25 February 2022
By Ellie Palmer
Using a variety of online self-teaching resources, Joel Snape filmed himself learning all the basics of piano playing. The subsequent video went viral on YouTube and has encouraged countless others to take up the same challenge
If you're looking for inspiration to start learning the piano, perhaps this story will provide the perfect motivation!
Beginner pianist Joel Snape, using online resources and books, taught himself the basics of piano playing within one calendar year. Approximately 350-400 hours of practice are featured in his progress video, which has since amassed almost half a million views on YouTube.
The video shows a number of different clips of him learning famous pieces such as Für Elise, When The Saints, The Entertainer and others. Alongside learning these pieces, he worked on a variety of aspects of basic piano theory as often as possible. "I practised scales pretty much every day that I sat at the piano for at least the first eight months, and added in arpeggios and chord inversions after that."
Joel, who had no musical experience before he took on this challenge, told us that the piano was something he has always thought about tackling. "I find it fascinating that it's an instrument that can play so many different moods and styles of music," he explains. "I love Chopin's Nocturnes, Scott Joplin's ragtime numbers and Alfred Ammon's Boogie Woogie Stomp, and eventually I'd like to learn them all. I finally started learning because I was looking after my dad while he was seriously ill - he had a keyboard and I wanted something to take my mind off everything else that was going on."
He chose not to acquire the help of a piano teacher, instead turning to online resources and books. "I used Andrew Furmacszyk's popular YouTube channel to get my head around the basics of theory and learn how to do scales and arpeggios, and Jane's Piano for fingering. Jane has played through dozens of popular pieces with correct fingering at speeds slow enough to really pick apart, and it's incredibly helpful on stuff like trills or ornamentations, where you'd otherwise be slowing down other videos to work out what's going on."
He also credits Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course as another big help in his learning journey.
Having a piano teacher vs teaching yourself has been a debate in the piano community for years. "[I chose the] self-teaching route, mainly because my life's so busy that getting to a teacher is tricky," he explains. "Since everyone's shifted online during Covid, I've been thinking more and more about getting a teacher though. I'm sure there are some things, like dynamics or relaxing when I play fast scales, that would really benefit from expert help."
The hardest part of the learning process, he says, was playing hands together.
"[It's] a huge mental leap, and there are times when you just think you'll never be able to do it. I still get it on tricky parts as I learn more advanced pieces, but the first months are the hardest because there are times where you're genuinely not sure if your brain is able to make those connections, and you think you're not going to be able to do it. I get a lot of commenters on my YouTube videos saying they find it impossible, and I tell them all the same: slow it down, you'll get it."
Since going viral on YouTube with the first year of his learning journey, Joel has since posted Year 2 of the process.
Was the second year of learning harder?
"Loads easier! There's a lot of grinding in the first year, when you're working hard but you can't play anything that sounds really good – you're still doing broken chord versions of When The Saints or whatever. By my second year I was up to the point of being able to make reasonably fast progress in pieces that I really enjoyed playing, like John Williams' Jurassic Park suite or Married Life from Up, and it was much more fun."
He has no plans to settle for what he's learnt so far – Year 3 of his progress is already in the works!
Feel inspired by this story? Come along to our online piano masterclass: How to Return to the Piano as an Adult. Pianist Alisdair Hogarth will give practical advice on piano fitness, looking at how to develop flexibility and strength through a concise technical exercise regime.