Learning a new skill is a common New Year’s resolution. If you or someone you know has made a resolution to finally learn to play the piano, this post is for you. Yes, most of the material on this blog is geared toward kids, but if you didn’t take piano lessons as a child, it isn’t too late! In fact, as an adult, you have the capacity to embark on an independent study and learn differently than kids typically do. We will walk through a chord-based approach that will (mostly) skip the stage of plinking out “Hot Cross Buns” and get you on your way to playing creative music that you can be proud of. Steps one through six are the basics that any pianist needs to know, and step 7 gives you the resources you’ll need to take your playing to the next level.
1) Get a Piano/ Keyboard. This guide can help you decide what type of instrument will work best for you.
2) Learn the Note Names. In order to play the piano, all you really need to know is which note(s) to play and how long to play them for! Easy, right? Use this Beginner’s Guide to reading music to walk through the basics of musical notation. The C that sits just below the bottom of the treble clef is the one labeled as “Middle C” below. The guide doesn’t name all 88 keys or introduce any of the black keys, but it’s a good start to figuring out which circle on which line corresponds to which key on your piano.
3) Learn Rhythms and Rests. Once you can tell which notes the music is asking for, you’ll need to know each note’s value, or how long to hold it. The How To Read Music guide mentioned in number 2 above reviews the basics of how many beats each type of note gets. You should also review the symbols for rests, or pauses in your playing. Just like notes, rests have values as well to indicate how long the music should pause.
4) Study Time Signatures. Once you understand the basic symbols of notation and rhythm, you’ll be ready to encounter them inside of a piece of music. Each piece of music has it’s own designated time signature, which tells you how many beats will appear in each measure. (See the handy guide from above.) Most of the first pieces you’ll see will either be in four four or three four. In four four, you’ll be counting to four steadily, over and over again, with each quarter note being held one beat. In three four, you’ll only count to three before starting over again at one.
5) Watch Out of Key Signatures and Accidentals. So far we haven’t touched on the black keys. If you see a ♭ (flat) sign in front of any note, that means you should play the black key directly below that note instead of the indicated white note. If you see a # (sharp) sign in front of a note, you should play the black note directly above the indicted note instead. Sometimes sharps and flats pop up right next to a note. These are called accidentals. They only remain in effect for a single measure. So, if there was an F marked with a # at the beginning of a measure and an F appeared again in the same measure, you’d play the F# again. However, if you see an F again, go back to playing F natural. Sometimes, however, you will see sharps or flats marked at the beginning of each line throughout a piece. That means that every time you encounter the note where the sharp or flat is indicated, you will substitute the sharp or flat in the key signature for the regular white note. For example, if you see a ♭ on the middle line of the treble clef, every time you see a B, you will play the black key below B instead (B♭).
6) Try Some Simple Songs. Use the sheet music index and select from the many free level one pieces to try. (Yes, “Hot Cross Buns” is there, but you don’t have to choose that one unless you want to.) You could try just the right hand/ melody line first, then work on adding in the left hand harmony. Many of these songs are familiar, so you’ll know the tunes. Knowing what a song should sound like can help you solidify the connection between what the notation looks like on a page and what it sounds like when played.
7) Add Chord Accompaniments. Here’s where the adult approach diverts from the typical childhood piano lesson approach. Most kids continue to progress through various levels of music where every note is exactly prescribed in both the right and the left hand. The rhythms, fingerings, and combinations get more complicated, but the students are always playing what they read. Since many adults are playing just for enjoyment, and are often most interested in playing familiar songs, they enjoy taking a chord approach instead. A chord approach teaches you how to enhance a provided melody by improvising your own accompaniment to it. All you need to learn is which notes are part of which chords. The Piano Chord Fun Book will walk you through the process of learning the chords and creating pleasing chord accompaniments. It also includes several different pieces that allow you to experiment and practice with the technique. If you’d like a handy reminder of which notes belong in the most commonly used chords, you can post these charts near your piano or keyboard, too.
Get Piano Chords Fun Book
With time and effort, your work will pay off in a fulfilling new hobby. Best of luck!
The Piano Chords Fun Book | Arranging Made Easy
Beginner All-In-One Piano Primer | Piano Lesson Book
Christmas Music for Beginners|Easy Piano Sheet Music
Free Piano Sheet Music for Beginners (PDF)