quit before I start, right?

No matter what anyone tells you, talent does matter. But talent is a word we misinterpret. We might even use the word talent as an excuse to be lazy..."Oh, I couldn't do that, I don't have the talent for it". That's what you were just thinking before, right? All too often, talent is seen as something other people have. Something you either have or you don’t. Wrong.

It is true on one hand, that we’re all born with a certain amount of innate talent for things. However, talent is really just another way of describing a learned skill...a skill that you give lots of passion, hard work and determination to and get really good at!

As a kid, sure, I had some natural inclination towards music, but I wasn’t born a piano player. I took what natural abilities I had and worked really darn hard to build those skills and talents.

Most successful people have had to work really hard for their success. There’s a great saying I love that goes “Overnight success usually takes about 10 years”. Talent is really just skill, and skill can be acquired through stubborn determination, hard work and a leap of faith. You don't have to be LeBron in order to be able to play basketball well. You just need to have a passion for it, and do the rest of the things in this article 👇


WATCH 📺

Angela Lee Duckworth was teaching seventh grade when she noticed her highest performing students weren’t those who had the most natural talent; they were the students who had that extra something that motivated them to work harder than everyone else. Watch her fascinating TED talk below 👇



2. DISCIPLINE

Every morning when I was a kid, I would wake up at 4:45am to practice piano before school. It was freezing cold, dark and painful.

It’s painful for 2 minutes….then it’s awesome. I actually achieve sooo much in those few focused minutes and it makes me feel pretty smug for being up before anyone else has had the chance to find success before me! I wanted to learn to play, so I pushed myself to practice, even when I didn't want to.

I know I’m never going to have a six-pack without hitting the gym….and I know I can’t expect to play piano if I don’t work out my musical muscles!

If discipline is something you lack, it’s also something you need. Look, no one likes to do things they don't want. But let's be honest, Chris Hemsworth doesn't look that good from sitting on the couch! If you want to look that good, there's no other way, but to put in some effort. But hey, that effort turns into serious street cred, and you soon forget about the hours at the gym. You focus on the amazing results instead!

Discipline is the thing that takes a drop of talent and turns it into success. Another way of thinking about discipline (if that word feels too scary) is to think of it as a routine. Learning piano is about finding regular time to practice getting better! Build it into your day. Find a time that works for you. Morning. After work. During your lunch break. When the kids have gone to bed. Find what works for you!

PRACTICAL TASK 🏋️‍♀️

  • For the next 21 days, set your alarm 20 minutes earlier than normal.

  • Make a coffee and sit down at the piano for a short, focused practice session.

  • Do some simple exercises at the piano. We recommend a combination of scales, arpeggios, chromatic scales, chords and octaves.

Here is a practice routine recommendation:

* C, G, D, A and E major scales
* C, G, D, A and E major arpeggios
* C, G, D, A and E chromatic scales


- Play each of the above hands separately, and together.
- Play each of the above legato (smooth) as well as staccato (short and detached)
- Play each of the above as octaves

Play C, G, D, A and E major chords in all their positions (root, first and second inversions).

Play the above chords as block chords (all notes at once) and as broken chords (notes one at a time).

  • You don't have to do ALL these every day. I recommend picking one key (Eg: C major) and focusing on that for Monday. Tuesday can be G major and so on.

  • You’ll be truly surprised at how quickly you get better doing just 20 minutes every morning, 5 days a week for 21 days.

PRO TIP 💡

  • It’s easier to be disciplined for tasks that are less creative.

  • Doing 20 minutes of something methodical (like the exercises in the practical task above) first thing in the morning is better than trying to work on a really difficult section of a Mozart piece first thing in the morning.

  • As you maintain your routine and get better with the more methodical stuff, you’ll find you have the capacity to introduce more difficult tasks into your practice.

  • Before you know it, your 20 minutes a day has enabled you to learn 3 new pieces, your fingers feel stronger and you're actually looking forward to this time each morning!



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3. PERSEVERANCE

It’s easy to keep moving when the wind’s in your sails. But even the biggest tailwind will eventually blow itself out. When it does, something else needs to kick in.

There’s been plenty of times when I’ve lost steam, lost sight of my goals and dropped my game. We all do. Even superstars like LeBron. We’re human. Don’t beat yourself up for taking a break or for taking a step back for a while. This can actually be a good thing, and it’s all part of the creative process.

However, the difference between musicians who succeed and musicians who don’t is the ability to dust yourself off, get back up and not allow yourself to mope in the doldrums for too long.

Who cares if you’ve had a knockback. Who cares if you missed your practice for a whole week. Who cares if you gave a bad recital or got a poor grade in an exam. These things should motivate you….not defeat you.

Successful musicians have said endless things about perseverance. Some bold or funny, others wise or gentle. But all of them implore the same thing: keep going, keep going, keep going.


4. CONFIDENCE

It’s easy to forget that someone can do something brave and be terrified the whole time. Successful musicians do things despite feeling scared about them. Being confident doesn’t mean you’re rid of doubts or fears, it just means you listen less to the inner voice that says, “You can’t do this”. Fear is only as scary as you let it be.

I had a piano teacher once who said: “Make friends with your nerves, because they’re always going to be there”. You have a choice how you deal with your fears of failure, your uncertainties and your worries. Remember, most successful musicians have exactly the same fears as you. They just don’t let him in the front door when he knocks. If you hear that little voice saying "You're never going to be able to play this", or "Getting up 20 minutes earlier to practice is too hard" or "I'm not improving"...just remember why you started this journey, and that even LeBron misses 3-pointers! The difference between someone who gives up and someone who succeeds, is not letting these thoughts get in the way of your goal. Keep going, even if it feels small, hard and painful. It WILL pay off!


5. LIGHTNESS

Lightness is the hallmark of a true artist and my favourite trait on this list.

If I could hope for one thing to be more present in my life, it’s lightness. Don't lose your sense of fun. Don't take it all too seriously. Go easy on yourself and enjoy the journey. Music is meant to be enjoyed. Don’t be a tortured artist. It’s so last decade.

If you believe Oscar Wilde, all art is perfectly useless. It’s a good reminder when things start to feel heavy. Lots of my favourite successful musicians are also really light-hearted. None of them are uptight. None of them take themselves too seriously. Success tends to follow lightness.

Keep things in perspective and maintain your sense of fun. Allow yourself to explore and discover unexpected things as you go on your musical journey. Listen to different styles. Watch piano videos on YouTube. Open up your mind to new musical possibilities. Compose something of your own. Push yourself towards your curiosities. I used to get in trouble by my piano teacher for going off on a tangent and improvising in the middle of a Mozart Sonata. This lead to a career as a film composer! Enjoy these tangents, smirk at wrong notes, have fun and let music fill your life with colour.

So, after all that, do you have what it takes to play piano? Yup! You sure do!


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