How to Play Piano: Ultimate Guide to Learning Piano

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Written By Will Fenton

Founder of MidderMusic. From numerous bands to stints working in music shops, read more about me on the 'Here's My Story' page!

Is learning how to play the piano one of your New Year’s resolutions?

Well, we are here to help you get started – and more importantly, we will help you keep at it.

Learning the piano can be a bit intimidating, but with the right approach (and learning resources), you’ll get a grasp of it sooner than you think.

Our comprehensive guide will help you get through the piano basics, but it will also provide you with useful tips and tricks.

Table of Contents

Part 1 – Starting Out 

How to play piano

Chapter 1 – Things To Keep In Mind 

1.1. Benefits of Learning How To Play the Piano – 7 Reasons 

If you’re still not sure whether the piano is the right instrument for you, we’ve gathered some piano facts that might affect your decision.

In fact, we will tell you all the reasons why we think piano is one of the best instruments to learn. Because, trust us – it really is! 

1. You can immediately sound good

Let’s be clear – learning how to play a piano well takes a lot of time and practice. But piano is a bit different from other instruments because you can make the ‘right’ sound just by pressing the correct key. 

So unlike playing the violin or a trumpet, making a sound on the piano is actually quite simple. In other words, you don’t have to worry about making dreadful sounds on your first lesson.

2. All the notes are there

The reason why you can make good sounds on the piano from day 1 is that all the notes exist on the piano. So, it’s impossible for piano beginners to hit pitches that are between notes, like it’s the case with some other instruments.

This doesn’t make learning the piano an easy-peasy task, but it ultimately makes understanding how everything works more logical. 

3. Both melody and harmony are involved

Unlike melody (a series of notes), harmony occurs when two or more notes are played at the same time. And as a piano learner, you’ll learn both melody and harmony.

And this is why playing the piano is so enjoyable – you can create powerful and rich music with a single instrument.

4. You’re on your own – in a good way

One of the blessings of being a piano player is the possibility to be completely independent; without the need for someone to accompany you. 

Since pianos entail learning both harmony and melody, they sound amazing on their own. Of course, they can also be a part of the orchestra or a band – it’s a matter of choice. 

5. Pianos can do it all

Unlike many other instruments, pianos can sound great in any music genre. From classical music to pop, jazz and modern rock.

There’s no doubt about it – the piano is an incredibly versatile instrument, and we didn’t even mention electronic keyboards that can play literally anything…

6. It’s a good foundation

If you learn how to play piano, learning other instruments will be much easier.

Piano lessons cover a wide range of musical topics and skills such as musicality, treble and bass clefs, hand coordination, and so on – and all of this will give you an excellent starting point for learning other instruments.

7. Playing the piano has physical and physiological benefits 

Did you know that playing an instrument like piano comes with numerous health benefits?

Learning the piano will help you improve your motor skills as well as your hand strength and dexterity. It will also improve your memory, cognitive skills, and focus.

Finally, piano reduces levels of stress and anxiety. Studies show that playing the piano can improve mental health and generally boost mood and confidence. 

Woman playing the piano.

Disadvantages of Playing the Piano

We had to think hard for this one. However, no musical instrument is perfect. Although the piano came pretty close…

1. Learning the piano is challenging

Truth be told, piano really isn’t the easiest instrument to learn. Yes, you can learn how to play a simple melody within a few hours, but you won’t really understand the song or learn how to play it properly.

If you want to become a good piano player, you’ll have to think about many things, including hand coordination, notes, correct technique, etc. 

2. Piano is not portable

Needless to say, the piano is a heavy and bulky instrument. So unless you decide to buy a light keyboard, it’s not very handy in terms of portability.

On the other hand, instruments like the flute, guitar or harmonica are very easy to carry around. 

Of course, these disadvantages are hardly problematic compared to all the benefits of playing the piano.

1.2 Expectations 

See also: How Much Do Piano Lessons Cost and How Long Does It Take To Learn Piano 

Before moving to specific tips and tricks on how to learn the piano, we want to let you know what to expect.

First of all, the question that usually comes before starting piano lessons is the cost of it all. So let’s take a quick look at all the costs of playing the piano.

Is piano expensive?

When it comes to learning the piano costs, the instrument itself will probably be your biggest cost. So yes, buying a piano can be a real investment.

But it all depends on what kind of piano you want to buy. An upright piano can cost you anything from $3,000 to $6,500 on average. But there are some good entry-level keyboards that will cost you less than $500.

Person playing the keyboard.

Another expense you have to take into account are piano lessons. Lessons with a piano teacher can cost anywhere from $20 to $100+ per hour.

There are, however, piano learning websites that offer affordable online piano lessons. And piano learning apps and online programs are probably the cheapest option.

We’ll discuss the advantages and drawbacks of online and in-person piano lessons in our Shopping Guide down below.

But there’s another thing we want to mention regarding piano learning costs – piano accessories. Although most of the accessories are optional, things like music theory books, a metronome, and sheet music will most likely come in handy.

As a piano beginner, it’s important to make your learning process as easy and effective as you can, and that’s why we recommend considering these extra costs.

All things considered, piano playing isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t have to be pricey either. There are many affordable yet efficient and well-structured piano lessons on the internet; but more on that in a bit.

How much practice does piano require?

Another question that many people ask is: how much do I need to practice?

Well, that depends. Do you want to become a skilled piano player? You’ll have to practice every day for hours. And you’ll have to wait for a couple of years. But if you just want to master the basics so you can play the songs you like, you’ll get there more quickly. 

Of course, regardless of what your goals are, the most important thing about piano practice is consistency. Ideally, you should practice 30 minutes a day. Even a 15-minute practice session will do you good – that way, you can easily incorporate your piano practice into your daily routine, but you’ll also be able to make progress. 

Either way, gaining piano skills takes time. But once piano practice becomes a part of your routine, everything will be easier.

via GIPHY

1.3. What Age Is the Best to Learn Piano?

Another common thought that occurs before taking up piano is: am I too old to learn the piano?

The simple answer is – no. It’s never too late to start learning the piano. However… If there’s an ideal age to learn the piano, it would probably be between the ages of 6 and 9-years-old.  

There are many advantages of taking piano lessons as a kid. But if you’re an adult beginner, you also have certain advantages. So let us first explain why learning the piano as an adult isn’t a bad thing at all.

Learning Piano as an Adult

As an adult, you’re used to having responsibilities and, hopefully, sticking to your schedule. So taking piano lessons and maintaining regular piano practice won’t be that difficult. 

You will also be able to learn effectively and at your own pace because you already know what your learning habits are. 

And your motivation to learn will allow you to keep moving forward. Adults usually want to learn piano because they want to play the music they like, and that’s definitely a good starting point – you know what you want and what you like and you’ll therefore have a blast reaching for your goals.

Finally, think of your age as your ally. You have more life experience than a child, and therefore more knowledge – all of this will help you acquire certain playing skills and understand complex musical terms.

Learning Piano as a Child 

There are many studies suggesting that it’s easier to learn an instrument at a younger age. Moreover, there are countless benefits of learning how to play an instrument as a kid.

Regarding the benefits, piano learning encourages kids to be creative. It also improves their memory, focus, and fine motor skills. 

Certainly, the piano will come more naturally to some kids, and others will need more help and patience. But either way, those kids will be better learners in school, and they will also learn about work ethic and responsibilities.

Finally, if you learn how to play the piano as a kid and continue your practice as an adult, you’ll become a great piano player. Even if you don’t touch a piano for a couple of months (and even years), it will all come back to you very quickly – you’ll have it ‘in your fingers.’

After all, most professional pianists started to play at a young age.

Child learning how to play piano.

Chapter 2: Piano Buying Guide

2.1. How To Choose Your First Piano

Since there are so many piano models on the market, buying your first piano can be a bit overwhelming. 

If you feel that way, we suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

What is my budget?

You need to decide what your budget is before looking for a piano. That way, you’ll narrow down the choices and you’ll be able to make a purchase in a quicker and more efficient way.

This is important to establish due to a wide price range of the pianos. As we’ve already mentioned, you can get a piano for less than $500 and for more than $60,000.

What type of piano do I want?

Next, decide what type of piano is the best for you. Digital pianos and keyboards can be less bulky, and they’re often easier to move around. They’re also more affordable and they come with useful features. 

On the other hand, the sound of an acoustic piano is by far the best sound you can get. 

There’s also a hybrid piano, which has elements of both. 

Who will play the piano?

You should also think about who’s going to use the piano you’re buying. Will your children also play it? If you’re a beginner, do you want to buy an entry-level piano and upgrade later on? 

Where will I place my piano?

This question is important because it will help you avoid a situation where your piano simply doesn’t fit the space you had in mind. 

Once you decide where you’re going to place your new piano, measure the space you have and take these measurements into account while browsing or going into a store. 

Rent or buy?

If you’re uncertain if you’ll continue with your piano lessons, you can go for a piano renting option. Check out what kind of pianos you can get in your area and if they fit your expectations.

Research the brands!

Before heading to a music store or piano buying websites, conduct a little research about the most popular piano brands. Every piano company has their own values and target customers, so make sure the brand you’re purchasing aligns with your goals and abilities.

See also: Best Piano Brands

Features to Look for in a Piano

To make our piano shopping guide more helpful, we have some specific advice about what to look for in a piano.

First of all, we definitely recommend opting for a 88-key piano. That’s a standard piano, and many keyboards have 61 keys or less. 

Ideally, these keys will also be touch-sensitive weighted keys. That way, you’ll be able to play it loud or soft depending on the pressure you put on it. 

Last but not least, we recommend testing it out. Even if you don’t have any playing experience yet, you should (if possible) try to press the keys. The piano should be responsive and easy to play. 

Useful Piano Buying Resources 

If you’re looking for a more detailed piano buying guide, you can check out the following sites:

  • Piano Buyer is quite useful as it provides useful information on the marketplace, brand profiles, as well as buying and selling guides. 
  • Piano Dreamers offers articles on specific piano types as well as guides, tips, and reviews.
  • YouTube can also be a good source of information when it comes to choosing a piano. Just make sure you find a reliable channel.

2.2. Piano Accessories

Once you buy your first piano, we recommend investing in a few useful piano accessories. If you can’t do it now, you can get them over time.

Piano bench

Using a kitchen chair to play the piano is not forbidden (it depends who you ask though), but it’s surely better to get a proper piano bench. Piano benches are usually adjustable and they offer great playing experience.

Pedal

If your keyboard doesn’t have a pedal, make getting a pedal your priority. When used, pedals make a big difference. So if you want to reach the next level, learning how to play piano with a pedal is a must. 

Music stand 

Having a music stand is also a must, so if your keyboard doesn’t have it (most pianos and keyboards have one though), consider buying a stand that will hold your sheet music, metronome, and so on.

Metronome

Speaking of metronomes, this practice tool is very common and helpful, especially for beginners. You can get a ‘real’ stand-alone metronome or simply download a metronome app.

via GIPHY

Piano Maintenance 

Owning a piano comes with certain responsibilities. If you want your piano to last and generally be in a good condition, you need to tune it regularly. Acoustic pianos, for example, need to be tuned by a professional.

Maintenance is also important for the appearance of the instrument. But you don’t have to invest in special cleaning products – soft cloths and feather dusters will do just fine.

2.3. How to Find Piano Lessons

See also: Best Online Piano Lessons 

Recently, and especially in the past few years, online learning programs have started to flourish. So, hiring a piano teacher or going to a piano school is no longer your only option.

Online piano lessons are, in fact, a great way to learn the piano. They’re convenient, affordable, and efficient. But of course, they also have their flaws.

Piano learning apps are also a very cool thing – they will allow you to learn in a fun and engaging way.

On the other hand, nothing really beats in-person lessons. That way, a teacher can help you notice your weak spots and help you improve them. And you won’t be needing any special technology – it’s just you, your teacher, and music.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your preferences, abilities, and learning habits. So let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of popular ways of learning.

In-person Piano Lessons 

Pros:

  • Instant, personal feedback
  • Clear guidance
  • Professional teaching methods 

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Lack of flexibility

Piano Learning Apps 

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Fun and engaging (especially gamified apps)
  • You can choose your learning material
  • Song libraries 

Cons:

  • Lack of quality feedback
  • Potential lack of advanced lessons

Online Piano Lessons

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Convenient (learning from home)
  • Flexible 

Cons:

  • Lack of quality feedback

Combination of Methods 

If that seems more convenient for you, you can also combine learning methods. For example, you can meet with a piano teacher once a month, and practice with a piano app or an online program in the meantime.

Either way, it’s important to establish a routine – you might feel overwhelmed or a bit lost otherwise. 

That being said, online piano programs are a great source because they usually offer structured learning. Lessons are usually linear, and you can move forward once you complete them. 

Using online lessions to learn the piano.

2.4. Other Methods 

See also: Best Way to Learn Piano and How to Teach Yourself Piano

With so many learning options out there, it’s easy to get confused. But don’t worry – once you know what you’re looking for, everything will be easier.

There’s no single best way to learn piano for beginners. It all depends on the best way you like to learn.

Traditional methods might be more expensive, but they will provide you with quality learning and clear guidance. 

Modern methods, on the other hand, turned out to be quite effective. Online music programs and apps are designed to teach you in a quick and easy way. And you’ll probably have a lot of fun in the process.

So, you need to choose a learning path you believe it’s best for you. Luckily, we live in a time when it’s possible to learn piano regardless of where you live. New technologies also allow us to learn in a productive as well as cost-effective way. 

Whatever you choose, make sure the program or your teacher’s methods align with your learning habits and goals. Also, don’t expect super fast results. Playing the piano for beginners takes time, but once you see the results, you’ll just be craving for more!

Part 2 –  Mastering the Basics

Chapter 3: Have a Seat

3.1. Importance of the Correct Posture 

One of the essential elements of playing the piano is a good posture. 

If you’re learning from a piano app or an online program, good posture often gets overlooked. So, just in case, we’re here to remind you of how important it actually is.

Playing with the correct posture will not only make you feel comfortable, but it will also allow you to produce the best sound possible.

Keep in mind (or write down) the following piano posture tips:

  • Keep your back straight and don’t hunch over
  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor
  • Don’t sit too far back
  • Relax your shoulders, elbows and wrists

As you progress with your piano lessons, a good piano posture will come naturally. But before that happens, you should pay attention to it every time you sit in front of a piano.

And remember: a good posture is the key to a good sound! 

Piano posture when learning to play the piano.

Chapter 4: Basic Skills 

4.1. The Beginnings 

So, how do you start with learning the piano? What is the first thing you should learn?

Although that depends on your learning source, one of the first things a piano student usually learns is how to navigate the keyboard.

A 88-key keyboard might seem a bit intimidating at first. Therefore, it’s important to let go of that fear and become familiar with it.

Finding Middle C

One of the best ways to understand how the piano keys patterns work is to find the middle C note.

So how to find the middle C on the keyboard?

That’s quite easy, actually. You see how there are sets of two and three black keys? Just find the two black keys in the middle of the piano and press the white key on their left – that’s the famous middle C.

And as you move around, you’ll come across more C notes – they’re all positioned on the left of the black key pair.

Middle C on the piano.

Learning Musical Alphabet 

You already know your first note and how to find it on a keyboard. That’s a start!

Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the musical alphabet. Starting with C, the musical alphabet has 7 letters: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

Many online sources explain the musical alphabet in a real alphabetical order: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. However, piano teachers usually start with a C – because that’s how they’re lined on a piano.

Either way, there are only 7 letters for you to remember. Easy, right?

Diagram of the musical alphabet.

And if you’re wondering what these black keys are, they’re actually half-steps. They’re called flats or sharps. But more on that later.

4.2. Practicing the Five Finger Scale 

Once you memorize piano notes, you can start with your first song – well, it’s actually a scale, but it’s essential for every piano beginner.

Without further ado, let’s learn the five finger scale!

The Right Hand

To begin playing a scale, place your thumb (of the right hand) on the Middle C. This will be your finger 1 from on.

And put the rest of your fingers on the rest of the keys. So, this is what happens:

  • Finger 1 on C
  • Finger 2 (your index finger) on D
  • Finger 3 on E
  • Finger 4 on F
  • Finger 5 (your pinky) on G 

Now try to move your fingers and play these notes in order. When you reach the G note, move back in another direction, playing G, F, E, D, C.

If this is your first ever time to play the piano, this might feel a bit unusual. And that’s completely normal – your fingers are not used to it.

That being said, you should practice this scale until it feels more comfortable. Play it slowly first, and then increase the speed. You can also try to move only two fingers (play only C and D, then only D and E, and so on.) This is how you’ll improve your finger strength and dexterity.

And when you’re able to play a five finger scale with ease, you can move on to the left hand.

The Left Hand

To play the five finger scale with your left hand, place your pinky finger on the C note. Now continue to play the notes with the rest of your fingers, just like you learned to do with your right hand.

Repeat the scale (going up and down) until it feels more comfortable. Your fingers shouldn’t feel strained, and you should be able to keep up the rhythm. 

When you feel more confident, you’ll continue with more complex scales and rhythms – that’s when you’ll have to cross over your fingers, in order to play more than five notes. 

But stick to the basic five finger scale for now. It’s important to master the fundamentals instead of jumping to playing songs right away.

4.3 Basic Piano Chords

The next thing you should learn before you move on to playing songs on the piano are chords.

Basically, a piano chord is created when more than one note is played at once. So, to play a chord, you’ll have to press more than one key with one hand at the same time.

Let’s start with your first chord so you can get a better idea of what chords actually are.

C Major Triad in Root Position

The C Major chord is a common piano chord that’s fairly easy to play.

To play the C Major chord on the piano, do this:

  • put your right thumb on the C 
  • put your right pinky on the G 
  • put your middle finger on the E 
Diagram of the C Major chord on the piano.

And that’s it!

You can now try to do the same thing with your left hand.

Other fundamental piano chords, including G major, F major, and A minor, can be played with the same fingering.

Mastering chords is inevitable and essential for every beginner piano player. You’ll come across many different chords in the song you’re going to play, so becoming familiar with the basic ones is absolutely necessary.

4.4. Using Both Hands 

One of the most challenging things for every piano learner is mastering hand independence.

Sure, it’s easy to play a five finger scale with one hand – but what happens when you need to play it with both?

Moreover, what happens when your right and your left hand need to do something completely different?

Don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually – and you will be able to play with both hands effortlessly. But before that happens, stick to simple tasks, such as playing the five finger scale with both hands.

via GIPHY

Playing the Five-Finger Scale Using Both Hands

You’ve already learned how to play the five finger scale with your right and your left hand. Now try to do it with both hands simultaneously.

To play this simple scale with both hands, make sure to play these notes with these fingers: 

  • Right hand – fingers 1-2-3-4-5 on C-D-E-F-G
  • Left hand – fingers 5-4-3-2-1 on C-D-E-F-G

And when you switch the direction and move it down, the fingering will look like this:

  • Right hand – fingers 5-4-3-2-1 on G-F-E-D-C
  • Left hand- fingers: 1-2-3-4-5 on G-F-E-D-C

But you already know that, right? You just need to play what you’ve learned at the same time. Do it slowly first, until you get used to the feeling.

4.5. Playing Scales With Both Hands 

Now when you’ve mastered the five finger scale, are you ready to move on to something more challenging?

This is, of course, still beginner-friendly content, and students usually learn this during their first piano lessons.

So, let’s try playing a full scale – so, a 7-note scale. To be more precise, you’ll play 8 notes/keys, because the scale goes like this: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

When you’re going up, you’ll play with the same fingering you used for a five finger scale, but with a little twist. It goes like this: 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5.

So, after pressing the E note, simply tuck your thumb under your first and second finger and press the next key (F note) with your thumb. Now move on without hassle – play the following notes with the rest of your fingers until you reach the next C with your pinky.

To go down the scale, use this:

  • Notes: C-B-A-G-F-E-D-C
  • Fingering: 5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1

So, you’ll have to cross your thumb with your middle finger after you press the F note. In other words, you’ll have to use your middle finger again when you run out of fingers.

Mastering the thumb tuck and crossing over takes time. So don’t sweat if it feels weird at the beginning. That’s why you need to practice a lot – practice until you’re able to play the octave scale smoothly. 

4.6. Piano Pedals 

Are you ready to enrich the sound of your scales and your first chords?

Well, piano pedals next to your feet are not here just for show. They can change the sound by softening your note, making it last longer, and so on.

The names of piano pedals are the following: soft, sostenuto, and sustain (dampening) pedal. As a beginner (and a piano player in general), you’ll mostly use the sustain pedal.

via GIPHY

The sustain pedal makes the note ring longer, simply by removing the dampers from the string. 

Of course, there are different ways of pedaling. But you’ll learn how to use the pedal once you start playing songs and get to more advanced lessons.

If you want to find out more about the function of each pedal, Flowkey has a beginner’s piano guide that explains it nicely.

See also: Flowkey Review 

Part 3 – Starting with Music Theory 

Music theory is a crucial part of a piano learning process. So when choosing a piano program, make sure the material covers music theory. 

On the other hand, if you opt for traditional piano lessons, you’ll become familiar with certain musical concepts early on.

Understanding basic music theory will help you master the playing technique better – so, no skipping theory lessons.

Chapter 5: The Grand Staff

5.1 Reading Music Notation

One of the first things you should get to know is the meaning of the grand staff. 

Essentially, the grand staff consists of two staves, treble and bass clef, joined together with a bracket. 

When it comes to piano grand staff, they contain two parts – a top part for the right hand, and the bottom staff for the left hand. 

Grand staff.

Treble Clef 

The upper clef on the picture is called treble clef – the most used clef in Western music notation. The treble clef notates musical notes above Middle C.

Bass Clef 

On the other note (pun intended), the bass clef is used to notate pitches below Middle C. It’s most frequently played with the left hand.

Furthermore, each staff (top and bottom) consists of five lines with spaces between them. And that’s where the notes are located. So, you know which note to play depending on the space or line it’s positioned on.

Also, the higher the line (or space), the higher the pitch. Makes sense, right?

Piano notes.

Tips for Memorizing Notes 

Don’t let the image above intimidate you. The thing is, you don’t have to memorize all the notes right away.

As you’ve already noticed, a musical alphabet consists of patterns. Once you recognize these patterns (scales, for example), everything will be easier.

You can also help yourself by memorizing the position of one note (G note, for example), and then count the notes in relation to this note. So, if you know where the G note is, you immediately know that a step up from G is A.

Knowing the distance and intervals between the notes also helps. 

Of course, becoming familiar with the piano notes is another thing that takes time. Be patient – the more you play and practice, the easier it gets. And eventually, reading notes will feel very natural.

Understanding the Rhythm 

Did you know that a note also tells you how many beats it has? In other words, you can find out ‘how long’ the note is going to last based on how it looks.

For example, an ‘empty’ note without a straight stem has 4 beats. And if we’re talking about a 4/4 time signature, this note will last 4 beats. Therefore, this is also called the whole note.

Besides whole notes, there are half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes

Different piano notes and beats.

Time Signatures

We mentioned a 4/4 time signature a moment ago – so what does time signature actually represent?

Well, a time signature consists of two numbers. The upper number tells you many beats there are per measure, and the bottom number tells you what note value takes one beat. The measure refers to the section of music enclosed by bar lines.

So, the 4/4 time signature would translate to four quarter notes per measure.

Key Signatures

Another thing you should familiarize yourself with is key signature. You’ll spot a key signature right before the time signature, as you can see in the picture:

Key signatures.

In essence, the key signature tells you what key you’re in by listing all the sharps and flats in the piece. This will make more sense once you start playing the songs.

5.2. Getting to Know Music Symbols 

Accidentals

An important part of fundamental piano music theory and sight reading is understanding accidentals. Accidentals are very common in sheet music, and basically, they can tell you to play a different note from the original.

So, when you see a sharp (♯), you need to raise a note up by one half-step.

On the other hand, a flat (♭) tells you to lower a note down by one half-step.

So how do you recognize sharp and flat notes on the keyboard?

For example, F sharp is the black key located right next to F (on the right side), and a B flat is left of B. The same goes for G sharp, G flat, and so on.

And a natural (♮) represents the unaltered pitch of a note. So, a natural cancels all previous accidentals and tells you not to sharp or flat a note.

Dynamics

In short, dynamics change the volume of your music. So, there are markings on sheet music that will tell you whether you need to play something loud or soft. 

Some of the common dynamics markings you’ll come across include:

  • Forte (f) – loud
  • Piano (p) – soft
  • Mezzo forte (mf) – moderately loud
  • Mezzo piano (mp) – moderately soft
  • Fortissimo (ff) – very loud
  • Pianissimo (pp) – very soft
  • Crescendo – gradually get louder
  • Decrescendo – gradually get softer

So, if you see an mf marking on your sheet music, you’ll play that section somewhat loud. 

Expression

Other common symbols on sheet music often refer to expression.

For example, the word legato indicates that you need to play something lightly. And staccato (marked with a dot) tells you to play the note very short and sharp. Phrasing means you need to play the notes connected.

There are also words that tell piano players how to play the whole piece – in a way, these words can indicate the atmosphere of the song, and they are mainly executed by adjusting the tempo. 

  • Largo: play slowly and broadly
  • Allegro: play fast
  • Moderato: play at a moderate speed
  • Presto: play very fast
  • Andante: play at a “walking pace”
  • Lento: play slowly
  • Vivace: play at a lively and fast pace

Most of the words used in music theory are derived from Italian, German, and French. So, an Italian piano student will know what the previous markings mean right away.

And if you’re not familiar with the language, you can simply learn these words one at a time. During your piano learning process, you’ll probably encounter all of the words above.

5.3 Why Should You Learn to Read Music?

Some online piano learning programs and piano apps don’t cover music theory at all. But we can tell you right away that this is not good.

Learning how to read music will not only help you understand  the structure of the piece, but it will make your learning process easier; in the long run. 

Also, once you learn how to read notes, you’ll be able to pick up any new song in a quick and easy way. You’ll simply have to get your hands on the right sheet music. 

So, although learning to read music isn’t entirely necessary, it is very useful, especially if you want to reach advanced levels. 

Piano sheet music.

Chapter 6: Learning Chords 

6.1. What Are Chords in Music?

We already introduced you to the basic piano chords. But do you know how chords actually work?

As we’ve already mentioned, chords are a group of notes played together at the same time. You can think of them as the building blocks of music.

Some of the chords you’ll come across as a beginner are triads. Triads are three-note chords, just like the ones we’ve already taught you.

But let’s take at look at how certain triads work:

The C Major triad can be ‘calculated’ by counting four half-steps up from the root (bottom) note. The top note can be found by counting three half-steps up from the middle note. So in a way, this is a formula that will help you form a C major triad on the keyboard. 

C major triad on piano.

The second main type of triads are minor triads. The minor triad formula will allow you to do this easily. Simply count three half-steps up from the root (bottom) note and you’ll find a middle note. Find the top note by counting four half-steps up from the middle note.

How to Play Piano: Ultimate Guide to Learning Piano 1

Chord Progressions 

Learning chord progressions is the next step. And we promise you, this is a very exciting step for a piano learner.

Chord progressions are basically a sequence of chords – it’s something that happens if you play several chords in a row. But chord progressions are also used to develop harmony in music.

Another charm of chord progressions is this: when you learn the most common chord progressions, you’ll be able to play hundreds of songs. Many popular songs (as well as classical pieces) are based on the same chord progression.

6.2. Using Chord Charts – How Does It Work? 

You’ve probably heard of chord charts. Although they’re more common in guitar playing, you can also use them to play a song on the piano.

Piano chord charts are used for accompaniment. So, pianists who use chord charts don’t really play the melody. 

Piano chord charts.

Slash Chords

Some of the most important chords in music theory are slash chords. A slash chord (like F/E in “Yesterday” above) the note after the slash as your bass note. Meanwhile, your right hand plays the chord F on top.

Seventh Chords

To create a major seventh chord, you need to add a major seventh to the root of a major triad. Seventh chords like Em7 have an added seventh (E-G-B-D.)

Seventh chords are usually used in jazz music, as they create a somewhat dreamy sound. 

Sus Chords 

Finally, sus chords are created when you switch out a note for another. For example,  to play a Gsus4 chord, you need to switch out the third (B) for a fourth (C) to form G-C-D.

All of these chords probably seem a little confusing at the moment. But once you understand what they mean, you’ll be able to expand your chord repertoire and play more songs.

But we suggest you stick to basic chords for now.

6.3 What Are Lead Sheets and How to Use Them 

In short, lead sheets are a combination of chord charts and sheet music. To be honest, piano players don’t use them that much. 

After all, lead sheets show you only the melody and the chords. And that’s not enough for a piano beginner. 

However, they can come in handy in playing new songs. They can also be used as an accompaniment – a jazz pianist can, for example, accompany a singer using a lead sheet. 

Piano lead sheets.

Chapter 7: Playing Easy Songs on a Piano 

See also: Easy Piano Songs for Beginners 

Are you ready to play your first songs on the piano? Well, of course you are.

If you feel familiar with everything we mentioned in the article so far, then you’re ready to kickstart your next lesson.

7.1. 5 Beginner-friendly Piano Songs 

Needless to say, you should start with simple piano songs. Even if you probably want to jump to playing your favorite songs right away, don’t rush – you must learn to walk before you can run.

Luckily, there are many popular songs that are suitable for beginners. Plus, there are many great tutorials that can help you learn them.

So, if you don’t feel comfortable with reading notes just yet, video tutorials can help you get through your first songs. 

Here are some of the easy songs you can play on the piano:

1. “Happy Birthday”

Well, “Happy Birthday” is arguably one of the most popular melodies in the world. And you can easily learn how to play it – the core melody really doesn’t require any advanced skills. 

2. “Imagine” by John Lennon

If you’re ready to play a ‘real’ song, why not try “Imagine” by John Lennon?

You’re surely familiar with the melody. Plus, the song is suitable for beginners because it’s in C major, and there are no flats or sharps to mess with.

3. “Jingle Bells” 

“Jingle Bells” is another familiar song ideal for piano beginners. We suggest you start at a reduced speed first. 

4. “Someone Like You” by Adele 

Although “Someone Like You” is a challenging song to sing, it’s actually quite easy to play on the piano. 

After all, pop songs usually use similar chord progressions. 

5. “Clocks” by Coldplay 

And the same goes for “Clocks” by Coldplay – this familiar song is great for beginners because the notes are very simple. 

However, you should play it slowly first, and then increase the speed when you feel more comfortable with the notes. 

Chapter 8: Piano Practice 

See also: Piano Practice Tips

Hopefully, everything makes more sense now, including notes, chords, chord progressions, and music symbols.

But if you really want this knowledge to sink in, you need to, well, practice. And you need to practice a lot.

Of course, you don’t need to practice every day for 8 hours in order to become a good piano player. Unless you want to become a professional pianist, of course.

So let’s take a look at some of the most common questions regarding piano practice. 

8.1. Establishing a Practice Routine 

The first thing you need to do is to structure your piano practice routine. The word ‘routine’ is very important. Why? Because consistency is the key. 

Certainly, everyone needs a break once in a while. And you can’t affect some unexpected situations. But if you structure a practice routine, even if you’re learning piano by yourself, you’ll be more likely to reach the results you want. 

How long should I practice every day?

Ideally, you should practice 30-45 minutes each day. As you progress, you can prolong your sessions and practice for an hour (if you want to significantly improve your performance.)

How often should I practice piano?

In short, as often as you can. It’s better to practice 20 minutes a day than for 3 hours once a week. 

When to practice piano?

That depends on your learning habits. Most people feel most refreshed first thing in the morning. On the other hand, early morning practice can be a bit inconvenient because of the neighbors, so most people actually practice in the evening or the afternoon.

Where to practice piano?

This is also highly individual. However, it’s important to have a quiet and safe space where you can do your practice without any distractions.

Practicing piano with a coffee.

8.2 Before Your Practice Session

Before your piano practice session, you should remove all the distractions. Mute your phone (if you can) and let your family member know that you don’t want to be disturbed (unless really necessary.)

This will help you improve your focus and really use the most out of your session. It’s easy to get distracted otherwise. 

8.3 Structuring Each Session

First of all, your practice session should start with a warm-up. There are many warm-up exercises for you to explore – find the one that suits you best and incorporate it into your session.

You can then continue with the new musical concepts or scales and arpeggios. In this part of the practice, you should focus on your technique. You can start by repeating the things you know and moving on to new stuff. This part can also involve sight reading  exercises.

The next part is probably most fun – working on your pieces. You can start by playing the sections you know and moving on to new parts of the song. 

8.4 How to Avoid Common Mistakes

The secret to a good piano practice is trying to avoid common mistakes. 

Every learner has their own learning habits, but some advice can be applicable to everyone. 

These are some tips on how to avoid these mistakes and make your piano practice more efficient:

  • Practice consistently (stick to your schedule)
  • Don’t skip lessons (super important for people who use piano apps)
  • Record yourself playing (and ask for feedback)
  • Memorize the music in small chunks
  • Don’t strain yourself
  • Don’t forget about your posture (!) 

8.5 Piano Goals and Motivation

Maintaining a regular piano practice is important. But of course, how often you need to practice also depends on your goals.

If you just want to learn how to play easy songs, then you don’t need to spend hours learning music theory. On the other hand, music theory is important for anyone who wants to become a good piano player.

Your personal goals and motivation are important as they will help you move forward and make progress. And you never know – your goals might change in the process. Piano is a beautiful instrument to learn and play, and once you get to know it, you’ll probably want to dig deeper. 

Part 4: Piano History and Culture

One of the ways to keep your motivation high is to get to know the world of music a little better. History and piano background might seem daunting, but if you find the right learning source, you’ll realize they’re very interesting. 

Chapter 9: Background

9.1 When Was the Piano Invented?

So when was this impressive instrument first created? The history of the piano dates back to the year 1700 – and it was a revolutionary invention that changed everything. 

9.2 Who Invented the Piano?

Did you know that the first piano was invented almost entirely by one man? We’re talking about Bartolomoeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy, a harpsichord maker who was unsatisfied by the lack of control that musicians had over the volume level of the harpsichord. 

The instrument was first named “clavicembalo col piano e forte”, meaning “a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises” in Italian.

Piano making flourished during the 18th century, and the instrument eventually became a central part of social life of the 19th century. 

Chapter 10: Exploring Genres and Playing Styles

Since the 18th century, many piano genres and playing styles have occurred. After all, you can play nearly anything on the piano.

But let’s take a look at the most common genres and playing styles associated with our classy instrument.

10.1 Jazz Piano

A recording studio.

A piano has been an integral part of jazz music since its beginnings. And jazz piano is usually used to describe all the techniques piano players use in jazz. 

Learning jazz piano isn’t easy though. It requires a lot of practice and discipline. For every jazz pianist, mastering chord progressions is essential – this helps them improvise. And improvisation skills are essential here.

Jazz piano also often includes seventh chords, syncopation, and the ii-V-I progression. So if you want to learn jazz piano, this is a good place to start.

Jazz Piano Tutorials

If you want to get into jazz piano, check out these resources. They are helpful and reliable.

10.2 Gospel Piano

Person playing the piano.

Piano also became a centerpiece of gospel music. Gospel music is composed and performed for many reasons, but mainly for religious or ceremonial purposes.

Gospel piano songs are rewarding for many people, and fortunately, many popular gospel songs are relatively easy to learn.

Gospel Piano Tutorials

10.3 Classical Piano

Person playing the piano.

There’s no doubt about it: for the most part, the ‘piano sound’ is defined by classical music. 

Classical music has been a part of every piano player’s repertoire for centuries now. And that makes it truly incredible.

After all, classical pianists like Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart remain the inspiration for aspiring pianists around the world. So regardless of your goals and preferences, we strongly recommend adding classical piano pieces to your repertoire.

Classical Piano Tutorials

10.4 Pop Rock Piano

Person singing and playing piano.

Of course, piano is also a crucial part of pop rock music. 

And pop rock songs are great for beginners – they are familiar, and there are plenty of great song tutorials online. Some online programs and apps even offer backing tracks so you can play along and feel like you’re a part of the band. 

Pop Rock Tutorials

10.5 Blues Piano

Piano keys.

Blues is another genre that built its sound around the sound of piano (along with guitar.) 

Luckily, blues songs can sound great on the piano regardless of your level of experiences. Plus, they don’t require deep knowledge of music theory. 

Blues Tutorials

Chapter 11: Exploring Famous Composers 

See also: Best Pianists of All Time

As you can see, there are many music styles for you to explore on the piano. However, most people associate piano with classical music. And that comes as no surprise – most of the greatest pianists of all time are 18th and 19th century composers. 

Moreover, classical pieces are an integral part of every music school repertoire. That being said, let us introduce you to the most famous composers in history.

11.1 Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach is arguably one of the most influential composers of all time. 

The German composer of the Baroque period is known for his orchestral music, instrumental compositions, and organ works. But as a piano learner, it’s Bach’s piano pieces you should pay attention to. 

“The Prelude in C” is probably one of the best Bach pieces to start with. “The Minuet” is also quite popular, as well as “Musette in D Major.”

11.2 Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s music is also something you’ll encounter as a piano learner. 

Beethoven influenced both classical and romantic era, and his music is amongst the most performed of the classical music repertoire. His most recognizable works include “Moonlight sonata”, “Symphony No. 9”, and “Eroica.”

11.3 Frédéric Chopin

Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic period. Chopin’s music is really something else – it’s emotional, poetic, and delicate. 

“Nocturnes in B flat minor” is Chopin’s most famous piece, but he is also known for his preludes and etudes.

If you want to add Chopin’s music to your repertoire, you can check out Playground Sessions’ tutorials for ‘Waltz in A Minor’ and ‘Prelude In E Minor.’

See also: Playground Sessions Review 

Chapter 12: FAQ and Useful Resources 

12.1. Free Online Resources – Guides, Sheet Music, Lessons 

Our final chapter is dedicated to online resources that can help you in your learning process.

Piano learning for beginners comes with many expenses – from lessons fee to piano accessories cost. Not to mention the price of the instrument itself…

However, there are free online resources that can make things easier, especially if you’re on a budget. Either way, they can undoubtedly enrich your learning journey!

Piano Buying Guides 

Besides our own piano shopping guide in this article, there are several piano buying guides that can also come in handy.

  • Piano Dreamers is a cool music blog with many useful articles, including the Ultimate Guide to Buying a Digital Piano. So if you’re thinking about buying a digital piano, their suggestions are trustworthy.
  • Piano Buyer also provides reliable information. The website contains many useful sections, including brand profiles, selling guides, marketplace, and so on.

Free Sheet Music

Once you learn how to read music, you’ll have so many songs at your disposal – you just need to find the appropriate sheet music.

Fortunately, you can easily find printable sheet music online. These are some of the popular websites that provide free sheet music:

  • 8notes – this website is great for beginners. It covers classical piano, jazz piano, film music for piano, and so on.
  • The Petrucci Music Library – if you’re looking for free sheet music for classical piano pieces, this one’s for you. 

Recording Softwares and Programs 

Recording programs can also be useful. If you’re learning the piano by yourself,  it’s important to hear yourself playing – that’s how you’ll be able to spot your weaknesses and improve your performance.

  • Audacity is a free, open source, cross-platform audio software that’s easy to use

And if you’re interested in composing, there are also some cool music writing programs you can explore.

  • MuseScore is a popular music notation app that allows you to create your own music

Online Learning

There are many amazing websites that provide useful guides, tutorials, in-depth articles, and so on.

Regardless of your learning source, your piano lessons will cover music theory, technique, and playing songs, but it’s always good to get knowledge from other sources. Checking out these sources might also be a good way to test what you’ve previously learned.

Either way, we suggest the following e-learning platforms:

  • Flowkey – this popular piano learning platform offers great free content on their website. For example, they provide articles on relevant topics such as Proper Piano Technique. 
  • YouTube – YouTube can also be a great source of information. You can find free song tutorials, recorded piano classes, and much more. 

12.2. Piano Players Community 

If you’re learning how to play the piano by yourself, the learning process can get a bit lonely. However, there are solutions to this: you can join online pianist communities.

Forums can be a great source of information, but they can also give you a chance to meet fellow learners. Many learning programs and apps also have their own members area. 

Exchanging learning experiences can be very helpful, and it can boost your motivation. 

12.3. FAQ 

Am I too old to learn how to play piano?

No, whatever your age is, you’re not too old to play piano. You have many advantages as an adult learner, including focus, working habits, and strong motivation.

Do I need to learn how to read music?

Learning how to read sheet music isn’t necessary for playing the piano. We encourage you to do it nevertheless. If you’re able to read music, you can learn any song you want very easily. Also, this skill will help you understand how music really works. On the other hand, if you only want to play easy popular songs, learning how to use chord charts will probably be enough.

How can I practice left hand/right hand coordination?

To improve your left hand/right hand coordination, you should incorporate hand coordination exercises into your daily practice routine.
Playing scales is a great exercise for hand coordination. Also, take it slowly first, and make sure you’ve mastered the scales (or notes) with your separate hands first.

What’s the best piano to buy for a beginner?

Firstly, we recommend buying a 88-key keyboard piano with touch sensitive keys. There are many beginner-friendly pianos out there, and you should search for a model that fits your goals, budget, and abilities. Before buying your first piano, you should get to know the piano brands.

How long does it take to learn piano?

That depends on your dedication and self-discipline. If you practice regularly, you can master basic piano skills relatively quickly. You can even learn a simple song within a few hours.
Acquiring intricate piano skills, on the other hand, takes a lot of time. It will take years of dedicated practice to reach advanced levels.

How many keys does a piano have?

A standard full-sized piano has 88 keys – there are 52 white keys and 36 black keys. There are also 61-keys keyboards available. This is sufficient for beginners, but an 88-key keyboard is always a better option.

How to tune a piano?

Tuning a piano by yourself is very difficult. Therefore, if you need to tune a piano, it might be a good idea to call a professional.

Can I learn piano in 3 months?

Yes, it’s possible to learn piano in 3 months. But that also depends on your practice and focus. If you practice regularly and properly, you’ll be able to gain basic piano skills within 3 months. 

Is piano hard to learn?

Piano is not hard to learn. However, it’s also not the easiest instrument to learn. To acquire basic piano skills, you’ll have to learn notes, time and key signatures, playing technique, hand coordination, and so on. But with a good learning source, your piano learning process can be smooth and enjoyable.

Can I teach myself piano?

Yes, you can teach yourself piano. But you need to find a reliable learning source – an online learning program or a well-structured piano learning app. If you follow the instructions and stick to your schedule, you’ll be able to gain piano skills without using traditional methods.

Is piano easier than guitar?

In terms of difficulty, piano and guitar are equally challenging to learn. Guitar basics can be picked up relatively quickly. On the other hand, it’s easier for a beginner to learn notes on a piano. Piano is a linear instrument and it’s also visually more logical than the guitar. 

Is playing piano healthy?

Yes, playing the piano comes with multiple health benefits. 
Playing the piano reduces stress levels and anxiety, and it sharpens fine motor skills. It’s also good for your brain – it improves memory and boosts brain processing power. Music has also been shown to lower blood pressure and increase immune response.

Does piano boost IQ?

Yes, studies have shown that playing an instrument for a longer period of time can boost IQ. Learning the piano improves cognitive skills, mathematical ability, memory, and listening. It also sharpens your concentration and focus.