Playing the piano was once a very popular pastime, with the player often becoming the focus of attention during neighborhood parties and especially talented players going on to enjoy prosperous music careers. While the piano isn’t exactly the centerpiece of any socialite’s home these days, knowing how to play music using a keyboard/piano is a great way to introduce music theory, impress that certain someone, and enjoy a creative hobby of expression through music.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood include a small organ that sad in my room that didn’t sound particularly great, but it did allow me the chance to learn more about music and sound. That passion later developed into a career in audio broadcasting, which is one of the core reasons for my being able to write this article, today. It’s funny how one small thing can lead to another.

Today, the Internet and portable computing devices such as the iPad have opened the doors once again for everyone to experience what it’s like to place fingers to keys and create music without having to spend large amounts of money on lessons and equipment. In this article, we’ll go over a few online solutions that allow you to enjoy the experience of learning how to play the piano when you don’t necessarily have one, already. We’ll also go over a few iPad apps that can expand the functionality of your iPad, allowing you to transform it into a portable music studio.

Online Lessons

There is no replacement that can really hold a candle to actually having a physical tutor by your side as you begin your journey in music. Proper hand position, finger movement, and placement is a critical lesson to learn, and it’s much easier to get that knowledge from someone first-hand than it is to get it online.

That said, a lot of people don’t have the time or money to take real lessons. Sometimes, you just need a little something extra to add to what your instructor teaches you. Either way, there are plenty of great resources online to help you learn more about music theory and how to properly play the piano. In addition, you might even walk away with the know-how to pick up a sheet of music and know exactly what it’s supposed to sound like when it’s played. Once you have that down, any instrument can be mastered much easier. Here are some online resources to help you on your way.

Zebra Keys
Zebra Keys is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn the fundamentals of piano playing, music theory, and even reading music. While the site may be a bit Flash heavy, the wide range of tools available to users more than makes up for any hesitation to use Flash on the part of the student. Playing the keys that go along with the various lessons can be done through a similar mapping on your keyboard. Essentially, the notes can be played on your computer’s keyboard in a way that is similar to the layout of piano keys.

Zebra Keys also makes various learning tools available including trainers for learning to read music, scales, chords, and more.

Piano Nanny
Piano Nanny is perhaps one of the oldest and most popular free piano tutoring systems on the Web. The class is available to anyone with a JavaScript enabled browser and QuickTime (for audio). It’s one of the older systems out there, but it is certainly worth considering if you’re new to the world of music.

Plern Piano
Plern Piano impressed me with its wide range of songs available for folks to learn. It’s a simple (and yes, older) site, but it can be very useful for players that just want to learn that one or two new songs without taking the gradual steps. Music is played via midi, and you can actually see the key timing and sheet music scroll as the song is played. This makes it a fairly good tool for learning both the notes and timing of a particular song, a step often difficult to relay through self-paced lessons.

One notable downside of Plern Piano is that it costs $10 for an upgraded account, though a lot of the features and songs are available for free simply by registering a username and password.

iPad Apps

The iPad is one of the best tools out there for learning and experiencing a multitude of different tools. Whether you’re reading a book, browsing your photo collection, playing a game, or putting together a song, there is a good chance there is an app (or several) that can get the job done.

Not everyone has a keyboard with them at all times. Being able to pull a virtual one up on something you can take with you almost everywhere is a great way to kill time between classes, while waiting for an appointment, or simply winding down after a long day. Here are some iPad apps that can help fill those gaps while allowing you the freedom to learn, play, and record the piano.

Virtuoso Piano Free 2 HD
Virtuoso Piano is a great family of apps (paid and free) for both the iPad and iPhone. With this fee app, you can play piano on your iPad no matter where you are. The piano sounds great, and you can use the app to learn notes while you play thanks to an overlay that labels each key. The free version includes the ability to play chords with up to five fingers, sliding, the ability to play along with your music library, and more. You can opt to upgrade to the paid app for adjustable reverb, metronome, and recording.

Piano Hero
How could we list popular iPad piano apps without mentioning Piano Hero? This app combines the fun of a game with the learning experience of mastering your favorite tracks. There are tons of songs to choose from, and you can earn points by getting them right. Want to take a shortcut? You can purchase points in-game for as little as $2.99. What you get for free is more than fun, though.

Piano Tutor for iPad
If you’re just getting started in the world of piano playing, this may be the app for you. At $2.99, it isn’t free, but it can get you closer to playing the songs you love on your own. Piano Tutor for iPad goes tackles learning in a way that few other apps come close to, giving you the ability to learn how to read music while mastering the art of the keys. Not a bad app for folks that don’t have a piano of their own.

Pro Keys
All right, so you’re more of an electric keyboard player than a piano player. Maybe you want to use the piano keys to create a drum track or perhaps even an entire song with an accompaniment of different instruments? With Pro Keys, you can do this and more. There’s a built-in vocal recorder so you can add your voice to the recordings you’re doing on the app. It’s a great way to make a quick audible note while you’re on the road of a song you’d like to master at the studio. Pro Keys is as close to a must-have app for musicians as they come.

Garage Band
Speaking of must-have apps, Garage Band for the iPad is the musician’s Swiss Army knife when it comes to creating something passable when no instruments are immediately available. Sure, the instruments may not have all the bells and whistles of the real thing, but Garage Band is a great go-between during travel. Want something to do during that long plane trip? Why not compose a song from start to finish between takeoff and landing?

Other Tips

To gain a better understanding of how we can put the Web to work for us while learning the art of playing the piano, we reached out to pianist Geoffrey Smith, a member of the LockerGnome community at large and a maker of custom ringtones including one regularly heard on Chris Pirillo’s live stream. In addition to some of the sites and resources mentioned previously, here are some of the tips he passed along.

“As far as learning piano without having a piano, I advise getting a MIDI keyboard with as many keys (preferably 88 since that is standard piano), but the more the better.” He continued, “The next key is to having access to lessons. While there is nothing better than having an actual piano instructor, I guess you could get some online courses or even some books.”

Geoffrey also recommended Sweetwater, an online musical instrument and pro audio equipment dealer, as a great place to pick up a decent keyboard for a good price. A quick search revealed some pretty highly-rated keyboards at very reasonable prices.

Leaning the piano is a great way to get introduced to the fundamentals of music theory. Learning how to read sheet music, and turn notes into rhythm is a great first step towards mastering the art of music. I personally paid more attention to drumming than my organ growing up, though in retrospect I wish I hadn’t. I’ve learned more useful information from just a few weeks of online piano lessons than I have in over ten years of playing the guitar using tablature and fooling around with attempting to recreate what my favorite bands sound like. Learning the piano teaches you a lot about how good music is made.

So, do you play the piano? What are your tips?