How to Play a Keyboard for Beginners: Step by Step Tutorial

Do you want to be able to play some of your favorite songs, but don’t exactly know where to start when it comes to learning how to play them? Well, wherever you are on your piano skill level, we’ve got the knowledge and tools to make learning the keyboard quicker (and quite fun) than ever!

Not only will this article help teach you fundamental chord voicings, positions, scales and music theory (don’t worry, it isn’t as scary or difficult as it seems) we will also teach you how to put things together to create your own masterpieces.

The keyboard is a wonderful linear instrument. Not only is it simple to understand, it’s also easy to fall in love with.  So let’s get started.

Below, please take a moment to view the interactive table that shows some of the best selling digital pianos and keyboards on the market (just in case you’re currently looking for a new piano):

Yamaha P-515
Casio PX-870
Yamaha YDP-165
Roland RP-102
Casio PX 560Casio PX-560

Learning on a Piano VS. Keyboard

I feel that one of the biggest questions I see people have revolves around the following thoughts: if I learn to play on a keyboard (or a digital piano), is that as good as an acoustic piano?  What if the keyboard only has 61 or 76 keys and not 88-keys (which acoustic pianos and even some most digital pianos possess)?

We’re going to dive into all of these questions and more throughout this article.  But first, let’s start with the basics.

First, the main difference between a piano and keyboard is that the piano is an acoustic instrument that is made of many strings that, like a guitar or any other stringed instruments, must be tuned and maintained on a regular basis. Keyboards (and in the case of this particular example, I’m lumping keyboards and digital pianos together in one bunch) are electric variants of this acoustic instrument that don’t require much upkeep aside from light cleaning and possibly updating or adding software.

Keyboards can easily play virtually any style of music ranging from classical, jazz, blues, and contemporary music. It is more difficult to play varying styles outside of classical compositions on an acoustic piano because they do not come with equipment, pre-set sounds or transposing functions.  In fact, you really have to be a wiz to come up with something funky or prolific outside of the realms of classical music when playing on a traditional piano.

Where space is concerned, acoustic pianos are quite a bit larger than keyboards, making it far more difficult to move or travel with. Keyboards are lightweight and can easily be packed to bring along with you if you play a show or just want to practice on the go. Traditional pianos easily take up ten times the space of a 61 or even 88 key keyboard. From this perspective, you can easily see why keyboards are the more obvious and convenient option for most people.

Can you successfully master piano through the use of a keyboard? The short answer is yes. There is really nothing that you cannot do on the keyboard whereas, the acoustic piano (which is no doubt a beautiful instrument and work of art) does indeed have limitations.

The most obvious limitation is its size and sound constraints, which pretty much ensure that you live inside of a musical “box.”

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Getting Started

What every person that’s thinking about learning a new instrument should know is that instruments are no cake-walk. Every now and then there will be someone who comes across as somewhat of a prodigy, but most of us will have to be willing to put in work.

One of the first questions people wanting to learn the piano/keyboard want to know is just how much time it takes to learn and master the keyboard. Well, when it comes to mastery, the time it takes to become “fluent” in keyboard is subjective.

Many people take years— some people sound as if they’ve been playing for a decade within a few months’ time. How quickly you reach your musical goals depends solely on you and how much time, practice and effort you put into mastering your instrument.

We recommend that you practice for at least 30 minutes each day. This is enough time to play scales, practice chords and do position changes. You don’t have to allot hours to your keyboard each day but you do have to stay consistent.

Essential Tools

Keyboard selection is probably the biggest ingredient when it comes to learning, but you should also have a few other things ready and on hand when it comes to gearing up for practice.

If you’ve ever seen someone play the piano, you probably noticed that they were sitting on a bench. Some people with limited resources make do without a bench but benches are better because they allow you to move with the song.

A sustaining pedal is wonderful for any player too, whether you are learning classical or pop music. What this pedal does is help drag notes out so that they play in the background as you play your instrument, giving your music a full-bodied sound.

Headphones are another great piece to add to your playing supplies. This tool allows you to learn and play music without anyone else hearing it. Everyone has their preference when selecting headphones. Some keyboardists prefer earphones while others prefer headphones.

Do what makes you feel comfortable, but if you need a little help in picking a quality headphone, we wrote up an entire article dedicated to the best headphones for digital piano players here.

Some really high tech keyboards work well with software that you can download to your laptop. Obviously, you don’t need software to play a keyboard, and as a beginner you should be spending more time getting your playing skills together than playing with software.  Still, this is something worth knowing, especially if you are investing large amounts of money into your instrument.

Essential Features

Many keyboards have similar features, but for the purpose of this article, I will be analyzing the Yamaha YPT-240 which is perfect for beginners. This 61-key keyboard features 385 “natural” sound voicings. These sounds include, guitars, percussive instruments, organs, sound effects and so much more. Obviously, traditional pianos do not have this function since they are completely acoustic— meaning they have no electric pickups.

Keyboards (modernized keyboards) can connect with smart devices including Apple iPhones, iPads and even iPods. The master EQ function allows for you to change the output sound of your instrument to tailor it to what you like or what your current “sound situation” is. Because acoustic pianos are not electric instruments, you would literally have to buy equipment to be able to connect your piano to equipment and then to record.

The ultra-wide stereo function allows for you to produce a wider sound— a function that can make your music more aurally pleasing. Acoustic pianos do not have this function nor do they need it because they, for the most part, produce such big, bold and dynamic sounds.

Learning the Notes

The notes on pianos and keyboards are exactly the same. Each note has its own unique pitch— something that is achieved on both pianos and keyboards.

We all know having all of those keys sitting in front of you can be quite a bit intimidating. Many beginner piano players tend to have this idea that all of the keys are different notes when in reality they are the same notes in a sequence played at different octaves.

Notice there are two black keys together, a space and then three black keys together. The note on the left of the first black key is a C. The notes that come after C are a consequence of that note. Read below for more information regarding the keys.

The White Keys

The white keys are whole notes. These notes do not contain any accidentals— that is sharps or flats. The white keys represent 7 natural notes. C, D, E, F, G, A and B. In that order.

These notes, in the sequence above, are actually the key of C. All of the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C are the notes that comprise the key. Keys tell us which notes to play in any given song. Now you know that if a song is in the key of C you will only play the keys of your keyboard.

The Black Keys

These keys are sharps and flats. The black keys can be a bit complicated to explain since they aren’t always sharps. Speaking of sharps and flats, there are two notes in western music that do not have sharps/flats. Those notes are E and B, which is why there is no black key separating them from the other keys.

The two black keys next to each other are C# and D#. In the sequence of three black keys the notes are F#, G# and A#.

While you can avoid the black keys sometimes, don’t think that you can learn to play chords without them. You will quickly learn that they are very necessary in most chord voicings.

Just look at A major whose triad is A, C# and E or even D whose triad is D, F# and A. Fortunately there are plenty of songs that you can learn without jumping into chords using the black keys so much.

One song I encourage newbies to try is Fur Elise in the key of C.


Learning your first Scale

Remember those white keys that I told you about earlier? C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C? That is your first scale. The C major scale. Simply by using this scale you can play chords, a melody or even arpeggios.

Using the key of C you can learn your first position which is, you guessed it, C positon. Start with your right thumb on middle C (this key is normally indicated on your keyboard), place your index finger on D, middle finger on E, ring finger on F and pinky on G.

If you’d like to play C position on your left hand, you will play C2 with you pinky, D with your ring finger, E with your middle finger, F with your index finger and G with your thumb.

Notice that the only finger playing the same note is the middle finger. All of the other fingers play different notes. Learning how to control your fingers and move around the keyboard takes time. Don’t get discouraged! Practice moving forward and backwards with this scale using the same notes.

Scales are vital to learning the keyboard because they allow for you to “jam” or solo over chord voicings and other instruments. This technique also helps familiarize you with the notes on the keyboard and their various locations and octaves.

Optional Enrichment

Learning piano should not just be about sitting down at your instrument with sheet music. If you plan on learning quickly, you will have to be willing to go the extra step. Your optional enrichment can include books, games and even private lessons with a music teacher you trust.

One of the first things I recommend for any instrumentalist is a book encompassing music theory. Music theory teaches us how to read, transpose and make music in a beautiful, logical and simple manner. Learning theory will allow for you to take one of your favorite songs and transpose it into a key that is easier for you to play and sing along with.

Songbooks are also vital to the instrumentalist. There are many kinds of song books that you can purchase. This, obviously, is subjective because you want to select things that interest you. If you are more of a pop person you want to purchase a pop songbook if you love the classical genre, then you should go for something built around that particular niche.

In the beginning, you really want to surround yourself with things that you enjoy and are comfortable with. One book that every music lover should consider purchasing is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory (Second Edition) by Michael Miller. This book takes you through scales, progressions, modes, chord formulas, ear training and even transposing to other instruments like the Bassoon harp or mandolin.

While music theory doesn’t particularly teach you how to play your favorite song, it does teach you how to make music itself. Many theory students develop very accurate aural skills that allow them to play a song simply from hearing it.

As with all other skills, this takes time.


Learning keyboard can be tough, but with these fundamentals you are now well on your way to playing like the masters. Don’t be afraid to keep a notebook to take notes on things that you don’t understand or even make a binder to collect sheet music, notes and helpful tips and tricks.

When you first learn the piano, it takes a while to get used to playing on both hands— allow yourself to increase dexterity and coordination.

Until next time, keep practicing!

  • 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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