Greetings, beginner piano students! You’ve made a great choice to start playing the piano. No matter what age you are there will be many joys and many challenges on your path to becoming a piano-playing success.
You bought your first piano or keyboard (congratulations!) and you’re staring – or poking – at it wondering where to begin. In this article I’m going to give you five important keyboard lessons for beginners that will aim to help you understand how to not only use your new instrument, but to start playing it successfully.
Learning to play your piano or keyboard is not a one-way street. It’s New York City at rush hour and you just don’t know what time you’re going to get home. You need to know the best routes to take, when to speed up and when to slow down.
And each day, those routes could be different. Even though the goal is the same, every day and every lesson can take you down a new path. The best thing to do is be prepared but flexible. Here are five lessons that will help you to have the best success as a beginning student.
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5 Keyboard Lessons for Beginners
Let’s begin this article with Lesson #1, which is all about making the most of your practice session.
Lesson 1: Practice Effectively
Almost everyone, regardless of age, has heard the statement, “Practice makes perfect.” In fact, one of my old teacher’s used to say, “Proper practice makes perfect.”
The truth is that you can spend 2 hours practicing ineffectively and not improve, or 5 minutes practicing properly and get a little better each day.
Fingering and timing are the main challenges of reading music. If you can get those things memorized in your head before you start pushing keys, 90% of the time you will eliminate making mistakes that can discourage you.
Some like to practice in the morning, with a clear head and before the everyday hustle and bustle clouds the mind. Not everyone has the ability to work this in to his or her schedule, and I get that. But practicing before your day kicks in not only prevents you from being distracted when practicing by whatever happened during the day; it also lets your thoughts sort themselves out during the routine. It’s like going for a run, only on the piano.
Whatever you do, and whenever you schedule your practice time, make sure you do it effectively. Be focused and determined, but not too hard on yourself.
Only have 5 minutes? Work on that one measure, one note at a time, that you’ve been struggling with. Be better at one thing, every time you practice, than you were the last time you practiced. If you have more time, be better at more things.
It’s a simple concept in theory but is hard for most students to accept. Most students tend to feel like failures if they can’t get an entire piece down perfectly every time they practice. It doesn’t work that way, and that is what leads to a lot of student’s wanting to quit.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. But proper, daily piano practice lets you get better every day, even if note-by-note. And trust me, that’s a lot better than showing up at next week’s lesson making the same mistakes you made the week before.
Lesson 2: The Musical Alphabet
Music is a language. It’s a means of communication, from musician-to-musician and musician-to-listener as well.
Learning languages can be complicated but the letters used in the “Musical Alphabet are simple compared to most others.
• The English alphabet has 26 letters. That’s not so bad and even the youngest piano students likely know them already.
• The “Musical Alphabet” has only seven (7) letters.
That’s right; seven letters. There are seven days in the week and seven continents on the Earth. The number seven is also said to represent encouragement, guidance and enlightenment.
I like that. The seven letters in the “Musical Alphabet” are the first seven you already know from the English alphabet: A – B – C – D – E – F – G.
So, no matter what size keyboard you are starting on, you’re still using the very same letters and notes as every other musician
That means you’re already ahead. But how – and where – do you play them?
The letters of the Musical Alphabet are named to the black and white keys on your piano/keyboard. “A – B – C – D – E – F – G” play on your keyboard from left to right, just like they’re ordered in the regular alphabet, and just like you read in a book. Since there are only seven letters, but up to 88 actual keys on your keyboard, that means there has to be some repeats.
Pianos and keyboards have black and white keys. You’ll notice that the black keys are set up in patterns of 2 and 3, up and down your instrument. You’ll also notice the black keys are elevated. This means they can be used as guides, or “landmarks” that help you learn what alphabet letters go with which notes/keys.
When you play piano keys from left to right, they sound higher. The Musical Alphabet sounds lower to higher when you read or play it in order. When you play the Musical Alphabet backwards, or right to left, it sounds lower.
If you’re a parent looking for a positive, user-friendly way to get your very young student interested in music Faith Monique makes a sing-songy, happy time out of learning the Musical Alphabet. It has good visuals and even a puppet.
There are always new ways to teach, and new ways to learn. Even though the Musical Alphabet is made up of the same seven letters for every student, in every lesson, each student is different.
Learning the same information from multiple perspectives and ways of expressing it is extremely helpful, as long as the information is accurate. It’s really hard to get “A – B – C – D – E – F – G” wrong and the people who made these videos all have unique and helpful ways to help you learn.
- If you’re interested in learning how to play the keyboard or piano, and are looking for helpful lessons, be sure to check out our review of the Piano for All lessons eBook course, which works on any device!
Lesson 3: Finger Number and Hand Position
Pianos and all digital keyboards are designed to be played by the human hands. I know that sounds obvious, but a lot of beginning students overlook the importance of hand position and using proper fingering. I can tell you this: proper hand position makes you learn and get better faster.
Poor hand position can cause repeated mistakes and make you think you’re not a good player. Not following proper fingering also leads to mistakes and causes you to doubt your talent.
Let’s take a look at each of these issues in more depth.
The main physical challenge with hand position is that hands, especially based on age, are different shapes and sizes. We can’t all reach the same distance.
Another physical hand position issue falls mostly in the laps of adult students who do work with their hands all day. This can be anything from construction work to hairdressing to typing to chiropractic work. Not only are adult hands already shaped, they’re often tired.
The biggest overall challenge a student has with hand position is stubbornness and mental blocks. Marital arts instructors teach you to use as little energy as possible but still have the biggest impact. A quarterback throws the football to exactly where he wants his receiver to catch it. When you go to work, you take the route that is most direct and/or that has the least amount of traffic so that you are on time.
These things are all accepted as common sense. But when it comes to hand position, students want to resist that kind of logic.
The reason is mainly this: it actually feels more awkward at the beginning to keep your hands in proper position for piano playing. They’re not used to it, and it feels like an effort. So students want to compensate by using stronger fingers or putting their hands at bad angles because they think it’s helping them play better.
If one is a student, it’s wise to think of running water, or if they’re really young, a super power. The muscles in your shoulders and arms are much stronger than the ones in your hands.
1. Sit up straight
2. Your elbows should be relaxed and on each side of your body
3. Your wrists should be flat but flexible
4. Your hands should be cupped like they’re holding an egg, or a tennis ball in them
5. You fingers should be curved with the tips of all 10 fingers sitting evenly on the keys – one key per finger
Pretend the water, or that super cool super power, is flowing from your shoulders all the way down your arms, across your wrists, over your hands, over your fingers and into the keys.
If your hands are crooked, or your fingers are flat, the water or super power never hits its mark. It’s all about energy going into the keys, and if you don’t maintain the proper positioning, you lesson what you’re capable of playing and how fast you can improve.
You have five fingers on each hand. When you learn to play piano, those fingers are all given simple numbers, like this:
This little system is designed to have a huge impact on helping you read and play music. As a very beginning student, you will have numbers written above or below the notes on your lesson page. Those numbers tell you what fingers to use to play each note.
As you get older and grow as a student, there will be less numbers provided. That being said, the ones that are really count.
Why? Think back about how music is a language. Now think about a simple sentence like, “It is really nice outside today.” That’s easy, and easy to understand.
Now, put pauses in that sentence, like this: “It … .. is…. reallyniceout….side …..to day.” It’s hard to read and doesn’t flow.
Next, move all the words around: “ out nice day to side really it’s.”
What? Exactly. Words are in order in the English language so we understand what we’re reading or hearing. Finger numbers are used so that music flows and sounds smooth, interesting and natural. They’re also used to make your life, and your lessons, easier.
This might be the most important thing I tell you in this article: Practice fingerings with the same intensity and focus you practice notes.
There are only 5 numbers and it’s music/piano so students tend to want to do what they want. Then, they get frustrated because they keep making the same mistakes. It’s not about talent; it’s about maturity and logic. Fingerings are there to help you be free, not control you.
The weird part about finger numbers is the “mirror effect” you have to deal with when learning to read music. The thumbs in both hands are number 1 and the pinkies are number 5. But playing numbers 1 through 5 means different things on each hand.
When you play fingers 1-5 in order on your right hand, you are moving up the keyboard (to the right) and the notes sound higher.
When you play fingers 1-5 in order on your left hand, you are moving down the keyboard (to the left) and the notes sound lower.
This can be very confusing and is one of the main reasons students like to avoid fingerings. But don’t give in! I’ll give some written examples and then send you to some videos to help you learn.
• This is what the finger numbers look like when both hands are playing up in the same direction (called “parallel motion”).
RH: 1 2 3 4 5
LH: 5 4 3 2 1
• This is what the finger numbers look like when both hands are playing down in the same direction (also “parallel motion”).
RH: 5 4 3 2 1
LH: 1 2 3 4 5
When your left and right hands play in opposite directions, it’s called “contrary motion” and the finger numbers look like this:
• Contrary Motion In (pinkies to thumbs)
RH: 5 4 3 2 1
LH: 5 4 3 2 1
• Contrary Motion Out (thumbs to pinkies)
RH: 1 2 3 4 5
LH: 1 2 3 4 5
You can practice these finger number patterns at school, in your car, on the kitchen table and pretty much anywhere you have a moment to think about them If you want to have the best chance at success as a piano student, learning and practicing finger number is a huge help!
Lesson 4: Musical Patterns
This is a general lesson topic but it’s a big deal for you to understand as a beginner student. The English alphabet and language is full of patterns. There are shapes, sounds and tone in every sentence that repeat in some way.
Life is also full of patterns. The sun comes up and the sun sets every day. That’s a pattern. You go to school or work then come home every day. That’s a pattern too.
Music also has patterns in it. In fact, it’s pretty much based on patterns. Think of your favorite song. What’s its title? Think about when the singer sings that title, and how often.
That title part of a tune is usually called a “chorus” and it’s the main thing you remember as a listener or fan. Repeating the chorus in a song is a pattern. And yes, the entire structure of a song uses patterns to be created.
I am focusing on this because it will help you, as a beginner, to see that things are a lot easier to learn than you might have thought. You’ve already learned the first pattern in music:
• A – B – C – D – E – F – G
You’ve also learned the finger number patterns from thumbs to pinkies:
• 1 2 3 4 5
There are also more complicated patterns like the ones that help you form “chords,” which are groups of 3 or more notes played at the same time:
• a – b – C – d – E – f – G
• C E G
• C E G played together forms a “C Chord”
You can use the seven letters in the Musical Alphabet to form other patterns called “scales” just by starting the alphabet on different letters like this:
• A – B – C – D – E – F – G
• B – C – D – E – F – G – A
• C – D – E – F – G – A – B
• D – E – F – G – A – B – C
• E – F – G – A – B – C – D
• F – G – A – B – C – D – E
• G – A – B – C – D – E – F
Professional musicians use patterns all the time. Nashville records famous country music all year long and the studio musicians use what’s called the “Nashville Number System” to write out the chords and notes they have to play in their recording sessions. That system uses numbers instead of letters, so instead of:
• C A F G
• I VI IV V
That particular example of a pattern is advance for beginners. But, the big point is this: As a beginner, you use the pattern of the Musical Alphabet to learn your instrument. Professional musicians in Nashville use the same patterns that you do to record hit music.
Lesson 5: General Guidance, Finding Teachers
As you can see, even the most basic of music lessons can be full of information. It doesn’t mean they have to be hard, but you do want to take them in step-by-step and bit-by-bit.
To do that best, you need to find a teacher that can help you learn at your best pace and in your best way. Articles like this one are great resources for information, and I’m grateful you could read it. But being in the same room with an experienced teacher just can’t be beat.
There are also plenty of online options for you:
• Piano For All is an online lesson course you can buy as a supplement to your regular lessons.
• LessonFace has a great staff and helps you link up with vetted, qualified online teacher options from around the world.
Make sure you find a teacher that matches your personality needs and learning styles. If you are young and don’t know what that style is yet, have your parents help you by talking to the teacher and getting an idea of what they are like and how they teach.
Take lessons for at least half a year before deciding you don’t like it. Make the commitment – sometimes it’s hard at the beginning but that doesn’t mean you won’t be great in the end. The best way to learn piano is to give it time and dedication.
Know your goals. Do you want to be a rock star? Do you want to write music, or be on stage, or play in an orchestra? Do you want to go to a music university or do you want to be a music teacher? It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. But at least ask the questions.
Prepare to work. You really do need scales, arpeggios, Hanon and other technical exercises to be able to be the best player you can be. Sure, some people are just natural wonders. And look, maybe you are one of those people.
But people who go to Juilliard start preparing to go as early as age 3. Those overnight sensations you hear on the radio or Spotify or iTunes or YouTube actually worked for years and years to be where they are now – you just didn’t see that part.
Prepare to have fun, too. Ask your teacher to help you learn to play your favorite song along with your regular lesson pieces. There are great lesson books out there but there are also ways you can expand your learning on your own.
Push yourself and realize that learning never stops. This is a process and every note can be a positive adventure.
- 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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