In this article I’d love to walk you through some things that can help you learn how to play the piano. If you own a digital piano, it won’t really matter how many keys there are, because we’re going to focus on really simple stuff.
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Now, as a beginner, you should probably look for something that’s 49 keys or greater. Anything smaller will be a little more difficult to play with two hands, which is ultimately something you’ll want to do.
You don’t have to have weighted keys, but they do feel nice and getting used to them can be beneficial.
It will be extremely useful for you to follow along with me on your piano as we progress through this article, but you don’t have to if you don’t have access to one right now. If you’d like to buy a digital piano, you should bookmark this lesson and shop online for an affordable digital piano for beginners.
In fact, if you are indeed in the market for a new piano, please use our interactive table below that compares some of the most popular digital pianos against one another.
Now, on your digital piano, you should find the power button and the volume knob. These are the only two settings you need to get started. If your keyboard comes with a pedal, go ahead and plug it in. We’ll talk about how to use it a little later.
Turn the piano on as you sit down at the piano, and play with the volume to get a level that’s easy to hear, but not so loud as to hurt your hearing.
Fortunately, digital pianos are a very mellow and pleasant sound, so you don’t have to worry about bothering your neighbors.
Before we move on to our next section, if you’re someone in need of a new piano, please use the interactive guide below and take a look at some of the more popular digital pianos currently on the market:
Have a look at your keyboard. Feel free to count the keys, including both black and white keys. How many are there? Next, press a key toward the left-hand side of the keyboard.
You hear how it’s kind of rumbly?
If you play a note on the right side, it’ll be a little higher. The keyboard goes up and down with high notes and low notes. As you move right, each note will get higher than the last.
You might have noticed that there are patterns on the keyboard. That’s because the notes repeat themselves, and every key has its own name. I’ll talk more about the musical alphabet in a moment.
Now, take a look at the black keys. Notice how there are groups of twos and threes, and they repeat themselves over and over again. These black keys help you remember where you are on the keyboard so that it’s easier to follow along, visually.
There are 12 total keys that repeat themselves. Play the first of a series of two black keys. Then play the next one in the next pattern to your right. You see how it’s the same sound, only higher? We call these octaves, because it repeats the same pitch, but at a higher frequency.
A piano keyboard can have several different numbers of keys, but the “full” size is 88 keys. This is because advanced players actually play all of them at one point or another, and they need a lot of space.
The Musical Alphabet
If you’re following along with your keyboard, I’d like you to find any group of two black keys. There’s a white key directly to the left of this group. Press it now. This is C.
C is an important note because a lot of beginners start in the C position. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
Next, find a group of three black keys. The white key in between the second and third black keys is A.
Once you find A, you can start the beginning of the musical alphabet.
B is the next white key to the right. You can continue pressing the white keys to the right until you hit C, then D, E, F, G, and then you’ll find another white key that’s between another series of black keys like the first one.
That’s A again.
You see, the musical alphabet repeats itself. So it’s easy to find a pattern and start playing each note to the right until you land on the same note again, eight notes later.
The C in the middle of the keyboard is Middle C. This will be important to remember a little later.
Regarding Your Hands
Let’s hold up our hands out in front of us. You’ll notice that your hands mirror each other perfectly.
Let’s start with your right hand. Start with your thumb and count each finger, up to five. Your thumb is called the “1” finger, index is “2,” and etc. Can you name the number of your pinky? That’s right, it’s called the “5” finger.
Next, let’s work through the left hand. Now, your thumb on your left hand is still “1,” so now you’re going to need to count backwards so that your pinky finger is “5.” So, each finger on either hand is the same number, but they go opposite ways.
When you read music, the songwriter will leave instructions on which fingers play which note. When you see little numbers above the notes, you’re supposed to play the note with the corresponding finger.
This is the first position you should know about so you can get started right away. Take your right hand, and with your thumb, place it on Middle C. Then place each finger afterwards on the following white keys: D, E, F, and G. So, there should be no gaps between the white notes. Try curling your fingers a little bit to get a better hand position.
Now, do the same thing with your left hand, except this time your “5” finger, your pinky, should be on the C below middle C. Space your fingers the same way and ensure you have fingers on D, E, F, and G.
The Musical Staff
For the purposes of this lesson, we’re going to limit ourselves to the notes in the C position. So how do you know which notes belong to the right and which ones belong to the left?
It’s relatively simple. The top group of lines with the symbol that looks like a fancy capitalized G is for the right hand. This is called the Treble Clef. The other group, with the symbol that looks like a fancy Capital F is for the left hand. That’s called the Bass Clef.
Here’s some great visuals and information about the staff.
Notes can be shaped differently, and I’ll talk more about why a little later. But the most standard note is all black with a circle at the bottom and a stem sticking out of it. The note with the line through it on the right hand treble staff is C.
Notes move up and down via lines and spaces. Because there are only 5 lines, we also imagine there are lines, so the line that goes through C is an imaginary line. The next note will be in the space below the real lines, and is D. the first official line is E, the first official space is F, and the second line is G.
With the left hand bass clef, the second space is C, the third line is D, the third space is E, the fourth line is F, and the final space is G. Please be aware that these staffs are different from each other, and the lines and spaces mean different things depending on the clef.
So, if you’re reading something in C position, you now know where every note you need to read is located. Try to remember these, but please feel free to review this section if you get stuck and can’t remember what goes where.
You ever notice how a clock ticks exactly the same speed all the time? Each space is perfectly apart between clicks. That measures a second. We do this in piano as well, only we can speed up the timing or slow it down, and that’s how you get songs at different speeds.
So, if you imagine that your head is clicking like a clock, you can divide these segments of time into beats. Typically, although this does change, we divide them into four beats, and then start over. Count to yourself like a clock, “1 2 3 4” evenly, at any speed you’d like, and keep doing it over and over. This is a basic rhythm, and it’s very common in all types of music. Each number is a beat, and in this rhythm (also called a time signature), four beats completes a measure.
Remember those standard looking notes I was telling you about earlier? Those are called quarter notes, and they each get one beat. So in a measure with four beats, you can fit four quarter notes in.
Try counting again the same way you did before, only this time clap each time you say a beat. These claps represent quarter notes.
Now, there are other types of notes, and they’re actually held down for more than one beat. That’s how you get long notes and short, quick ones. It’s all divided through this imaginary clock we’ve created.
A note with a stem and a hole in the middle is called a half note, and it gets two beats. So you would hold it and count “1 2” and then let go. Alternatively, you could count it at “2 3” or “3 4” depending on where it’s placed, and what comes before and after it.
A whole note does not have a stem, and it looks like a donut. It gets four notes, so you hold it while you count “1 2 3 4.”
There’s one other rhythm thing I want to tell you about. If the note has a dot in front of it, it’s a dotted note. That means it gets half of the note’s normal rhythm added to it. Let me give you an example: a dotted half note gets three beats, because you take half of it, which is one beat, and add it. So, you’d count a dotted half note as “1 2 3.”
Remember that each measure has to equal exactly four beats, so each measure is kind of like a puzzle where you add different things together to make it fit.
- Quarter note – one beat
- Half note – two beats
- Whole note – four beats
- Dotted quarter note – one and a half beats
- Dotted half note – three beats
A metronome is a device that, like a clock, counts evenly between beats. You should try playing along with some notes or clapping and counting to four over and over again in order to get comfortable with how it work. There are, of course, some in the piano community that are not fans of metronomes.
Now, because a measure has to have four beats, you don’t have to play for each beat at all. These breaks need to be filled however, so we fill them with rests. Rests indicate exactly that, and it means: don’t play. The squiggly line is a quarter rest, which means you just don’t play for that beat. You should still count though, until you get comfortable counting in your head.
An interval is any distance between two notes. The distance between two adjacent white keys is a 2nd, and then it goes 3rd, 4th, and so on, but you can’t go past an 8th because then it’s the same note, only an octave higher.
Melodic intervals are any two notes that are different that are also played one after the other. Harmonic intervals are played at the same time. Put three notes or more together in a harmonic interval, and you get a chord!
Using the Pedal
If you have a pedal, try holding it down and pressing a note. It will continue ringing out even when you let go of the key. It’s sustaining the note, which is why it’s called a sustain pedal.
If you want to practice using it, lift it up and press it back down between notes so that the notes don’t sound too blurry.
Let’s Play: Mary Had a Little Lamb
For this song, we’re going to use this PDF sheet music to play along to the song. This song only uses the right hand, so it’s a perfect first song.
This song is in right hand C position, so remember your thumb should be on Middle C because it’s your “1” finger, and then your pinky, your “5” finger, should be on G.
The Latin words below the staff are for singing, so we’re not going to pay attention to them. Remember that the bottom line is E, so it starts as: E D C D E E E (rest). Remember to count while you play. Go as slow or as quickly as you like, although the recommended speed is 80, which you can find on your metronome.
Remember that the measures with only three notes in them still need to be counted to four, and that the last note is just a rest, where you say “4.” The very last measure of the song has only one note, which means you’ll play on “1” and then count out the rest of the measure.
How’s it going? Is it tough? Remember, it takes practice to play the piano, and if you feel like you’re not getting it, don’t worry, it’s normal. The first lesson is the most overwhelming, and it took me a long time to get the hang of it as well.
If it’s easy for you, that’s great! There are tons of free songs you can find online, and there are also courses like Piano For All, a great learning course that’s really cheap you can use to get into more advanced lessons.
I would recommend that you read through this lesson a couple of times so that you remember all of the things in here. It’s a lot, but you’ll pick it up after you sit with the information for a day or two.
If you ever get frustrated, remember that everyone is a beginner at something, and that it’s healthy to embrace a challenge. I hope this lesson has been helpful and that you feel inspired to continue your journey toward musical success!
- 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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