Welcome! Learn to play professional-sounding songs – fast!

Our Mission – what we really care about:

There are few greater joys than finding your own musical voice, letting loose upon the world even the smallest expression of what makes you unique. That’s what cheers us up the most. That’s what we’d like for everyone who joins our little adventure.

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THE SUDNOW METHOD - over 10,000 students worldwide

This is a major upgrade to the Sudnow Method web site – don’t be bashful about using the contact form or email to let me know what I missed.

You’ll need to purchase a renewal and register (which can be done as part purchase process) – your account won’t be activated on this site until you do.

Please review the membership options in the ‘store’ link to determine if you qualify as a ‘Previous  student renewal’ – or email me with specific questions and we’ll get you set up.

I know this is a bit of a pain but we have two motives here:

  1. To confirm who’s actively engaged in the Method and, selfishly, to save ourselves the hassle of dealing with a bunch of legacy issues.
  2. We hope you’re willing to spend a few bucks to help offset the costs of this rework – if you’ve struggled with the Method before, I think the new format will be a big help to you.

Thanks for your support – we hope you enjoy the new web site.

The old site will be active until the end of 2016 here.

“Have a ball with Dave’s great course.”

–Jimmy Rowles
(Accompanist to Billy Holiday, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald.)

Get started now!

“Given half an hour of your time and spirit and a quiet room, I could teach any of you how to play the piano – everything there is to know about playing the piano can be taught in half an hour. I’m convinced of it.”    -Glenn Gould

There’s not a music education program in the world for teaching adults to play songs on the piano that competes. Two decades of studies on over 25,000 students prove that no program will have you playing songs well in as short a time.

The Sudnow Method is a recorded seminar broken up into three basic lessons that you can access via your own private student account page. There are over 3 hours of recorded material and countless pages of supplemental resources – all available via any device capable of accessing the Internet.

You work through the recorded seminar at your own pace, to get yourself oriented (you can revisit lessons at any time). Then you go right to the piano to use a program that’s laid out in perfectly clear detail. Follow it for a careful half-hour a day and you’ll be amazing your friends in just months.

You start on a full blown adult version of a song (Erroll Garner’s ‘Misty’), notated in an easy-to-follow way – you do not have to read music. And you gain all your skill in the context of the kind of music you want to play, instead of working on certain drills just because tradition says they might help. By tackling adult arrangements, the music you want to learn shows you how to play it.

And in the clearest terms you’ll find anywhere, you’ll know what you need to: about melodies, scales, chords, voicing, harmony, the development of good technique, and the ingredients of rapid adult learning.

David Sudnow earned his PhD at Berkeley. In 1978, Harvard University published his classic study of keyboard learning, Ways of the Hand (a new edition was published by MIT in 2001). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is the author of four books.

On a 1981 flight from NY to SF, he sat next to an architect from Stanford. The guy spoke of a lifelong frustration with learning music. In the time it took to fly from over the the Mississippi to San Francisco, on a few paper napkins Sudnow laid out a full method the guy could use, starting from scratch, to learn to play songs well.

Three months later Sudnow got a letter that changed his life. The architect bought a new piano, was now playing some songs well, and was drawing up plans to convert his garage into a music studio.

Knowing a short course was needed, Sudnow started meeting groups at his home. In several years he had a large studio in NY. The course went through changes: a big teaching workshop in Texas, over 100 weekend seminars taught in most major US cities, and lots of feedback from many students of the recorded seminar who came from three NBC Today Show appearances.

To this day, the program contains the same basic insight that led to its first success: a very complete, short recorded seminar, with good illustrations, very clear talk, and a jump straight into the deep water approach especially suited to the adult amateur. Over 25,000 students later, Sudnow would do it no other way.

Below is a collection of three essays from David Sudnow, probably from  around 1999, that prefaced his CD-based course of that period (with a couple minor edits to align with the current seminar delivery)  -dmh

The Broken Piano Lesson

Don’t feel bad if you had piano lessons and can’t play. Forty million living Americans had keyboard instruction and no longer touch the instrument, most likely the biggest educational fiasco in history. Worldwide figures are probably staggering.

The reason? Of course there’s a big decline in household sociability, gathering around a piano, say. Ever since radio, TV, the Internet. Some grieve the loss. These are powerful trends. But we’ve been long rendered resource-less against the commercialized shaping of leisure time. Pianos are a noteworthy example. Had lessons been good, had we really seen to that, as we most certainly can, many more would play. Everywhere there’d be yet another alternative to Channel Four: Homemade Music.

We should’ve better respected Art  if it set us off from other creatures. Yet we’ve devised an economy that makes no room for aesthetic educations that stick. One must consume, work to gain leisure time that’s then spent consuming, watching TV, surfing the Net, so on. Just sitting around and playing piano, making rather than buying music? Bad for business. Obviously we can’t teach music well or pay players decently. Happy musicians prefer little else (a risk you might take). So too many pianists pose a definite hazard, which is why we’re kept in dank little holes in the ground. And, as you’d expect, piano lessons are preordained disasters, designed, in detail, to fail.

Disregard dusty apartments, horrors of one-on-oneness with a stranger at age seven, like at the doctor’s. Forget rulers, nasty nuns, barking dogs and halitosis. (Our culture has piano teacher tales like it’s got mother-in-law jokes). Piano lessons fail because of what’s taught, and how.

The teacher gets a referral. Thank goodness. Make the lessons last. There’s no great surplus of prospects. Use a slowly grade method, like the red John Thompson books.

John Thompson. The very words may nauseate millions. Organization Charts, Policy Manuals for a Quasi-Profession of Frustrated Pianists, Ethnographic Artifacts par excellence, reflecting as they help define a family’s typical evening.

Of course an official assumption is that each silly little piece provides a basis for the next, cultivating early phases of what will become more intricate classes of maneuvers.

In fact, the transfer from piece to piece or grade to grade is rarely substantial, if clear enough at all, to warrant the intolerable elongation of material common to all “graded” programs. At each new “level” (time for a next Gradebook) it seems you’re starting from the beginning. Bach feels as different from Chopin as Ping Pong does from Tennis. Because it is.

These serialized, graded, lesson inspired and intended pieces are so dreadfully slow they become unbearable and few stick it out with the likes of them for long. Teachers thus have frequently reconstituted clienteles. Naturally, piano store owners don’t complains. Teachers make brand/dealer referrals to patents, and piano stores pay teachers a sales commission, often quietly. Teacher to Sell ­ – recently our leading pianomaker’s slogan. To grasp the full context for the massively failed lesson one must appreciate its role in a strategy the piano industry devised for selling our third costliest item, after house and car: lessons lasting long enough to make a sale; an age-graded scheduling of when it’s legitimately decided that they ought to start; a small number of teachers; replenishment of new buyers with a regulated dropout.

So we’re all stuck with pianos just sitting there far out of tune, covered with lamps, doilies and pictures of servicemen. Ten million abandoned Chevys.

You get graded method books. Then there’s the lesson itself. So much time is filled filling the hour, much of what’s done right or wrong and why as obvious to you as to teacher, nearly all of what officially goes on more ritualistic than necessary. There are unconcealed glances at the watch , and completely commonsensical “wisdom” routinely passes as Expert Advice: “Start over from the beginning.” “This time go slower.” “Put just a touch more feeling into those last three chords.”

Bless their hearts, sharing a major occupational hazard with psychiatrists – “How to stay awake through the hour?” These kids study their childhoods away, sticking it out despite the system, by age ten having more or less given up everything for the piano. The youngest career choice possible alongside gymnastics, only to find, ten years later, fifty openings and 100,000 candidates for concertizing, or other barely decent jobs. So they go on to college for what’s gotten to be called a “Piano Pedagogy” degree, which gives them rights to put up their lesson advertisements on laundromat bulletin boards.

Now they sadly lose their grasp over those sophisticated pieces learned in school, having these marvelously well trained hands for very quickly acquiring new routes that are only rarely called upon once education is completed. Not required to play for students, seldom asked to play for others, they get rusty at reading scores, particularly as sight “reading”, rather than “memorizing”, was rarely stressed from the start. Unable to improvise, since taught in this century, many teachers, bitter and perplexed, eventually become more or less incapable of playing, except perfunctorily. Like you can recite the opening of the Gettysburg Address if you’re over fifty.

Years of practice end up with these stretch-it-out-by-keeping-the-learning-confined-by-the-lessonbook-lessons, for several million Johnnies and Susie’s each year. And a dozen openings at Julliard.

With no malice aforethought, societies having ways of working without respect for what we think we’re up to, if the inane method books don’t get you the Piano Teachers of America will, ensuring you eventually drop out by insisting, as a condition for a teacher’s certification, that you’re to play increasingly complex music up to Guild Certified Standard.

Here’s the rub: To sustain a half hour of adult level classical performance, not just three or four minutes of a recital but a half hour’s worth, enough at hand that you may sit down and play that much whenever you want more than a minute’s pleasure – they paid thousands for our thirty year old three bar remnants of Chopin Waltzes and Bach Fugues – to maintain just that much of such adult classical music played such ways? You’ll practice many hours a day. Forever. Teach classical-professional modes of music-making to would-be amateurs and they won’t possibly attain lasting satisfaction because the practice needed for such ways of playing doesn’t fit the work or leisure economy. The Piano Program is designed to fail, these get-it-perfect-and-then-forget-it pieces for on factory financed uprights (strange objects, pianos standing on end with the sound facing into the wall!).

They’ve rationalized the whole failed process: “you’re a good parent if you provide your child the ‘sense of discipline’ piano lessons bring”. Playing is never conceived as a value in its own right. (God forbid the kid really takes it seriously). Taught under the aegis of such a massive deception – how do you reconcile “discipline” with a huge dropout? – who’d expect good teaching?



Teach Yourself to Play Standards

Piano lessons are badly broken, and must be fixed. We must preserve two-hand keyboard play. No instrument stands alone as well. Available staring at $100 everywhere in the world, hardly anyone in the world knows what in the world to do with them, their multitude an ironic comment on desire and failure.

Hold it in mind that human hands employ more brain matter than any other body part, so complex their axes of movement and sensitivities of touch. And musical keyboards employ these brainy hands, both thumb rotations used by no other implement, more than any artifact. Simultaneously “evolving” for hundreds of years – keyboards and brains – we mustn’t let that instrument go extinct through dis-use, as hands everywhere atrophy to mere mouse-button pushers. How to fix it?

First, change the music. Over fifteen thousand, from Governors, Movie Stars and Admirals, to Grocers, Mechanics and Ad Reps, have taken the short seminar from which this little book with its CDs evolved. And I’ve chatted about piano study with over 40,000. With such data, I reliably report that when adults imagine themselves playing piano (widespread dream) most, by far, choose Standards as a favored form of music – Kern, Berlin, Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers, Arlen, Styne, Jobim, Lennon, Mancini, Joel – our century’s international folk music.

To repair broken lessons we need avocationally maintainable music. Not the European classical tradition, but the far more standardized Standard is perfect. One maintains skill with minimal upkeep. And playing such tunes well, on any sort of keyboard, is within anyone’s reach in months, starting at any age. My data documents thousands of such accomplishments.

Second, get rid of lessons. Avoiding awful inventions unemployed musicians adopt to get through hour after hour after year of lessons, sparing you absurdities like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or the John Thompson series still prevalent in this world, I’ll have you up and running on your own two hands far sooner than the institution of ongoing lessons allows, it always having itself to take care of before all else.

Because 100,000 get Degrees in Piano only to find 50 jobs for performing part-time, doesn’t mean we should go through another 100 years of suffering while so many of them continue to teach piano and mess it up for us, rather than switch careers.



The Uncle Who Never Had a Lesson

In a great many colloquial tales about piano playing in our culture, there’s this guy who never had a lesson yet could just sit down and play anything Didn’t study a day in his life but you call out a tune, any tune at all, and he’ll knock it off straightaway.

I’ve deciphered the myth’s origin. This folkloric piano genius (usually someone’s “uncle”) actually took “lessons”. But he lucked out, happening upon that one in a hundred practitioners of a craft able to clearly show and tell, with a minimum of fuss, just how to best learn. Disdaining drawn-out instruction, knowing it all happens in solitary practice, they say: “You want the facts? Here they are. Now go practice.”

This ubiquitous uncle met someone like that and got a good account of all basics of song playing in a nutshell (where they’d fit in). He cared about learning, went home, and did the only sensible thing to do. He taught himself. Pretend I’m the guy who taught the uncle who never had a lesson.

With a year’s worth of study as a kid, I started learning piano in earnest in my 30s, left a university post in another field in 1975, and by 1982 was teaching song playing. I devised a seminar and have given it in all of the major cities in the country. I welcome you to this new CD/Book version of my method.

With the exception of introductory remarks made in Phoenix before a large group of )mostly senior) students, most of this seminar was recorded in Chicago. About twenty folks from 17 to 70 were present on that occasion. I’d just learned NBC was to do a spot on my program for The Today Show. I wanted a home study version for their viewers.

Of numerous sessions of the seminar I’ve since recorded, this remains a favorite, for its coverage, clarity and pace.

While I suggest a few rest stops, mostly to read this or that in the book ( the material in the book is now incorporated into the videos – editor), please don’t do much of that. The Method wasn’t designed for it. Take in the seminar in one dose before going to the instrument at all. If you start practicing before understanding the overall approach, you’ll do things that aren’t needed or worse, interfere with your learning. First grasp the overall gist, get a general sense of what the process will entail. There’s time to review later. Get started learning “Misty” as soon as possible.

 Hearing the first hour, some of you with prior experience will find ourselves saying, “But I know all of this already”. If you cannot sit down and play any tune well, without using two staved notation, using rich, full, two-handed chords – if you can’t do that, then by the time you’re finished with the entire seminar you’ll have a whole different sense of what this Method yields. Please tolerate your familiarity with certain basics, but take up with my way of defining terms for the tasks at hand, and keep listening.

The beginner is not expected to really learn much in detail on the fly. Gaining a first sense of the concepts and a detailed grasp on how to start Misty – that’s the goal of a good first listening.

 Now have a cup of coffee, sit down in a comfy chair with your laptop or your tablet and go to the first video. Try to watch and listen to the first two lessons right away. Better yet, pretend it’s the kind of weekend it really was in Chicago that year, with three feet of snow on the ground, a way, way below zero temperature, and a thirty mile an hour wind from the northeast off the lake. Make believe, and then stay home and listen to the whole course. After all – you can’t wait to get to the piano!

There are two membership levels available to you: basic and advanced.
You can simply go to the store to purchase your course and get started right away. Once your purchase is completed, you’ll automatically have access to your own student page, the seminar lessons, additional resources, and the student forum.
If you’d like, you can check out the frequently-asked-questions page for visitors here – or listen to some songs from existing students here.
But, if you’re really committed to learning songs on the piano, what are you waiting for? Join us and have the time of your life!
Sounds great - let's get started! I'm intrigued - but tell me more!FAQs I'd like to check out the public forumForum Not ready yet?Get on the mailing list.
Want to know why we love the standards?
Check out Ted Gioia's book 'The Jazz Standards - A Guide to the Repertoire'. You'll be fascinated by the stories behind the songs.
Ted's web site

Got questions? Here’s a bunch of answers. Maybe one will fit.

THE MOST frequently asked question (not always out loud) is, “Can I really do this?”  To which I have a pat answer:  Yes. If you have a strong enough desire to play, the rest of this stuff will sort itself out in due time.
First, understand what we mean by “play songs”. We’re not going to teach you everything there is to know about playing piano (wouldn’t know how anyway). This is a focused approach to a narrow but incredibly fun subset of piano play: Learning to play songs with sophisticated, jazzy sounds right from the beginning.
So, peruse or search – maybe you know your question, maybe you don’t. In any case, we’ve heard them all (I think). If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, just drop us a note. (Students with questions about the Method itself should check out the forums.)

This Method is for anyone who wants to play songs well. No training is presumed. We start from the beginning. Students with prior lessons must now learn to think about the keyboard in a rather different way, to learn about chords, and playing by ear. We all start from scratch. Whether you can play a Bach Fugue or don’t know Middle C from a hole in the ground – it doesn’t matter.

Not at all. Each helps the other. Classical skills have a payoff here, and the chord handling you’ll learn helps your classical playing. Everything you do in music is related, and nothing you’re taught by this program has a bad impact on other styles of play, or vice versa.

Neither. We have students that have started playing while in their 70s. The material is directed to an adult audience – although that’s not really an age requirement. To use the program with younger children (under 14), an adult must work through it with them. Some minor adjustments for hand size are needed. Contact us if you have more specific questions.

You’ll play songs – any standards over the past seventy five years – and you’ll play them well. In this course you start on some well known tunes, like MistyAs Time Goes ByOver the Rainbow. Here you learn to handle songs well. And from that point you can learn to play any song in any style you like – from The Tennessee Waltz to Eleanor Rigby,  Amazing Grace to Over the Rainbow, The Christmas Song to Summertime. If you can hum it you can play it.

Most music consists of melodies and accompanying chords. There are different ways to depict chords (groups of notes sounded at one time). The Sudnow Method uses picture of dots on piano keyboards to diagram your first songs (in a way whose results many professional musicians have commended!). Still, these ”dots” are temporary. But the diagrams have the great advantage of enabling a complete novice to learn a rich two-handed arrangement from the start. You get your hands on really wonderful sounds from the first day you begin.

When you play songs you use chord symbols and learn to arrange chords in many ways. Each time you play a tune you can vary it. That’s why when you play by ear (chord patterns!) you’re not lost if you ”leave your music at home”, the biggest complaint of people who can only read traditional notation. Learning full blown arrangements leads to a great deal of adult piano skill in a straightforward way.

The major scale (and really only that one!) is the basis for nearly all of the music we would say falls within ”the popular realm” – all the songs that we each sing from one generation to the next. Scale practice has gotten a terrible reputation, because of the image of endless drills going up and down the piano. When you learn to play by ear – which is really ”playing by chord patterns” – you have to learn to visualize major scales well: chords are built using tones of this scale. So it’s a foundation. You’ll spend only a little time actually practicing the scale, because making the music itself teaches you the needed manual techniques.

You will do lots of looking at scales. This is usually a new experience for people who have traditional piano educations. But it’s a central part of being able to work with chords easily. Yes, you’ll learn scales. But no, you won’t play them in the usual exercising way, at least not very much at all. The Sudnow Method is big on learning everything in the context of the song you’re learning, and not big at all on the idea of preparing for something by working first on something else.

That depends on the care with which you practice, more than the amount of time put in. ”Caretaking” is discussed in detail in the seminar, in practical terms. Very clear guidance is given on a proven way to increase the rate at which you learn new things at the instrument. Those with significant prior experience will often grow faster than beginners. The average newcomer will have a repertoire of a half dozen tunes, played with truly professional sounds, in six to eight months. Within a year a novice can perform at a party. Students with any good prior study may get there twice as fast or faster. In either case, it’s just a couple of months, at the most, before you’re playing your first tunes in a way that will really amaze others!


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