Want to play the Piano?

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Have you ever wanted to play the piano? If you give me one hour I will show you the most important things. Maybe it's easier than you think.

The following piano tutorial can be compared to climbing a mountain. While there are many paths one can take, I’ve discovered an easy route to reaching the crest of the piano hill. The journey consists of 12 stages and each stage will take about 5 minutes. I will go ahead first for a couple of minutes as you watch and listen. Then you will have about three minutes to follow. If you want to go at a slower pace it is perfectly fine, I’m not in a hurry. Start from the beginning and play the videos when you get to them. Feel free to stop, start and replay the videos at any time.

  1. Introduction
  2. Keys and notes
  3. Chords
  4. Finger placement
  5. The bass
  6. Play
  7. Black keys
  8. The pedal-trick
  9. Invertions and Melody
  10. Scales
  11. More chords
  12. Rhythm

1. Introduction

The chord notation tells you which keys you will use in a song. The melody is separate from the chords, so you have to sing it yourself or have someone else sing along. The chords in the first lines of “Yesterday" by The Beatles, can look like this:

Chords for Yesterday

But first I will explain why I made this tutorial, and how you can make music using these chords.

If you don’t have a piano you can consider buying a electronic keyboard for less than $200 to try if this is something for you. I recommend you to buy a keyboard with normal sized and weighted keys (or at least touch sensitive) and a sustain pedal. Here is one example of a keyboard with a stand and a sustain pedal for total $168 on Amazon. Or you may find someone nearby trying to sell their piano for almost nothing (apparently because they haven't found this tutorial yet).

Also you need a songbook with chord notation. Or you can find chords on the web by searching for a melody title followed by “chords”. Or maybe you find a song you like in my little Song Archive.

This tutorial works best when you sit in front of a piano or keyboard and can look at this webpage on your tablet or mobile phone.

2. Keys and notes

First you have to learn a little about the keys and their names.

Here you can see the name of the keys. Don’t put tape with names on your piano, as it will make it more difficult for your brain to learn.
The name of the keys
Take 3 minutes to remember the names of the keys.

  • It's the alphabet from A-G (but starts on C)
  • C and E is on either side of the two black keys
  • D is between the two black keys
  • F and B is on either side of the three black keys
  • G and A you just has to memorize

Find all F's and play them quickly going both upwards and downwards on the keyboard. Do this for all the notes.

3. Chords

Learn the names of the chords and how they are put together.

This would be a good time to try this out for yourself. You have heard of major and minor chords. To find the right keys you skip a number of keys. Remember to count both black and white keys.

C-major chord (C)

Skip 3 and then 2.

Pattern for a major chord

C-minor chord (Cm)

Skip 2 and then 3.

Pattern for the minor chord

Try to find some chords on your own: F, A, Em, B (yes, it is ok with more than one black key). Check that you have the right keys by counting the keys between. Maybe you also can hear when the harmony is right?

4. Finger Placement

Learn how to place your fingers without straining too much.

Take some minutes and try the chords from the previous stage - but now with new finger setting. Try to relax in hand and fingers.

5. The Bass

Here you will learn that the bass is a part of the chord.

If you see the chord F/G it means an F chord with a G bass. When it just says F, then it's a F chord with a F bass. The slash tells you to use a different bass than the root key. Play the following chords: Dm/C, C/E, A/G, D.

6. Play

OK, then we are ready to try the first song. And it will be "Yesterday" by The Beatles. Here are the chords (but don't mind the numbers yet):

Chords in Yesterday

Then we have reached a height and can look out. You can now play most songs in ordinary songbooks. Now take a well-deserved break before moving on.

It could also be smart to take a stop here for some days to play around with stage 1-6. Go on when you want to learn more.

7. Black keys

The black keys also have names you must learn.

The black keyes gets their name after their white neighbour. # means a step up and b means a step down. The key between C and D therefor has two names: C# (called C sharp) and Db (called D flat). Here you'll find the names of all the black keyes (notice that they all have two names):

Name of the black keys

Don't try to memorize this, but rather try to understand.

Symbols for sharp and flatIn this article I use the wrong (but common) signs for sharp and flat. Normal writing of chords today mostly use hash sign (number, pound) for sharp and the letter b for flat instead of the correct signs and . The hash sign has two horizontal strokes while the sharp sign has two slanted strokes which rise from left to right, in order to avoid being obscured by the horizontal musical staff lines. Also the sharp sign has to vertical strokes while the hash sign normally is slanted. The flat sign is and it look a lot like the letter b.

8. The Pedal-trick

With the pedal (sustain pedal) you can make the piano "sing" while you (in panic) try to find the next chord. If your piano has more than one pedal, it's the one to the right.

Once you master the pedal, the music will flow better together and you get more time to find the next chord. Try to take the pedal up and down just after you have played the new chord - that will be the best time. If you do it too early, it will make a break in the music and too late will mix the chords together and it can become "fuzzy".

9. Invertions and Melody

Here you learn to invert the chords to make the chords easier to take end let the melody be easier to catch.

It maybe feels confusing that chords suddenly can be taken in different ways. But instead think that you can take the tones in the order that suits you best. Then you can achieve to move your hands less and you can also come closer to the melody by putting the melody at the top of the chord. Take chords you've tried in several ways. Try using the C, F, G, Dm, Em. Perhaps it will be a little harder when it's with black keys as in D and A. Try to move your hand a littlebit forward. Can you find F# and take that in different ways?

10. Scales

Now you will learn that scales are patterns of tones and how they are built up. This is a stage we will go together - you don't have to practise on this one. But it is good to know about scales when we will look at more chords in the next stage.

You need to know that the distance between to neigbour keys is always called a half step. Two half steps is called one whole step. And it is useful to know that a major scale always has this pattern: Two whole, one half, three whole and one half.

When a song is in D-major, it means that it is played in the major scale starting on D. In the D major scale, F is switched with F# (F sharp) and C is switshed with C# (C sharp). So the D-major scale has to sharps. The melody and the chords vil mostly use the 7 keys that's in the scale, but sometimes both melody and chords will use keys outside the scale.

If you miss chords in a song, it's good to know that there is some chords that goes together. When you have decided witch scale you should use (let's say D major) then there are some chords that are used a lot (especially in simple songs). That is the major chords on the 1, 4 and 5 tone in the scale. In D major that is D, G and A. In addition is their companion minor chords used. They are always one and a half step below. In D major this is Bm, Em and F#m. Try to find which six chords is used in F major.

11. More chords

Sometimes you will see numbers or other letters in the chord name and you need to know how to play it.

You have to practise a bit on this. The most important is to find the seventh fast - one whole step below the root note. Try A7, D7, Em7. The other chords is not used so often, and you can learn them when you need them.

Here is a overview of the most common chords. They are shown i C, but is the same for all keys.

Written Spoken Explanation Examples in C
C Major Skip 3, skip 2 C - E - G
Cm Minor Skip 2, skip 3 C - Eb - G
C7 Seventh or dominant seventh  Major + one whole below the root octave C - E - G - Bb
Cm7 Minor seventh  Minor + one whole below the root octave C - Eb - G - Bb
Cmaj7 Major seventh Major + one half below the root octave C - E - G - B
C6 Sixth or major sixth Major + one whole over last note in chord C - E - G - A
C9 Ninth or niner Seventh + one whole over root octave C - E - G - Bb - D
Csus4 Sus four or Suspended four Major, but move the middle note up one half C - F - G
Cadd2  Add two Major + one whole above root C - D - E - G
Cdim / Co Dim or diminshed Skip 2 and 2 and 2 C - Eb - Gb - A

In some old songbooks "Cm" sometimes was written as "c". So major was written in uppercase (C) and minor was written in lowercase (c).

12. Rhythm

Rhythm gives life to the chords.

Try out the shifting of the keys in the chords. It will be easier when you get more used to play.

Thanks for the trip!

Congratulations! Then we reached the Piano hill. I think it's very nice here. You see the Piano Mountain (playing by notes) further in and we can barely glimpse the piano peak in the clouds (concert pianist) - but I do not know the way there. As you relax, I'll play some examples for you.

You can find the lyrics and chords for these songs in my Song Archive: YesterdayYou raise me up, She, That's what friends are for and some others.

If you can be the next person to feel and share joy for music, my goal is achieved. Playing the piano has for sure given me a lot of joy and I have also enjoyed others with the music. Thank you for the trip and I wish you all the best :-)

Svein Waade

I have found this path when having the opportunity to help a lot of people learn to play the piano. I will be glad if you leave a message below.

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