Lesson 1: Basics of Piano

Lesson 1a

So you have your piano/keyboard, your bench, your sheet music, now you’re ready to play! 


There are some steps.

  1. Sitting on the bench

  2. Placing your fingers on the keys

  3. Reading sheet music

  4. The metronome

  5. Basic music theory


Step 1: Sitting on the bench

A note on sitting at the piano bench:


(From Chaun C Chang’s book):

The right height of the bench and its distance from the piano is also a matter of personal taste. For a good starting point, sit at the bench with your elbows at your sides and forearms pointing straight towards the piano. With your hands on the keys in playing position, the elbows should be slightly below the height of the hands, about level with the keys. Now place your hands on the white keys – the distance of the bench from the piano (and your sitting position) should be such that the elbows just miss your body as you move them in towards each other. Do not sit at the center of the bench, but sit closer to the front edge so that you can plant your feet firmly on the floor or pedals. The bench height and location are most critical when playing loud chords. Therefore, you can test this position by playing two black key chords simultaneously, as loudly as you can. The chords are C#2 G#2 C#3 (5,2,1) for the left hand and C#5 G#5 C#6 (1,2,5) for the right hand. Press down hard, leaning forwards a little, with the whole weight of your arms and shoulders, to make a thundering, authoritative sound. Make sure that the shoulders are totally involved. Loud, impressive sounds cannot be made using only the hands and forearms; the force must come from the shoulders and the body. If this is comfortable, the bench and sitting positions should be correct. Historically, there has been a tendency of teachers to sit their students too high; consequently, the standard bench height of fixed height benches tend to be one to two inches too high, thus forcing the students to play more with their fingertips than the front finger pads. It is therefore important to have a bench with variable height.


Step 2: Placing your hands on the keyboard

The piano itself has 88 keys, 36 black, 52 white. (I’m not going to waste my time talking about smaller-sized keyboards).

The lowest note is A0, the highest C8. Middle C is C4.


When putting your hands on the keys, try to press one key at a time with each finger. This will be very difficult if you don’t have any finger independence.


A note on finger positions (From Chaun C Chang’s book, Fundamentals of Piano Practice):

Relax the fingers and place your hand on a flat surface with all the fingertips resting on the surface and the wrist at the same height as the knuckles. The hand and fingers should form a dome. All the fingers should be curved. The thumb should point slightly down and bend slightly towards the fingers so that the last (nail) phalange of the thumb is parallel to the other fingers (viewed from above). This slight inward bend of the thumb is useful when playing chords with wide spans. It positions the tip of the thumb parallel to the keys making it less likely to hit adjacent keys. It also orients the thumb so that the correct muscles are used to raise and lower it. The fingers are slightly curled, curving down and meeting the surface at angles near 45 degrees. This curled configuration allows the fingers to play between the black keys. The tip of the thumb and the other fingertips should form an approximate semicircle on the flat surface. If you do this with both hands side by side, the two thumbnails should be facing each other. Use the part of the thumb directly below the thumbnails to play, not the joint between the nail phalange and the middle phalange. The thumb is already too short; therefore, play with its tip for maximum uniformity with all the fingers. For the other fingers, the bone comes close to the skin at the fingertips. At the front pad of the fingertip (opposite the fingernail), the flesh is thicker. This front pad should contact the keys, not the fingertip.

This is the starting position. Once you begin play, you may need to stretch the fingers almost straight, or curl them more, depending on what you are playing. Therefore, although the beginner must learn the ideal curled position, strict adherence to a fixed curled configuration is not correct; this will be discussed in detail later on, especially because the curled position has significant disadvantages.


Step 3: Reading Sheet Music


Reading Sheet Music


Reading sheet music is worthy of an entire lesson in itself. Special Thanks to Ani from our sister discord, TheoreticalBasis, for providing the below description, which I reviewed myself: 


Overview of Clefs: To notate and write western music, we use something called a staff. It is built upon five lines and 4 spaces. To notate the staff, we write something called a clef on front of each line of the music. 


In this lesson, you will learn about the 3 most common musical clefs that you will see. 

The treble clef is the most common clef and is designed for the highest pitched instruments . It is also called the G-clef because the first curve of the clef starts at the G. The first line on the bottom represents the note E, while the next lines going up represent G, B, D, and F, respectively in order. The bottom space represents F, while the next 3 spaces in respect read, A, C, E. 

While you start learning an instrument , a good way to start reading the clef includes using a mnemonic. Every Good Bird Does Fly, was my favorite one to use for the line notes growing up. FACE was my favorite for the space notes. 

The bass clef is a very popular clef and is used with lower pitched instruments. It is also called the F-clef as the two dots on the clef surround the line which dictates the note F. The line notes (lowest to highest) are G, B, D, F, and A. The space notes are A, C, E, and G. A mnemonic for the line notes that I used was Great Big Dogs Fight Animals. The One that I used for the space notes was All Cars Eat Gas.

Despite being in my logo, the alto clef is unfortunately a less popular clef and is the direct middle of the Treble and Bass clef. It is also called the C clef as the middle hinge of the clef points at C. The notes for the lines on the clef in order are F, A, C, E, and G. The space notes are G, B, D, and F. The mnemonic I used for reading alto clef is Fords And Chevrolets Eat Gas. The mnemonic used for the space notes on the alto clef Good Brakes Don’t Fail. 


Step 4: The Metronome

Musicians have long had a love/hate relationship with metronomes. I used to hate them until I realized how much I was losing by not using them. Every good pianist you hear today has used the metronome extensively. Develop a good habit early on of using the metronome, even when playing simple pieces.


You should use the metronome at least once a day. Keep the metronome at about 50-70% of your performance tempo. Play through the piece once with the metronome, then play through it without. Your playing will feel much more smooth.


Most digital pianos have metronomes built in, and metronomes can be downloaded on iphones or ipads. 


Lesson 1b - Theory basics

(borrowed from our amazing sister Discord server, TheoreticalBasics)


From Fawful on TheoreticalBasics Discord server: https://discord.gg/CSp9aHm

Check out Fawful’s twitch channel: twitch.tv/furyfulfawful

The core unit for (most) music is the note. A pitch, held for some amount of time, notated by a letter ABCDEFG and possibly a sharp # or a flat b. Altogether, they describe 12 classes of pitch that together make a complete whole - an octave, after which the cycle repeats. (image stolen from whatever site happens to be at the top of google images)


The combination of two notes (either sequentially or together) is called an interval, which is notated (roughly) based on how many pitches are between the top and the bottom of the interval. The two most important ones (at least, arguably) are the minor and major second, which are respectively a pair of adjacent notes and a pair of notes separated by one note exactly. The minor second up from F is an F#/Gb, the major second up from A is B. The minor and major second are also referred to as "half step" and "whole step" respectively.


Once you are capable of reading sheet music, the next step is to start playing specific pieces.

Please see my piece-specific videos for help.

  • ICON IMG - Discord_edited_edited

©2020 Lionel Yu