Piano for Beginners: Getting Started with the Basics

27 December, 2018
Piano for Beginners: Getting Started with the Basics

Piano for beginners may seem daunting, but in fact, it’s very easy to start learning some simple tunes. However, before starting playing tunes, you should get familiar with the basics. Be very patient as like any other skill in life, it just takes time to learn.

Make sure your piano is in tune

If you have a digital piano, you can skip this section. Otherwise, have a quick check to make sure your acoustic piano is tuned. It will sound bad if it’s out of tune, which won’t be any fun to follow this piano for beginners’ guide.

Run your fingers along the keys and see if any stick or have a tinny, reverberating sound. If they do, this probably means your piano is out of tune. 

Tuning your piano can cost a bit, but it is well worth while. Unless your piano is really old. Or located in a hot or humid area, it should stay in tune for 5 years or so.

To keep your piano in tune longer, it’s a good idea to play it as often as you can. Pianos work better the more you play them.

Position it against an internal wall, rather than one of the exterior walls of the house. This helps to protect it against heat and damp. Once you’ve established whether or not your piano is in tune, it’s time to move on to the next section.

Be comfortable at the piano

This may seem obvious but some piano for beginners’ guides out there forget to mention this section. Being comfortable at the piano (or any instrument) is the key to good playing.

The first thing you need to do is to position your hands on the keyboard. Sit down at the piano and make sure that your chair/stool is at a comfortable height. Your hands should feel comfortable resting on the keyboard. You should position your elbows at your waist with your forearms stretching out at a 90 degree angle from your upper arm, not on an angle.

Position your hands around “middle C”. You can easily remember where middle C is, because it is right in the middle of your piano. It is just above the brand name written on the front panel. Also, if you count the group of two black notes from left to right, it is the C just before the fourth one.

To position your hands, place both your thumbs on middle C. Each finger on both hands on one key each spanning outwards. This is what we call the “C position”. In some ways, middle C is one of the most important notes on the piano. That’s because it is at the centre of the piano keyboard and marks a “central” pitch as well. 

Notes and octaves

Piano keys

When you look at the piano you will notice that the same patterns of notes keep repeating themselves. We call these patterns “Octaves”. Each octave contains 8 notes. For example, the octave up from middle C contains the notes CDEFGABC.

Each black key is both a sharp and a flat. For example, the note G: the black key after it is a G sharp (G#) and the black key before it is a G flat (Gb) and so on.

These same notes are repeated all the way up and down the piano and the notes within each octave are called scales. Remember Do Re Me Fa So La Te Do from the musical The Sound of Music? These are the 8 notes that make up a scale: C to the next C, G to the next G and so on.

In actuality, there are only 7 “different” white notes on the piano (ABCDEFG) and 5 “different” black notes. What distinguishes the notes in each octave is the pitch (the high or low sound). So, for example, you can play a C at a very high pitch or a very low pitch.

All these different Cs produce a different pitch, but they are still the same note. Play four Cs at one time to see what I mean. See how they blend together completely? This is another useful way of testing whether your piano is in tune. If it isn’t, this exercise will sound horribly discordant.

Music notation

One of the most fundamental points in teaching piano for beginners is how to read music. Reading music is the most basic skill a professional musician should have.

We previously talked a lot about middle C. That’s because the middle C marks the centre of high and low pitches on the keyboard. The notes above middle C are notated on the treble clef, while the notes below middle C are shown on the bass clef. 

The clef symbol is the first symbol that appears at the beginning of every staff. The treble and bass clefs are the most widely used in music. There are a couple of other clefs as well, but we won't be looking at those here.

Each clef (treble and bass) have 5 lines and 4 spaces. Each line and space have a specific note that is located there. The images below show all the notes on both staves:

Sheet Music for "Treble Clef"Treble ClefCDEFGABCDEFGABC
Sheet Music for "Bass Clef"Bass ClefCDEFGABCDEFGABC


 Let’s play a tune

Now we have some basics about the piano, it’s time to play a simple tune. For this famous tune, we will only concentrate on the right hand. Playing both hands at same time is a skill that will take some time to acquire. For now, let’s train our right hand.

Sheet Music for "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

The music piece above is divided into 4 bars for each treble clef line. Each bar has 4 beats. We call the black note Quarter Note and it has one beat value. We call the white note Half Note and it has 2 beat value.

If you count as seconds, there would be 4 seconds in each bar. Each black note would be one second and the white ones two seconds. Try to play this piece with the right hand and make sure you stay in rhythm.

Beyond piano for beginners

Well done! I hope you enjoyed your piano for beginners’ lesson. There is a lot of information to grasp when you begin learning the piano, but don’t worry if you don’t take it all in at first. As you continue to play, you will be constantly going over everything again and again, and you will find that it gradually all comes together.

Glossary of Terms 

Bass Clef: This is the lowest clef, also known as the F clef because the inner curl and dots are around the line representing F. This clef is used for the left hand of piano music and other instruments with a low pitch range, e.g. the double bass.

Quarter Note: A Quarter Note is a note that one plays for one quarter of the duration of a whole note.

Discordant: A sound that is not in agreement or harmony

Notation: Written music, showing musical notes on staves.

Pitch: In music, pitch is the perception of the frequency of a note. 

Reverberating: A sound that lingers in an area even after the source stops suddenly.

Staff: In musical notation, the staff or stave is a set of five horizontal lines on which note symbols on them indicate pitch and rhythm.

Tempo: The speed at which a piece of music is being played.

Treble Clef: This is the highest clef, also known as the G clef because the inner curl of the clef sign is wrapped around the line representing G. This is usually the right hand on the piano (especially piano for beginners).

person_outline Author

Arisson Santos
Arisson Santos

Arisson Santos graduated in Computer Science at the University of Wales, and he has a Masters degree in Advanced Computing from the Manchester Metropolitan University both in the UK. He has always been interested in computers, technology and of course music. He used to play the trumpet as a child and has been playing the piano for several years. He's currently learning how to play the violin.

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