Piano for Beginners: An Introduction to Playing the Piano
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You can even start from the left of the keyboard and continue the scale all the way to the right. With a little practice, you will be proficient at playing major scales. With a little success under your belt, you can begin to tackle the job of learning to read music. Of course, many musicians do not know how to read music.
They just hear a song and play it, as they say, by ear. These musicians can improvise on any simple themes and come up with elaborate renditions of popular songs. These players know their instruments as well as singers know their own voices. You may be someone who can do that. There will be some information later on about chords and improvisation. However, if you are a beginner just finding out about the piano, it is more likely that you need the help that written music can provide you.
Furthermore, learning to read written music can open up a whole new world to you. You can learn songs that you have never even heard before. If you want to repeat the performance, you will have the sheet music to guide you note for note. There is much to learn. You must find out about the way the notes are depicted.
You need to know what the staffs that they are shown on look like. You will learn how rhythm is represented and how sharps and flats are shown. These are the basics, and you can build on this knowledge over time. You can learn quite a lot just by looking at one piece of music. If you have some sheet music, a hymnal, or a songbook, take it out and look at the music. If you do not already have some written music, buy some or borrow a songbook from the library.
You will notice that there are groups of five horizontal lines. If the music is for both hands, it will have two of these groups of lines connected together by a longer line along the side. The horizontal lines are called the staff. You can get staff paper that is already marked with these lines.
At the far left side of the staffs you will see the clef marking. It will be a treble clef marking for the upper staff. The treble clef resembles a fancy backwards S with a line going down through it and curling underneath. In the beginning of learning to play the piano, you will play the treble clef notes with your right hand.
On the lower staff of the two is the bass clef sign. It is something like a backwards C with two dots on the right side of it. This staff shows the lower notes, and you will begin by playing the notes shown on this staff with your left hand. The upper and lower staffs will repeat several times down the page. Look at your sheet music and identify the staffs. Now you are ready to learn the notes. Your first experience with playing music from written notations will come as soon as you learn the notes. The first thing you have to do is to learn about the lines and the spaces of the staffs.
On the diagram below, the notes used are all whole notes. That refers to the rhythm of the notes which will be discussed later. The purpose of this diagram is to show you the notes as they are positioned on the staff. For the spaces of the treble clef, you will notice that the letters of the notes spell F-A-C-E. Now, you can relate the notes on the page to the keys on the keyboard. Remember where the middle C is? The C on the left of the diagram above depicts middle C. The middle C is shown on an added line below the treble clef or above the bass clef.
Using middle C as a reference point and your new knowledge of the letters that go with the notes, try to look at each note and then play the key it refers to. Take the music you have at hand, and try to pick out a few notes on the piano from the treble clef. You might even be able to play a melody line by using this method. This will only get you started. However, every time you can have the satisfying experience of playing music, you should take it. The feeling will carry you on to want to learn more. There are more notes to learn on the bass clef.
A diagram of the bass clef with the notes on the lines and spaces is shown below. On this diagram, the middle C is shown on the far right, which would be the end of this short piece of music. Write your sayings down and memorize them. Another thing to learn is the notation for sharps and flats. This is the sign for a sharp:.
It is placed to the left of the note. The flat is a totally different sign. It looks something like a small letter b that has been squeezed until the circle looks almost like a half of a heart shape. It is also put on the left side of a note. Look through your printed music for any sharps and flats you might recognize. Do not worry about the rhythm at this point. Take your written music and play as many notes as you can from it.
Say the note names as you play at first. This will get you in the habit of thinking about the written note as a musical sound with a letter name. Associating the three aspects of a note together will help you become more proficient at reading music. Buy some staff paper or make your own. You can make staff paper by drawing five straight horizontal lines across the page, leaving a space, and then drawing five more horizontal lines. Now you can draw some notes to play simple strings of notes.
Draw a note by making a filled in circle either on a line or in a space. Then, draw a line up from it on the right. Make notes on different lines and in different spaces. Set aside your pencil and try playing your notes. You should be able to look at the note you have drawn and think of the letter name and the physical piano key it belongs to. Pretty soon, you will be playing all the notes you can write. If it comes naturally to you, you might start coming up with music you enjoy listening to as you write your notes.
When you have learned all about the lines and spaces, you will be well on your way to understanding written music. The next step is to understand how chords are written. Chords are notes that are played simultaneously. You will recognize chords on the sheet music because they are written in a vertical line. If they are quarter notes, as the notes in the previous diagrams are, they will share the line that goes along the side of the note. There will be more on chords later.
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For now, just take a look at how they are shown. Try to play some chords as they are on your written music. You may have to place one finger on a note at a time when you are first learning, but eventually you will see the chord and your fingers will go into that position. Do a little practice with chords and get ready to learn about rhythm.
Rhythm is something that can be improvised or changed easily if you know the piano well. Think about singing: You can sing by holding some notes longer and cutting other notes shorter. You do not need to be told how to do it. If you want to learn a song that you do not know, written music can be used to help you understand the rhythm. Also, if you want to play in an ensemble that is playing from sheet music, you will stay in time with them better if you play from written music as well. The first thing you need to learn about rhythm is the time signatures.
The time signature is written to the right of the treble and bass clefs on the first line of a piece of music. If the time signature changes within the piece, a different set of numbers is written at the point where the change is about to take place. A time signature is two numbers, one over the other. The top number tells you how many beats there are to a measure. A measure is a unit of the musical piece that is marked off by a vertical line through the staff. There should be identical vertical lines through the treble and bass staffs at various points.
Try to find them on your music. The bottom number tells you what kind of note makes one beat. As you become more familiar with piano rhythms, you will see that the time signatures are more of a suggestion than an order to stamp your foot and play a quarter note with each beat. However, to begin it is easiest if you do if you tap your foot and play one beat per every note of the type listed in the bottom of the time signature.
Notes have different values based upon how they are written.
Lesson 1: The basics
A whole note is the basis of the rhythm. A measure can consist of a whole note and nothing more. This makes sense when you consider that a quarter note is worth 1 beat. Four fourths equals a whole. Music rhythm is very similar to math. In fact, it has been shown in studies that babies who are exposed to hearing music with complex rhythms are better at complex math later in life. To begin, though, you only need to know a few simple equations. If a whole note is worth 4 quarter notes, it can be worth two half notes as well. A measure can also be divided up into eighth notes. A whole note, two half notes, or four quarter notes are worth eight eighth notes.
When you add a dot to a note, it adds half again to that note.
Using The Enhanced Features
So, a dotted half note would be worth three beats, or the duration of three quarter notes. The whole note is a simple circle with an open center. The half note is the same, but it has a line coming up from the side of it, making it look different. The quarter note is like the half note, except that the center of the circle is filled in. An eighth note has a small flag on the line coming up from the note. Look at your sheet music and identify the note values.
To practice, tap your foot to establish the baseline rhythm. It should be a steady beat. Clap your hands to the rhythm of the note values. If it is a whole note, clap once and then do not clap again until you have tapped your foot three more times. If it is two eighth notes, clap once as you put your foot down and another time as you pick your foot up. Try clapping out rhythms of any sheet music you can get your hands on.
Often there will be more than one simple line of music, so you must choose to ignore all but one line to begin. Clap out one note at a time, which is the only way you could do it anyway. When you are good at clapping out rhythms, go on to playing notes in rhythm. If you cannot find music that is simple enough for you to understand, make up some of your own. Use the staff paper you have purchased or made.
Make sure you always put in notes that add up to 4 beats, or one whole note. You can also use rests, which are notations denoting a pause where nothing is played at all on that clef. You can play your composition from your sheet. It may not sound like a song to you, but the rhythm will be interesting if you have used different note values. It is fun to make up your own music. You can use this method to practice the particular aspects of music you are learning. When you do, you are not forced to search for music that fits the situation.
At the same time, you are practicing coming up with examples of concepts you are trying to learn.
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It trains your mind. All along, you can also be testing out what you have learned by trying to play parts of written music that you have on hand. It can all be a part of the process. It is difficult to talk about keys without some confusion because the physical blocks you strike are called keys. At the same time, it is also necessary to talk about the theoretical keys music is written and played in. For the purposes of this chapter, keys will refer to theoretical keys and not the physical wood piano keys. Remember the talk about the lounge singer choosing a key in which to sing. Also remember that keys can be major or minor — happy-sounding or gloomy-sounding.
There are many factors that determine what makes up the key of the music. They involve theory that is too complex for most beginners. However, you can learn the key signatures that show what the key usually is. The key signature is a grouping of sharps or flats on the staff at the beginning of a piece of music. There might be no sharps or flats, and if it is a major key, then it is the key of C major. For the purposes of beginning key signature theory, it is best to begin with major keys. The important thing to learn is what notes to make sharp or flat when you are playing.
One of the sharp keys is G, which has one sharp, which is Fsharp. Another sharp key is D, which has two sharps — Fsharp and Csharp. The key of F has one flat, which is a Bflat. The key of Bflat has two flats, which are B flat and E flat. Before you begin to play a piece, look for the key signature on the left-hand side of the staff after the clef sign. It will simply show sharp signs on each line or space that corresponds with the notes that should be raised one half step.
Or, it will show flat symbols on each line or space that matches the notes that are to be lowered one half step. One thing to remember is that, ordinarily, the sharps or flats in the key signature are carried throughout the piece. That means that, for the key of F, every time you see a B on the staff, you play a B flat, for example. The flat or sharp signs will not be written beside those notes as long as the key signature is in place.
The key signature can change during the piece at any point. If it does, there will be a new clef sign and a new key signature marked on the staff at that point. Another time you might play something different is if you have an accidental. An accidental is a note that is not ordinarily in the key.
A sharp or flat sign will be written by it to tell you what to do. As a beginning player, the key signature is really quite simple. Just use it to tell you what notes to play sharp or flat throughout the piece. You can learn more about keys when you have advanced further in your studies of theory. If you have sheet music or songbooks to play from, they will likely have chords to play.
There are hundreds of possible chords in piano music. There are major and minor chords, diminished chords, inverted chords, augmented chords, and more. Just because there are so many chords to learn, it does not mean you cannot get started on them right away. The easiest place to begin is with the major chords. To think about chords, you can start by thinking of the scales.
You have played a C scale, which has all its notes on white piano keys. You can start with a C major chord. Remember that the scale went up: beginning note- step-step-half step-step-step-step-half step. A chord can have more than three notes in it, but you are going to choose the beginning note, the third note, and the fifth note. Therefore, you will be playing the beginning note, skip a step, play the next step, skip a half step, and play the next step — one, three, five. Just put your right thumb on C, your middle finger on 3 which is E, and your pinkie on 5 which is G.
Push down all of the keys together. You have just played a C major chord. You can invert the C major chord for a slightly different sound. All you have to do is to use the same three notes — C, E, G — and play them in different positions. For example, you can play the E and G in the positions they are on in the home keys, but use the C above middle C with them instead of middle C.
Try this and make up any variation of the C, E, G combination you can. You can make chords from any scale.
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Just remember the sequence of the scale and choose the first, third, and fifth tone in that scale. There are two other major chords that can be played all on the white keys. They are the F major chord and the G major chord. Now try these chords. Use the one-three-five sequence to make up each chord.
If you analyze the D, E, and A chords, you will see that their simple major chords are not much more difficult. You just have to put the middle finger on the black key for the third tone in the scale. Remember that D flat is the same as C sharp, and so on. This gives you several more chords to choose. The next three basic major chords are the opposite of the previous three. The D flat, E flat, and A flat chords are such that you put your fingers on the black keys for the one and five positions and on a white key for the third position.
When you invert the chord, you will have to remember which keys were originally one, three, and five, just as always. It is easy to remember that the G flat, also called the F sharp, chord occurs all on the black keys. You will have to work to memorize the B major chord and the B flat major chord, as they are a little different. B goes white for one, black for three, and black for five. B flat is just the opposite, with black for one, and white for three and five.
Minor chords, the serious or gloomy-sounding chords are easy to make as well. For basic minor chords, you only have to lower the third note one half step. You would end up with a C-Eflat-G for a minor chord. This goes back to the scale set-up. When you count your steps and half steps, you need to account for the third step being a half step lower. Therefore, you would have beginning note-step-half step-step-step for the first five notes. You can continue to learn different chords for a long time before you will have mastered them all.
Learning chords gives you a way to add fresh new material to your practice and playing. The more you know, the easier it will become for you to play without written music. It is nice when you are able to set the music notation aside and play any music that you like. It may be difficult to find the sheet music for every song you enjoy. There are two ways to overcome this predicament, and they are related in a way.
One is to use a Fake Book, and the other is to learn improvisation techniques. You can get Fake Books at music stores or by ordering them online. You can also get a version of the same concept when you come across a simple notation of a song. A Fake Book, or the like, has only two things to guide you. First, you will get a melody line in the treble clef. This will usually only show one note at a time — no chords — and it will be a simplified version of the song. The second thing you will get with this simple music is a letter above the staff.
The letter signifies the chord you are to play in the bass clef and possibly add to the treble clef if you are skilled enough. There will be a letter above the staff each time the chord changes. By learning the chords, you are preparing yourself nicely to be able to use a Fake Book with ease.
You can use the straight chords or invert them. You can play them as running chords where you play each note separately in succession. You can come up with any rhythm you choose for the bass clef. Using a Fake Book is a somewhat creative endeavor. You have to use what you know to fill in the blanks that are left by an incomplete score.
In that regard you are in charge of inventing the music. You can find Fake Books that are fairly current, with music you have heard recently on the radio. Yet, if you want to really come up with your own original song or instrumental piece, you can do it better by learning to improvise. You can learn very complex theory about improvisation, but you can begin with the information you already have. You need to know mainly about scales and chords.
Choose a scale to work from; a C scale may be the easiest for you since it is all on the white keys. Next, choose some chords within that scale. For the C major scale, common chords to use are F major and G major. This is because they do not have any sharps or flats in them. Make up a chord progression. It can be C-F-G-C. Practice playing these chords with your left hand.
The base chords are usually played below middle C, but that is not a rule, by any means. Play them wherever you see fit. Hand Position Part of good fingering also has to do with how you place your hands on the keyboard. As a piano player, you should be able to move seamlessly over the keys without tripping over the keys or even your own fingers. The black keys as you may have noticed are raised a bit higher than the white keys. So your hand position must also be at a raised level where you can glide over the white as well as black keys.
In future free piano online lessons we will begin to break out of our comfort zone by moving beyond our familiar C Major position first position. These progressive beginner lessons for piano will have us playing finger patterns in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions, as well as three other easy hand positions.
Poor Hand Position If you were to ask someone with little or no piano experience to play three or four notes on the piano, you would probably observe their hand lying flat over the keys as in this image , with possibly even their palm touching the white keys. Good Hand Position. You need to keep your wrists up, but in-line with your forearms. Your forearms should be in a comfortable horizontal position. Shoulders relaxed. Your fingers should be curved and ready to strike down on the keys with only the tips of your fingers touching them. This is different for other instruments, mind you. For example the guitar has a fret board and strings while a trumpet has a mouthpiece and pistons.
Welcome to the briefing. A full-size acoustic piano most of the time has 88 keys on it. The keys on the piano are assigned letters in really easy to remember patterns that repeat up and down the keyboard. Music has different pitches that sound higher and lower. These pitches are played in groups or as single notes to create what are called chords, melodies and songs. The roar of a fire truck engine has a lower pitch. The squeak of a mouse has a higher pitch. Music theory can be a life-long journey because as long as you apply yourself you can always push the boundaries of sound and creation.
The piano keyboard has both black and white keys on it. These keys go up and down the piano in patterns of 7 and 12 so once you learn those patterns you can apply them to any area of the keyboard. That means 88 keys is reduced to one area of notes and you just play those notes in higher or lower areas. They are both McDonalds and they both serve the same things usually but which one you go to depends on which way you need to go. Be aware that not everything you read, hear or see online is correct.
Your age will largely determine the size of your hands and the type of music you want to play. There are already countless books and courses out there that are written for these various situations. Your teacher can help guide you to use the right beginner material for your age, needs and goals.
Be prepared to practice and be honest about the time you can spend doing it.
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For example, if you really did practice 30 minutes a day, seven days a week and are still struggling with a particular song or part, the teacher can help you adjust to get it right. Below is a list of other things you can expect and should think about as a beginner student:. This is important for your teacher to know. It is also important for your development as a player. I always suggest starting on an acoustic piano or fully-weighted electric piano if at all possible as opposed to a keyboard with no weight to its keys. Using a weighted keyboard changes how quickly you advance, trust me.
Should you use an in-person teacher or utilize online lessons and eBooks , etc. As stated above I strongly suggest you use both. What are your goals as a student and musician? Do you want to be a professional? Are you just experimenting to see if you like it? Something in between? Be sure to tell your teacher what your musical and piano goals are. This will help them help you the best that they can.