There are many methods, exercises and songbooks out there for beginner piano students. Those books generally focus on one aspect of your growth as a piano player and then expand on that in each new book. I

n this article, I’m going to show you 10 piano exercises for beginners that you should try out, in hopes that you’ll further expand your knowledge and expertise when it comes to playing piano.

So let’s start with the thing most students are afraid to tackle: the black keys.

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#1: Black Key Awareness

You piano or keyboard has both black and white keys on it. If you have a full piano, the lowest black key (to your left) is a single key. After that, the black keys move up and down the keyboard in groups of 2 and 3.

2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3 it goes, from left to right and bottom to top.

This is super-important for beginner piano students. If you take away the black keys, all you’d see would be a long row of white ones without any ability to know which one is which. It would be like a snowstorm where you can’t see the road. The black keys are your landmarks and guides to moving around the piano.

Here are some videos that show you different ways of looking at, learning and practicing with the groups of black keys”

What I like most about this one is how the teacher shows you how to play the groups of black keys by:

1. Switching your right and left hands

2. Using just your left hand

3. Using just your right hand

4. Using different fingering combinations

5. Playing them in contrary motion

He also suggests you go slowly if you’re a beginner, which makes sense and is often overlooked.

#2: Time Signatures and Tempo

Tempo:

Tempo is how fast you play a song. Tempo is also how fast you count the numbers, or “beats” in a song. You have to walk up 4 steps. How fast do you go up them? That is what tempo is to music. So, do you:

Go Up The Steps

…or do you:

Go Up The Steps ?

Beats in music are like those steps in real life. Beats get counted at faster or slower tempos:

1 2 3 4

…or:

1 2 3 4.

In real life, you climb the sets of stairs until you get to your floor. In music, you count the beats until the end of the song.

  • Time Signatures:

This is a big subject that I will try to make fun and simple for now. The Time Signature tells you how many beats to count before you start counting over. It’s based on numbers.

It’s a pattern that repeats until the end of the song. Time, in music, is like a grid. You can only fit so many things on it until you need a new section of the grid.

You have 4 bananas, then a line. Then you have 4 more bananas, then another line. In music those groups of 4 bananas are like a Time Signature based on 4’s.

You have a silverware tray that holds butter knives, steak knives, forks and spoons. That tray is a Time Signature based on 4’s.

But if you have a silverware tray that holds butter knives, steak knives, salad forks, dinner forks, teaspoons and tablespoons, it holds 6 things and is like a Time Signature based on 6’s.

Just like the musical alphabet repeats, so do the beats you count in Time Signatures.

1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4

or

1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3

or

1-2-3-4-5-6 1-2-3-4-5-6.

And the Tempo is how fast you count them.

There are no videos or pictures for this section. I want you to practice something without looking at music or sheets of paper. This will help you understand “time” and “tempo” much better.

Use your hands and your legs, or a table, or pencil, etc.

You’re going to count 1-2-3-4 out loud. When you count out loud, you’re going to also use your right and left hands to tap at the same time. You can start easy:

• Tap your right hand on your right leg for each number:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

• Tap your left hand on your left leg for each number:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

Next you can change hands each time you start the count over:

• Right Hand 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

• Left Hand 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

• Right Hand 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

• Left Hand 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

You can break that down even further like this:

• Right Hand 1 – 2

• Left Hand           3 – 4

• Right Hand 1 – 2

• Left Hand           3 – 4

  • And…

• Right Hand 1

• Left Hand     2

• Right Hand           3

• Left Hand               4

• Right Hand 1

• Left Hand     2

• Right Hand           3

• Left Hand               4

You can also do this with 3’s.

• Tap your right hand on your right leg for each number:

1 – 2 – 3 1 – 2 – 3 1 – 2 – 3 1 – 2 – 3

• Tap your left hand on your left leg for each number:

1 – 2 – 3 1 – 2 – 3 1 – 2 – 3 1 – 2 – 3

Next you can change hands each time you start the count over:

• Right Hand 1 – 2 – 3

• Left Hand 1 – 2 – 3

• Right Hand 1 – 2 – 3

• Left Hand 1 – 2 – 3

One of the biggest challenges when learning to read music is rhythm and counting. By practicing Time Signatures and counting without reading any music, you make it a natural part of your training. When the time comes to read rhythms, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

You’ve bounced around the keyboard playing groups of 2 and 3 black keys. You understand counting in 4’s and 3’s. Now you can start playing some black key fingering exercises.

#3: Hand Position and Efficiency

Hand position is super-important for your progress as a piano player. If you don’t use good hand position, you can – and will – develop bad habits that could slow down your learning process. And in some particular cases, it could stop you from progressing at all.

No one really likes to practice hand position. But if you’re going to drive a car, you have to have your hands on the wheel. If you’re going to ride a bike, you have to have your feet on the pedals.

If you’re going to play piano well, you have to learn how to shape, use and strengthen your hands and fingers in the best positions for success.

This video has a lot of great information about hand position and efficiency as a piano player. The teacher talks about attacking your problems (fingerings, speed, challenging notes to play).

He also talks about focusing on the bits of music you find most difficult and playing them over and over until you get them right.

It’s great advice!

It makes no sense to play 3 measures, make a mistake and then go back to the beginning and do it again. If measure 4 of a song is causing you problems, spend a day practicing measure 4 until you get it right. Repeating mistakes causes more mistakes. This video is fantastic at explaining how to avoid that!

#4: Black Key Exercises (Groups of 2)

This exercise is played on a group of 2 black keys only, hands separately. You can use fingers 1-2 for the entire exercise, or 2-3, 3-4 or 4-5 to practice strength and independence

Fingers 1-2:

Fingers 2-3:

Fingers 3-4:

Fingers 4-5:

Keeping the same notes, you can also use alternating fingers to gain dexterity and concentration, such as: 1-2-2-1  2-3-3-2  3-4-4-3  4-5-5-4  3-4-4-3  2-3-3-2  1-2-2-1  as such:

***It is also a must that you play these exercises with the left hand as well.

#5: Black Key Exercises (Groups of 3)

This exercise is played on a group of 3 black keys only. You can play it with both hands at different times. You use fingers 1-2-3 in the Right Hand and 5-4-3 in the Left Hand. Accent, or emphasize the first note, or beat, of each measure.

So instead of thinking 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 evenly…

…or one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three evenly…

Think of it as:

1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3…

… or ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three.

Hearing and playing it this way will help you build more strength in your fingers. It will also help you understand the way playing in songs with 3 beats “feels.”

#6: 5-Finger Positions

5-finger positions are crucial to being able to play scales, chords and beginning piano pieces. They are also super-important to being able to play your favorite songs.

The Piano Guide Channel reminds you of your finger numbers then talks about the 5-Finger Position in easy-to-follow detail. This video also talks about how important it is to have good hand position

#7: 5-Finger Stutters (Hands Separate)

Now that you’ve gotten used to 5-Finger Positions, let’s get you rolling on some Stutter Exercises to help you get the sound and feel of 5-Finger Positions in your ears and fingers.

Start with your right hand alone, playing from fingers 1 through 5, repeating each finger 4 times, like this:

Next, play with your left hand alone, playing from fingers 5 through 1, repeating each finger 4 times, like this:

Now you’re going to reverse directions in each hand, starting with finger 5 in the right hand:

And starting with finger 1 in the left hand:


Playing Stutter Exercises helps your ears, hands and fingers understand the sound and feel of a 5-Finger Position because it repeats each spot of the position many times.

#8: Parallel Motion (5-Finger Stutters)

Parallel Motion in music is when your fingers on each hand move in the same direction.

Contrary Motion in music is when your fingers on each hand move in opposite directions.

Parallel Motion:

Parallel Motion can be confusing because, even though your fingers move in the same direction on each hand, the left and right hand finger numbers are opposite of each other with Parallel Motion.

Let’s look at a 5-Finger motion where both hands play parallel, to the right (going up):

RH: 1 2 3 4 5

LH: 5 4 3 2 1

Now let’s look at a 5-Finger motion where both hands play parallel, to the left (going down):

RH: 5 4 3 2 1

LH: 1 2 3 4 5

Notice how the finger numbers in each hand go in opposite directions, even though the fingers move in the same direction.

Practice those Parallel Motion fingerings on a table, on your legs or desk before playing them on the piano. Get the idea in your head and be confident your brain, and muscles, both understand each other. Then, try this 5-Finger Stutter Exercise in Parallel Motion on the piano/keyboard:

#9: Parallel Motion (5-Finger Stutters)

Contrary Motion can be confusing to understand, even though for many students it is easier to play. In Contrary Motion your finger numbers are the same in each hand, even though your fingers are playing in opposite directions.

Contrary Motion can look like this:

RH: 1 2 3 4 5

LH: 1 2 3 4 5

Or like this:

RH: 5 4 3 2 1

LH: 5 4 3 2 1

Notice how the finger numbers in each hand are the same, even though the fingers move in opposite directions.

Contrary Motion can move “out” or “in.”

Contrary “Out” starts on the thumbs (1) and moves to the pinkies (5).

Contrary “In” starts on the pinkies (5) and moves to the thumbs (1).

Practice those Contrary Motion fingerings on a table, on your legs or desk before playing them on the piano. Get the idea in your head and be confident your brain, and muscles, both understand each other. Then, try this 5-Finger Stutter Exercise in Contrary Motion on the piano/keyboard:

#10: Ear Training

We’ve talked a lot about your fingers and hands. It makes sense because you use them to play your instrument. But your ears are really what guide you and let you know what sounds good, and what doesn’t.

There is way too much to ear training to even come close to covering it in this article. So I’m going to focus on two small things that make a big difference to your understanding the way music works.

Two of the most important ear-training elements to understand are:

1. 5ths are important

2. The bass (left hand notes) are important

5ths:

If you look at the musical alphabet:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G …

…”E” is the 5th of “A”. Let’s look at it again with numbers:

A  B  C  D  E  F  G

1  2   3  4   5  6  7 

…now let’s highlight an example of a 5th:

A  B  C  D  E  F  G

1  2   3  4   5  6  7 .

If you move those letters so they start on “C” and highlight the 5ths it looks like this:

C  D  E  F  G  B  C

1  2   3  4  5   6  7 .

Bass Notes/Left Hand:

You can plan any note in your right hand over and over again and it sounds the same. But, if you play a bass note in the left hand at the same time, that right-hand note sounds different.

The bass is the most important instrument in an arrangement or band. The bass notes determine whether a note sounds bright, or dark. They determine if a note sounds tense, or peaceful.

It’s kind of like if you said the word red … or if you said the word RED!

It’s the same word, but one is softer and one is louder in color and tone.

Again, the importance of 5ths and bass notes in music is too much to talk about here. Instead, I’ve provided some exercises that you can play, play along with and listen to. In the first exercise, your right hand plays a g-note with the 5th finger in every measure. Easy. The left hand plays descending bass notes in each measure, using proper scale fingering (so please use the finger numbers provided – you’ll nee them later!)

Notice how, even though the top note stays the same, every time you change the bass note, that right-hand “g” has a different sound/effect.

This next exercise gets a little more complicated, so listen along to the MP3 as many times as you have to while looking at the music. This will help you familiarize yourself with what to play.

The right hand plays a 5-Finger Position, 5-note scale in every measure. So you play C D E F G every measure, using fingers 1 2 3 4 5 every measure. The left hand plays notes that alternate back and forth from “c” to the other notes in the descending scale. Take a look:

You are going to have to stretch your fingers and reach a little bit to play the lower notes. That’s ok – it doesn’t have to be fast. The point is to listen to how the top note (g) of the scale sounds different every time you change the bass note.

Listen to the MP3’s until you start to hear what’s happening. Play the exercises at your own tempo at first until you get familiar with the sounds and fingerings. Then play along with the piano and beat audio, or just the beat as you gain more confidence and skill.

If you’re still interested in learning how to play piano or keyboard, get your copy of Piano for All today, which features 10 eBooks, 200 video piano lessons and 500 audio piano lessons!

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