Want to learn to play the piano? This is an introductory-level online course designed to grow your skills in music and piano playing.
Download your Lesson Plans here:
- 1: Why Music?
- Watch all three videos from “The Joy of Music,” “Instruments: The Piano,” and “Reading Music: Clefs & Notes for Piano”
- 2: In Time
- Watch “Reading Music: Intro to Rhythm “
- Begin to practice Thompson 1-3
- 3: The Key of C
- Watch “Intro to Keys and Scale”
- Begin to practice Hannon 1, Thompson 1-5
- 4: Chords & Modes
- Watch “The Major Scale
Click the links below to watch the videos and download the music.
Jump to Individual Videos
- The Joy of Music
- A Lifelong Adventure
- Notes & Rhythm
- How to Play
- The Piano
- (coming soon: guitar, vocals, ukulele)
- Reading Music
- Clefs & Notes for piano
- Intro to Rhythm
- The “Key” to Music
- Intro to Keys & Scale
- 5-note scale
- Key of C & C Major Scale
- Intro to Intervals & Chords
- Changing Keys
- Key of D & D Major Scale
- The Circle of Fifths
- Intro to Keys & Scale
- First Songs
- Key of C
HOW TO PRACTICE
Music is both a written and an “out loud” language, so it is equally important to develop your ear and your eye. Developing your ear is obviously important, being that music is all about the sound! But developing your sight-reading ability gives you the ability to pick up a song you’ve never heard before, which is very important in social jam or professional music situations, and also lets you actually see the music, making it much easier to learn to recognize patterns and sequences. This will deepen your knowledge and appreciation of the building-blocks of music, which is essential most especially if you ever want to create music of your own as a composer or as an improviser.
If you can develop both your critical listening ear and your sight-reading ability early, and you continue practicing both throughout your musical life, you will naturally advance far beyond many musicians that are limited by their ability to do only one or the other.
Here are some good tips for practicing in order to optimise both skill sets:
- Take a look at the new music. Do you recognize anything? Perhaps the key or time signature, perhaps the starting note. Down the line, you’ll begin to notice sequences of notes, hand positions, repetitions, etc.
- Look for things that pique your interest as well as things that you do not understand or have not seen before. Watch for intervals, for repeating melodies, modulations, etc.
- Perhaps you can try to sound out the piece, either by humming the notes or by playing them on the piano. Advance as far as you are able at your current skill level, just exploring the written language of the music.
- Have your teacher play you the piece at least once and ideally two to three times. Alternate looking at the music, looking at the hand positioning and simply listening.
- Look at the sheet music again while it is played. Recognize any areas that are unfamiliar to you — these will be the ones to spend the most time on. If you are already familiar with certain runs of notes, you may be able to draw that knowledge directly into your playing of this new piece. Focus especially on the listening at this point, so that you will actually hear when you play it correct or incorrect.
- Take your combined knowledge of the sound and sights of the piece and try it yourself! Acclimate yourself to the notes and rhythms being played, especially if you are in a less comfortable scale or mode. You can do this with one hand at a time to start, but once you find the general idea in each hand, it is good to move back to practicing with both hands together.
- Make note of any place you stumble, but move through the piece, slowly, beginning to connect the notes you heard with the ones you see and will play. If you make it to the end, congratulate yourself! You are now on your way.
- Begin again at the start of the piece. This time, aim for accuracy. Play through any parts that you are able to do without mistake and move on.
- At the places where you are unsure what to play, you have several options.
- READ the music, slowly and steadily. Once you know the notes as they are written, you can translate that into your hands. Repeat this certain section many times, until your hands and your ear begin to take over. It is VERY important, if you take this route, to make sure your sight-skills are accurate. If you are unsure if what you’re playing is correct, begin with the second option, which is…
- LISTEN to the music: have your teacher repeat the troubling part, in small segments. Listen closely at first, while watching their hands. Begin to play again, focusing on making the same movements and sounds as they did. Practice this several times, until the muscle memory begins to take over. Then, repeat again several more times, this time while looking at the section of the sheet music you are playing. This will allow your finger muscles and your ear to train your eyes.
- MOVE ON. If you get frustrated or your fingers get tied, just move past this section. You will come back and repeat it again as you continue to learn the piece.
- FIND A TEMPO
- Ideally, you have played the rhythms accurately to this point. However, there is a good chance that your tempo is much slower than the piece. This is advisable! The more challenging a piece is, the more important it is to play it slower at first, ensuring that you are playing with accuracy. Accuracy is ALWAYS preferable to a sloppy piece played at speed.
- Start at the tempo you are at. Set your metronome to that speed, and refine any rhythm inaccuracies in the same way that you worked on the notes.
- Slowly, by no more than 5BPM each time, increase the tempo. Play the piece through accurately at least 5 times at this new tempo before again increasing your tempo.
- If at any point you are unable to play at the new tempo, return to the previous tempo and continue to drill the piece there. There is no point in speeding up until you have mastered the accuracy slower.
- HAVE FUN!
- There is a reason we call it “Playing” music. Your mood will instantly transfer to the music you are playing, so remain joyful, curious, aware and thoughtful as you practice. If you become frustrated, physically exhausted, or your brain starts to feel overwhelmed, this is fine and natural. Just take a quick break.
- At first, frustration may happen quite often. Refuse to judge yourself! You are practicing, you are making improvements, and perfection is not even an option yet. Shake out your hands, take a deep breath, laugh at how difficult it might seem, and continue playing.
- If you have been seated a while or you cannot drop the agitation, stand up and take a few minutes for a break. Try to return as quickly as possible so that you don’t lose the progress. You may find when you return that you can already see your progress, which can be exciting. But maybe that is not the case, and that is okay too. Just Start Again.
- Try to move through all the pieces you have identified to practice.
- Daily practice:
- Before beginning, identify what you would like to make sure to work on during the “practice” section of your daily playing. Ideally, you will have some basic scales or exercises in here, to warm up and limber your hands.
- Make sure to make it through what you have identified as much as possible. Sometimes we can quit out of frustration and not finish the work we want to do. The best solution, if you are frustrated, is to take a break from the piece or scale that you are working on
- That said, it is important to have realistic goals. At first, let your teacher help . set your goals and weekly practice schedule. They will likely recommend one new scale, one new repertoire piece per week, and perhaps a backlog (say, “once daily, play scales you have already learned” or “continue working on last week’s repertoire piece”). You should spend around half of your daily playing time on this “practice”
- After your “practice” time, you can “play!” Choose pieces from your repertoire to work on deeply, or just play through your repertoire, enjoying the work you have already done to achieve your current level of playing. You can also improvise, write or any other playing activity that will allow you to enjoy this time with your instrument.
- It is best to play daily. Set up a time that you know you have adequate time, a time that you can commit to daily. For example, I like to practice after breakfast. Some people prefer to practice in the afternoon, others at night. Find a time that you enjoy playing, when you can work uninterrupted.
- If you can practice for a full hour or more each day, you will notice incredible results. A pianist whose goal is to be a professional or orchestral player must practice much more than that. But, as a hobbiest, an hour is still the best length of time. You will often find that this hour just flys by and that you want to be playing more. Great, do it! Your future musican self will thank you.
- If you wonder, what will I do for 30 minutes? I am just learning my first few songs! Well, remember we are to repeat each piece until it is mastered. Find places where the execution is sloppy — slow it down, fine-tune your muscles, and slowly bring it up to tempo. Repeat several times, even if it is just one measure or a phrase.
- DO IT FOR LIFE!
- Playing music is a lifetime affair. Once we begin to learn, if we continue to play and practice and find music that excites us as performers and listeners, we have an endless well of inspiration, exploration and exposition. There is always more to learn, more to play with, more to uncover.
UNDERSTANDING WRITTEN MUSIC
To get the details of melody, rhythm and the finer points of a song, you should be able to understand the language of music.
You will come across chord charts, such as in Jazz “Real Books” or online sites. Learning a song from a chord chart is fine sometimes, but it is only ever the barebones outline of a song. A skilled musician can take these charts and improvise, but this is due to their intimate knowledge of chord form, scales, music theory, learned patterns, and years of playing.
At the beginning of their journey, all musicians will set themselves well by thoroughly learning the language of music. This will help them immensely as we get into learning new techniques, exploring different genres, and improving and embellishing our melodies and rhythms.
Reading music is a necessary skill. Reading music is much more than just memorizing notes on a page — reading music shows you, visually, what makes music interesting and beautiful to our ears. By learning the language of written music, you will begin to recognize phrases, observe patterns and repetitions, and learn more about how to work with the language yourself.
The first half of learning music will be to learn pitches, commonly known as Notes. In combination, notes create melody and harmony. Melody is when notes are played across time, and harmony is when notes are played together.
There are twelve notes in all of western music. Once you have traveled all 12-pitches in either direction, you will return, again, to the first note! It is this repetition of notes that makes music much easier to learn than you might think when you first look at a keyboard or a guitar.
There are seven letters that we use when describing pitches. These are C – D – E – F – G – A – B and C. There are also accidentals, or half-steps, between C-D, D-E, F-G, G-A, and A-B. There are *no* accidentals between E-F and B-C.
A Cleff, or a set of 5 ledger lines, is the basic tool that helps us identify pitches and their relationships. The two clefs that are used in piano music are the Treble Clef (or G clef) and the Bass Clef (or F clef).
The Treble Clef contain notes above middle C, and are typically played with the right hand. At the far left of the cleff below is the symbol that lets you know you are playing in the Treble Clef. The notes of the Treble Clef are like so:
The Bass Clef contain the notes below middle C, and are typically played with the left hand. At the far left of the clef below is the symbol that lets you know you are playing in the Bass Clef. The notes of the Bass Clef are like so:
There are many ways to remember these notes, but the best way to memorize these notes are to practice reading every time you play. You can do this by saying the notes out loud when you are first learning a piece.
You can use an acronym, EGBDF (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (And Candy) to familiarize yourself with the notes that fall directly on top of the lines. The notes that fall in the spaces between ledger lines are FACE(GB). These are for the Treble Clef. The bass clef notes on the lines are GBDFA and the spaces are ACEG(B).
Notice where middle C falls on both of these clefs. They are often written in the same location, and are identified by their hand based on the direction that the stem is pointing. (We will return to the more useful purpose of these stems in our lesson on rhythm.)
Perhaps a better way to memorize the scales is what some call the Landmark system, which identifies all C’s and G’s ascending in the Treble clef, and all C’s and F’s depending in the Bass Clef. Notice when we travel from middle C up 5-notes in the scale, we land on the G note, and when we travel from the middle c down 5-notes, we land on the F note. When we travel up middle C 4-notes, we arrive at F, and 4 notes down is a G. We will return to this when we talk about the Circle of Fifths in our lesson on Keys. from middle C.
— MAJOR SCALE
The most common chord is a triad. If you take the 1 – 3 – 5 notes of the scale you are playing in, you have your “Tonic” or “1” chord. You can take this same 3-note formation and move it up according to the notes of the scale.
In the key of C, we can move froM our Tonic, 1 – 3 – 5 …
… up one note to a new chord with a D note played first. This is now the 2-4-6 notes of the C scale, known as a D minor chord.
Move up another note so the E note is in the first position, creating 3-5-7 and an E minor chord.
… F note 4 -6 – 1 and is an F Major chord. The 4th chord in the series is known as the Sub-Dominant Major
… G starts the 5 – 7 – 2 or G Major chord. The 5th chord in this series is known as the Dominant Major
… A 6 – 1 – 3 is an A Minor chord
… B 7 – 2 – 4 is a B diminished chord
Since most songs stay within the same key, these are the main chords you will play to accompany a melody. As far as melody, these are also the main positions your hands will be in during a piece of music.
Just to be clear, a MAJOR chord refers to a triad in which the note distances are 1 – (up 4 half-steps to the) – 3 – (up 3 half-steps to the (5). A MINOR chord is inverted, with a 1 – (up 3 half-steps to the ) – flat 3rd – (up 4 half-steps to the) 5. To go from major to minor, flat the 3. To go from minor to major, raise the flatted 3rd to a natural 3rd…. And less common but important, a diminished chord is 1 – (up 3-half steps to the…) – flat 3rd (up 3 half-steps to the…) flat 5th.
In your Major Scale lesson, you learned that you can play the C-scale in the key of C. This is called an Ionian scale, or the major scale. Down the line, return to your scale practice and play the C-scale, starting on the D note. This is a Dorian scale. If you start on the 3rd note (e), this is the Phrygian scale. 4th (F) is Lydian, 5th (G) is Mixolydian, 6 (A) is Aeolian, 7 (B) is Locrian.
What we have learned for the key of C is true for all keys. The chord shapes, the relativity and space between notes, the names of the scales when you start on a different note within the scale — this all applies no matter what key you are in.
Because of the accidentals or black keys, when we go from the key of C to a different key, we find ourselves using the black notes as a part of the scale.
To review, there are accidentals (half-steps/black keys) between C-D, D-E, F-G, G-A, and A-B. There are *no* accidentals between E-F and B-C.
— CIRCLE OF 5ths
When we go up to the 5th note of the C scale, we arrive at a G note. When we go up to the 5th note of the G scale, we arrive at a D note. In the D scale, 5 up is an A. A – E, E – B, B – F#, F# – C#.
When we go down 5 notes of the C-scale, we arrive at an F note. Down 5 in the key of F is a Bb. In Bb, going down 5 brings us to an Eb, down 5 to an Ab, down a 5th to the Db, down a 5th to the Gb, down again a 5th to the Cb or B.
This is a very handy thing to remember. When you look at the “circle of fifths” and pick any key, look to the clockwise side to find the dominant chord of that scale, and to the counterclockwise direction to find the sub-dominant chord. Knowing the 1-4-5 of any scale is critical in your ability to improvise, transpose or play off a chord chart.
Rhythm is the way we count music as it moves through time. The tempo is the pace the rhythm is counted at. Count 1-2-3-4. If you have a basic understanding of fractions, you can notice that…
Whole notes, Half Notes, Quarter Notes, Eighth Notes, Sixteenth Notes (also 32nd and 64th, but will never encounter these until the advanced stages)
(also whole rests, half rests, quarter rests, eight rests, sixteenth rests)…
The most common time signature you will come across is 4/4, which means there are 4 notes in a measure (top number) and they are designated as quarter notes (the bottom number, think of it as 1/4).
This means you will count 1-2-3-4 through the measure and there will be some combination of one whole note (counted 1-2-3-4), two half-notes (counted 1-2, 3-4), four quarter notes (1, 2, 3, 4), eight eighth notes (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and) or sixteen sixteenth notes (1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a).
There can be any combination of these notes, as long as the sum equals one whole note. Some examples:
One half note, one quarter note, two eighth notes
Two quarter notes and one half note
Two eight notes, one quarter note, one half note
STARTING TO PLAY
- Posture, when sitting at the piano
- How to place hands on the keyboard
- 1-2-3-4-5 fingers
- Less movement is better
- Stretch before playing, at any point you need a few moments to break, and after you finish
- Curled fingers
- Flat wrists
FIRST SONGS & SCALES
Moving Chords in the key of C:
- What the World Needs Now (Cat Power version)
- Let it Be (Beatles)
- Ode To Joy (Beethovan)
- Joy To The World (Christmas Tune)
- Heart And Soul
- Music Land
With all Hannon exercises, first learn the pattern and the notes. Then, start at 60bmp or slower (120bpm if you are counting as 1/8th notes, which is advisable until you get a better sense of how to play in time). Raise the tempo by 5BPM only once you are very comfortable with playing the exercise and no mistakes are made. Play at this faster tempo until mastered, and again raise by 5BPM. Repeat this process until you can play at full tempo, 105BPM. This might take years!
However, you can still move forward in the exercises. Make sure you have mastered 1 and 2 at 60 BPM, then play back-to-back 4 times without stoping (1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2). Move on to 3, 4 and 5 and play in the same manner (3-4-5-3-4-5-3-4-5-3-4-5), then 6-7-8, 9-10-11, 12-13-14, 15-16-17, 18-19-20. As you are comfortable with each of these sequences, also raise the BPM by 5 and continue until you can play all pieces, individually and in their partnerships, at full tempo without mistakes. Again, this might take a lifetime, but it will take longer if you don’t practice!
1 Extension in the fingers
- Reach… Notes about each.