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Learn The Basics of Piano: Scales, Arpeggios, Chords

Erin started playing piano around the age of 6, and avidly took lessons and practiced hours a day until the age of 18.


Piano is really too complex to teach anyone how to play in one simple lesson, but once I give you the basics, you just need to know how to read notes (or play by ear) and use expression in the music, make it your own.


Positioning and Scales

The first thing you need to know is which key is C major? There is only one, it is the very middle C on the keyboard. C's are the white keys that come right before two black keys, going from lowest to highest. After that there's D,E,F,G,A,B then another C. Now you know where to position your fingers. You take your right thumb and place it on C major(the one in the middle), then your other fingers go on D,E,F and G respectively. For your left hand, you place the pinkie on C minor (the C one octave lower than C major) and then place fingers again on D,E,F, and the thumb on G. It is also important to keep your hands in a curved position so that your wrists are raised up. Curl your fingers slightly and maintain this form throughout.

Keeping fingers on the keys, simply push each respectively one second each. So you are playing the scale C, D, E, F, G. Then back down again. G, F, E, D and C. Try to keep both hands playing the same notes at the same time. This is your first scale!!

Now you know how to play the this, you can learn to play a whole octave. This just means that you continue with the scale up to the next C. An octave is from C to C (or D to D, or E to E etc.)In order to play a whole octave, you have to cross your middle finger over or your thumb under. On your left hand, you play up to G (the thumb) and then cross your middle finger over to the next note, A. Continue playing, B and then C (your thumb). On your right hand, you play up to E (the middle finger);and then cross your thumb under to the F. Continue to play the G, A, B and C (your pinkie). That is how you play an octave. In order to play E major/minor you have to use E flat and B flat, instead of E and B. The flats are the black keys directly left of the notes. To play the D scale, you have to press F sharp and C sharp instead of the F and C. The sharps are the black keys directly to the right of the notes. Feel free to experiment with the scales, have fun with it.


Chords and Arpeggios

Chords are the next important steps to playing the piano. Once you have learned all the scales: C to C, D to D, E to E etc it's easy to learn the chords. The first chord is composed of C,E and G. This is the C major chord. Chords are usually long so you hold all three down at once and count: one and two and three and four, then lift fingers up.Then you can change to C, F and A (simply move the pinkie over one), and then move your thumb or pinkie down to B, F and G. After that you play each octave the same way. For D the notes would be:D, F sharp and A, D, G and B, then C sharp, F sharp and G(this is one of the hardest scales and chords). You will notice a pattern that each chord is played with the same fingers. On your left hand you use your thumb, middle finger and pinkie and then your thumb, ring finger and pinkie. On your right hand you use your pinkie, middle finger and thumb, then your pinkie, index finger and thumb. you will usually use every other finger for these chords (unless the keys are right next to each other).

After you have played all the chords you can now play arpeggios! For these you can go back to hitting keys (lightly) or you can play them slower, it is really up to you. All you have to do for arpeggios is take the chords and break them up. So for C major you press C, E and then G one at a time, then you press C, F and A, then B, F and G. Once again you can play around with the arpeggios too, trying out other sounds, but you have to remember that your hands need to stay in the same position. Meaning that sometimes your pinkie will have to jump one or two keys, but your other fingers need to stay where they are or be able to get back quickly. This becomes more important the more you learn to play.

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This is how I Started


Fingering and Counting

Once you have learned scales, chords and arpeggios, you are ready to read the music, but because this is one quick lesson, I'll have to save it for another time. When you learn the phrase Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (in reference to the placement of notes), you will have to learn about fingering and counting. Fingering is basically keeping your fingers in the right placement so that the music will flow smoothly, for instance: when you have a scale in the middle of a piece of music, you have to cross your thumb under or your finger over just like you practiced earlier. This will ensure that your hand is in the right position to continue playing the music without a pause as you adjust your hands. Sometimes there will be numbers above the notes on the music that tell you which finger needs to be on it. The 1 would be the thumb, the 2 would be the index, etc. When you see the number it usually means that you had to cross over and under, re-positioning your hands.

Counting is how you keep your rhythm steady. So when people say "she did that without missing a beat" it means their rhythm was perfect and she counted perfect. Sometimes people will use a metronome (do they still have those?) or sometimes use their feet (a lot of guitarists will do that), but it works fine to use your voice counting "one - and - two - and - three - and - four - and.." out loud. Believe it or not you can keep a steady beat with this!! This is the basic counting, but you can use it in different ways. You can play a note for each second (one, two, three, etc.), or you can play one for every ½ second (quarter notes). You can also play the notes slower, playing a note for every two seconds, or even for every four (whole notes). Continue to count the same way, hitting the right key every time you count the two or the four, etc. If you decide to learn to read piano music, you will see just how important this all is, for now, it is mostly just a good way to keep the beat.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Erin Buttermore


myi4u from United Kingdom on July 01, 2011:

Nice teaching! Lately, I bought a keyboard and start learning from various internet sources. I must say that it's hard. Maybe because I have passed the suitable age of learning piano and my fingers have hardened. But anyway, it should be for any age, right?

I could play a couple of songs though still not proficient and if I look at the script, I will be playing real slow.

I read many beginners tutorial and it seems to me they all are same but different. Like reading your hub, I now know that the middle C is a C Major where other tutorials never mentioned about it.

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