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How to play piano: the ultimate beginner’s guide

how to play the piano


The best time to start learning piano is right now, and with the right sets of instructions you will be well on your way to accomplishing all of your goals. The most confusing part of learning an instrument is making sure that you’re doing it right. How can you make sure that you’re not missing a key instruction, forgetting an essential part of music theory, or playing the right notes at the right time? That is why musicians take lessons, because your teacher will solve those problems for you – by guiding you, watching your mistakes, and telling you exactly what to do next. Teachers are not always available, so why not use a piano teaching app that is available for you at any time of day, can teach you any style of music, and with the right app guiding you, you can be more confident than ever. 

Reasons to get started playing piano today!

Playing an instrument is one of the best ways to enrich your life. Music can deepen your relationship with all music around you, provide a necessary and peaceful way to decompress from the stress of daily life, and enrich your relationship with others through playing music together. Learning to play can often be intimidating because beginner’s find the words used talking about music confusing or have an incorrect understanding of them from popular culture. Here are some extreme basics, to answer some of the most commonly asked and confusing parts of learning to play. Firstly we need to understand what a piano is and how to approach the instrument to play it:

  • Pianos use keys, with two different colors, white and black
  • These keys are always in the same repeating pattern, three black keys then two black keys
  • We play the piano with two hands, and count our fingers the same on each hand from 1 to 5, starting with the thumb. 
  • Each of the keys has a specific name that is one of the first seven letters of the alphabet, A B C D E F G, which then repeat over and over in orderhow to play the piano

Choosing the right app to start learning

Learning online by yourself can be a very intimidating prospect, because how can you as a beginner tell if an app is good or not? The simplest way is to make sure there is a lot of well written, easy to access information, a large music library, and the ability for the app to tell you if you’re playing the correct notes or not, the same as a teacher would be able to.

🎹Choose the right app for learning to play the piano.

Learning to play the piano with Skoove

The reasons why Skoove is considered one of the best apps to learn how to play the piano with, because it has so many features which make learning the instrument simpler than traditional piano lessons. Skoove also has lessons for every musicians skill level, beginners and advanced. Included in the Skoove app: 

  • Each lesson can be separated out one hand at a time
  • Teaching lessons for all skill levels
  • Teaches the basics of reading music
  • Available in six different languages
  • A fully featured metronome, 
  • Voice instruction integration 
  • A catalog of music from classical to the most current contemporary
  • Hundreds of written blog posts and instructional articles detailing everything from the playing of simple piano chords to jazz chords, to complex modes and scales!

Start your musical journey
  • Fall in love with the music - Learn your favorite songs; whether they're classical, pop, jazz or film music, all at a level that suits you.
  • Enjoy interactive piano lessons - Learn with courses that help you master everything from music theory, chords, technique and more.
  • Get real-time feedback - Improve your practice with rich feedback as Skoove listens to your playing and highlights what went well and areas for improvement.
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Picking up piano learning as an adult

The most difficult part of learning to play the piano as an adult is simply time management. Children are often perceived to learn faster, which is not true, it is just that children don’t have responsibilities that adults do, or the fatigue of work, bills, or complex adult life. Skoove solves this problem by making sure that you have access to all of the information, lessons, and song catalogue at any time that is convenient for you – you don’t have to work with a teacher’s schedule, or travel time to a music school. Your lessons take place when you’re ready, at your location, with the same high quality as in person lessons.

💡Find out more about learning to play the piano as an adult.

Picking the right piano for yourself

Beginner’s often have a hard time picking the right type of piano because pianos vary in size, price, feel, and purpose. Some can be as large as your living room, and many more can fit on a tiny desk or in a backpack but many students don’t understand how these instruments have more in common than not. Unfortunately many types of portable digital pianos cannot be used with online teaching apps, because they don’t pair with computers, phones or iPads. The great thing about Skoove as a teaching app is that it can listen to the sounds coming from your acoustic piano or if you have a digital piano, it can hear those notes as well plugged directly into your device. This means that any person living in an apartment, practicing at night, or dealing with noise issues at home can easily practice and learn just as fast.

🎹Make sure you choose the right piano: Digital vs acoustic pianos.

Practicing with a metronome

Practicing with a metronome is often the single difference between a successful and great sounding musician and one who is meddling, and plays poorly. You can use a metronome when you are first learning a song to help solidify the rhythm. The only thing to remember is consistency is the key. With Skoove, you can practice and consistently expand your skills as a pianist. With the new metronome feature, you can make sure that your rhythmic skills are advancing. Skoove has added a metronome feature to their iOS, Android and Mac app for users to practice with. The Skoove metronome allows users to adjust the tempo in their practice all inside the Skoove app.

Now you have the combination of hundreds of lessons on repertoire, theory and more with the added benefit of a metronome!how to play piano

Getting music theory down

Music theory is a large encompassing term that is more of a category than a single subject. Music theory is simply how musicians understand, notate and communicate with each other and themselves about the music they are hearing, playing, or composing. A basic knowledge of music theory includes chords, dynamic markings rhythm, time signatures, chords and scales. These sound like complicated concepts, but they are actually quite simple.

💡Discover more about the importance of music theory.

Melody in music

A melody, conceptually, is very simple. It is a single note group of notes that float above chords, sometimes accompanied by lyrics or sometimes played just by instruments. A melody is something you can sing. Melodies are everywhere from classical music to popular music – From Happy Birthday to Beethoven, learning to capture exactly how to play a melody is an important part of learning to play any instrument.

🎹Get a deep understanding what melody in music is.

Dynamic markings in music

Sometimes when you hear music it is loud, sometimes it is soft, and more often than not a piece will change constantly between many different dynamics markings. Learn how to play exactly the right sign when it is written, identify them when you hear them, and recognize how to play any sign in any piece of music!

💡Learn more about the concept of dynamic markings in music.how to play the piano

 

Rhythm in music

Rhythms are sometimes complex, and sometimes they are simple. At their core they all have something in common – they’re written down and meant to be understandable, and playable. Sometimes a rhythm will be written differently in each hand, but the signs, flags, and rests are simple to understand if you have a firm grasp on how to count, and play with a metronome.

🎹Discover the concept of rhythm in music.

Time signatures

The way that music is organized in time might seem difficult at first but really, it makes a lot of sense. In each measure we have a certain amount of time, and we break that time up into smaller divisions, and we count those instead. Every measure we restart that count at beat 1, and continue as we had before.

💡Learn more about time signatures with Skoove.how to play the piano

 

Tackling fundamental piano concepts

Since the piano has 88 keys, and can be played with ten fingers – many different combinations of notes, tones, registers and timbres are possible. Musicians group these note concepts into smaller groups – first by labeling each group of physical keys, then by placing those keys into smaller more organized groups. From there, we label and give names to what happens when we play many notes at the same time, we call these chords. We give separate names to when we play those chords one note a time, like an arpeggio. These concepts are fundamental to piano growth, and instrumental knowledge. 

Reading piano sheet music

The first major leap for learning to play fundamental piano concepts is learning how to read sheet music. We label each of the notes with an alphabetical note name, then we can alter those with sharps or flats. True musicians will know how to read music by using interval recognition rather than reading from point to point, or note to note. Eventually master sight readers will know how to read many measures ahead of their current destination, but it all starts at the same – by learning how to recognize notes on lines and spaces. 

🎹Learn how to read piano sheet music faster.

Piano keys

The keys of the piano can be very confusing to the beginner. Why is it that some notes can be labeled as the same note sharp or a different note as flat? This concept is called enharmonic spelling and leads to very interesting music. Beginners will also need to learn simple rules for fingerings and patterns for each hand in order to play fast, over a large distance, or smoothly with both hands together. 

💡Find out more about piano keys.

Piano notes

The notes of the piano are represented by placing noteheads on the grand staff, which contains both a treble clef and a bass clef, tied together. These two clefs are then composed of five different lines and four spaces, each of these representing a different alphabetical note. These notes are of course then split into different patterns for the bass clef and for the treble clef. 

🎹Dive into the world of piano notes.

how to play piano

Piano chords

Piano chords are whenever a pianist chooses to play three or more notes at a time, but the trick is learning how to recognize what name to give to these chords. Musicians spell each chord from a root note, and then combine different types of “thirds”, to make a collection of notes, and then we call these chords. Once this basic concept of three note chords, or “triads” is mastered, keen players will then learn how to add more notes to a chord and engage the world of jazz chords. 

💡Find out more about piano chords.

how to play piano

Piano scales

When pianists play multiple notes one after another, all belonging to the same musical key, we call this a scale. The notes can be played in any order, ascending or descending, but the order and grouping and naming of the scale always stays the same for the key that we are in. Mastering and understanding the development and fingerings of scales is one of the keys to composition and improvising. 

🎹Learn more about piano scales here.

how to play piano

Piano technique

Piano techniques are a catchall term for the category of different things that pianists do to improve or express themselves on the instrument. Many of these can be fundamental to the understanding of basic playing, like knowing your finger positions or playing by intervals, but more advanced concepts like ear training allow pianists to play by hearing music, or by hearing a melody in their own ears, or by singing. Ear training enables almost all other advanced concepts on the piano.

Finger positions

Finger position seems simple enough, but like most things regarding musical performance, there is a subtle difficulty that is invisible to beginners. Finger position should be fairly regular, put your first finger on the first note, but because of key signatures, flat keys, and the difficulty involved in ascending or descending past your thumb, finger positions are a key part of playing the piano fluidly. Eventually with true mastery, finger position becomes second nature. 

💡Try these exercises to master piano finger positions.

Piano intervals

Intervals are simply the distance between two notes, counted in half steps and counted alphabetically. Many pianists will learn to harmonize their own melodies by playing sixths below the melody note, or by playing a rapid solo section entirely in octaves between hands. Intervals are a basic concept that can expand into new territory with mastery, and will quickly add flair and richness into even the simplest of melodies or chords. 

🎹Learn piano intervals with Skoove.

how to play piano

Ear training

Ear training is the ability for a musician to recognize and make real what is heard, by playing that exactly on an instrument, or learning to recognize any group of notes or chords in the air with their ears. Truly no other musical skill feels as much like magic as ear training. Ear training allows even your wildest musical ideas to be realized, and opens the world to you. Anything you can hear you can play with enough training, and anything you can hear you can write down. You may have wondered how Beethoven continued to compose after losing his hearing? This is how, with the power of ear training. 

💡Discover helpful tricks to train your ears.

Play your favorite songs on piano

Playing any of your favorite songs with Skoove is easy, because Skoove offers interactive piano music, chord sheets and quick guides to playing your favorite songs. These guides contain chords, sheet music, and playing tips written by professional musicians, so you can play the best songs on piano faster now than ever before. You can even play any piece of classical music, as simple as Canon In D, or as advanced as Clair De Lune by Debussy.

how to play the pianohow to play piano

Common questions

In the beginning it isn’t about the amount of time as much as frequency. It is much better to practice 5 times a day than for 5 hours once a week. Set small goals that are regular, make a schedule and practice 10 minutes a day, five times or more a day, and you will notice more skill than you ever imagined.

Sheet music books have existed for hundreds of years, and it is certainly possible to learn by yourself but the biggest issue with this is that you won’t know if you’re doing something wrong without instruction. The benefit to Skoove is that you can use the app at any time of day or any time of evening, making your schedule more flexible. 

Skoove has a free version that gives you limited access to the courses, but the premium tier also has the benefit of giving you access to advice from a real teacher. Skoove Premium is a subscription service, starting with one month’s subscription for $19.99. Three months costs $39.99 or an annual subscription costs $119.99.

Skoove has a large catalogue of lessons focused on all skill levels, beginner’s, intermediate and advanced. 

Yes! Skoove offers a new fully featured in-lesson metronome that is customizable and available for all lessons. 


Author of this blog post:

 

Alvin Shipp is a Multi-Instrumentalist Composer, Performer, Producer, and Educator from Portland, Oregon currently based in Berlin, Germany. He’s worked extensively in the USA and Germany, has released Over 15 Albums. He has been teaching upper-level students for over 15 years, and currently lives as a Freelance Composer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer and Teacher.