Introduction: The Newcomer's Guide to Learning Modern Piano Music
Hey there, my name is Dillon, but some of you may know me by my username N30FAMOUS. I'm a pianist who makes piano covers of pop songs. Ever since I started making covers, I've been getting people asking me if I can teach them. Well, I've finally thought of getting around to it, and in a way that can reach everybody. Using Instructables, I'm going to try to show you how to play the songs that I cover on piano.
In this Instructable, I will teach you the basics of what you need to know in order to play my covers. For all newcomers to piano, this Instructable should be read first before moving on to my other upcoming song-teaching Instructables. If you already know the basics of piano like what each note is and how to play the major and minor chords of A through G, then you can probably skip through this Instructable if you feel comfortable doing so, or use it as a refresher course.
By the way, I know this tutorial/Instructable is a bit long, but trust me when I say that you need to read through this if you want to get anywhere with piano. This will get you started. Piano is a tough instrument to learn at first, but once you get used to it, it will come naturally to you. Once you get past these basics, my other upcoming tutorials/Instructables that teach you songs will be much easier. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the learning experience!
Step 1: The Notes
Alright, so chances are that you've seen a keyboard before; you've seen the black and white keys. There's a lot of them, aren't there? 88 to be exact; but don't get overwhelmed, the keys actually follow a repetitive pattern. If you take a look at the picture, and find these keys on a keyboard, you'll see they repeat throughout the whole keyboard. The white keys go in order from C through B (C, D, E, F, G, A , B). Once you go to the right of the B, you'll hit another C note, but it'll sound higher-pitched than the other C notes to the left. That's how a keyboard works; the farther you go to the right, the higher-pitch the notes will sound. The farther left you go, the lower the notes will sound.
The difference between a white key and the one next to it is called a step or tone. If you go from a white key to the black key right beside it (or between B and C, or E and F), it's called a half-step or semi-tone. Think of it like this: If you press a key down, and then press the one that is closest to it (whether it's black or white), that is a semi-tone. If you continue in the same direction and press the next key that is closest to the second key, that will be a tone from the first key. If you choose to go a tone or semi-tone to the right, then it is called higher. If you choose to go a tone or semi-tone down, then it is called lower. For example, one tone up from C would be D. One tone up from G would be A.
Look at the picture, you see the symbols beside the letters on the black keys? The one that looks like a number sign is called a sharp. When you see a letter beside a sharp sign, it means that the note is a semi-tone higher than the note whose letter is beside the sharp sign. Let's take C# for example. Find it on the picture. Notice how it is a semi-tone higher than C. Same goes for D#, F#, G#, and A#; they're all a semi-tone higher than their respective letters/notes. By the way, you'd pronounce it as *Note letter* "sharp". For example, C# is pronounced as "C sharp".
Now you see the sign that looks like half a heart with a vertical line through it (or a lopsided lowercase "b")? That is called a flat. Since most sites (including Instructables) don't let you use the real flat sign (found in the picture) as it's not in their formatting vocabulary, I will just be putting the letter "b" in place of a flat. A flats is basically the exact opposite of a sharp. It means that the note is a semi-tone lower than the note whose letter is beside the flat sign. Let's take Eb for example. Find it on the picture. Notice how it is a semi-tone lower than E. Same goes for Db, Gb, Ab, and Bb; they're all a semi-tone lower than their respective letters/notes. You'd pronounce flats as *Note letter* "flat". Example, Eb would be pronounced as "E flat".
Note: With tones and semi-tones, remember that both E and F, as well as B and C, are both one semi-tone apart, while all the other white notes are one full tone apart. Take a look at the picture, and you'll see that there are no black keys between E and F, and no black key between B and C. Remember that one tone up from E would be F#; one tone down from F would be Eb. One tone up from B would be C#; one tone down from C would be Bb.
"So why do the black keys have two names?", you ask. Well, let's take Db/C# (remember that it is ONE note, not two) for example. It is considered C# because it is a semi-tone higher than C, and it is also considered Db at the same time because it is a semi-tone lower than D. Yes, I know it's a bit weird, but I'll tell you right now that I will mainly be using one name for each black key. They are (in order from left to right on the picture): C#, Eb, F#, Ab, and Bb.
Congratulations, you now know all the keys on the keyboard! Remember them, and try to see if you can memorize where and what each key is. It's okay if you can't at first; just come back to this picture, and you'll eventually remember the notes after looking it over enough times. Now, we move on to scales.
Step 2: Scales
Now that you know the notes, it's time to learn some scales. Now, the scales I'm going to show you are divided into major and minor scales. You can hear the difference between a major and minor scale. Major scales will generally sound more happy and positive, while minor scales will generally sound sad and negative. A major scale will use a "+" to show that it's major, while a minor scale uses a "-" to show that it's minor. For example, C minor would be referenced to as "C-". C major would be referenced to as "C+". Alternatively, I might just call them minor or major in future Instructables.
A major scale will start with a tonic note (the first note in the scale), followed by a tone or step (remember from the previous step of this tutorial?), followed by another tone, then a semi-tone, then a tone, then another tone, followed by another tone, then a semi-tone. To reiterate, starting from the first note (also called the tonic), you play: tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, tone, tone, semi-tone. For example, a C major scale would start with C as the tonic note, and then go to D (which is a tone higher than C), followed by E (a tone higher than D), followed by F (a semi-tone higher than E), followed by G (tone higher than F), followed by A (a tone higher than G), followed by B (a tone higher than A), followed by C (a tone higher than B). By the way, the last note is continuing in the same direction of the scale, it doesn't go back to the first note. For example, C is the last note of the C major scale, but it isn't the same piano key as the key played for the first note. It is to the right of B (you can't see the last C in the picture).
A minor scale will start with a tonic note (the first note in the scale), followed by a tone, followed by a semi-tone, then a tone, then another tone, then a semi-tone, followed by a tone, then another tone. To put it in a straight-forward way, starting from the first note (also called the tonic), you play: tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone. For example, a C minor scale would start with C as the tonic note, and then go to D (which is a tone higher than C), followed by Eb (a semi-tone higher than D), followed by F (a tone higher than Eb), followed by G (a tone higher than F), followed by Ab (a semi-tone higher than G), followed by Bb (a tone higher than Ab), followed by C (a tone higher than Bb). Again, the last note is continuing in the same direction of the scale, it doesn't go back to the first note. The gap between a lower C and the next C note that is high/lower than the first, is called an octave. Octaves aren't only for C notes however, but for any note on the keyboard. An octave lower than G is the G note that is below it. An octave higher than E is the E note above it.
;The tone/semi-tone order goes for every scale. The only difference is that you start on different notes for different scales; after that, just continue the tone/semi-tone order that I described to you earlier. Once you repeat the scales enough times, you will remember most of them. To help speed you up, the main scales I will be using for my songs are both major and minor scales for all the white notes. Try to learn them first.
If you are good with all the scales (or at least the ones that start with white notes), then you can move onto the next step. If you are still having trouble, take a look at the links below.
This link will walk you through all the major scales that you need to know:
This video will show you the main instructions for playing a minor scale:
Step 3: Chords
Chords are what you get when you play more than one note at the same time. The difference between chords and scales are that every note in a scale is played separately, while every note in a chord is played at the same time. While there many different types of chords, I will just walk you through the main types chords that I will be using in my other Instructables: thirds, fourths, fifths, triads, and octaves. Note that when I say which fingers are used for which chord, I mean those fingers can be used with both hands (unless I've stated different fingering patterns for the same chord), but you may have to reverse the order from your right hand to your left hand.
Now, the third and triad chords I'm going to teach you are divided into major chords and minor chords.
A major third chord consists of a tonic note, and another note which is two tones above it. For example, a C major third would be played by pressing C and the E (one tone above C is D, another tone above D leaves you at E) at the same time. An E major chord would be played with E and Ab (two tones above E).
A minor third chord consists of a tonic note, and another note which is one tone and one semi-tone above it. For example, a C minor third would be played by pressing C and the Eb (one tone up would be D, and one semi-tone above D is Eb) at the same time. An E minor chord would be played with E and G (one tone + one semi-tone above E). Another way to put it would be to look at the scale of the tonic note of the chord, and play the third note in the scale along with the first note. The two notes would generally be played with wither your thumb and index finger, or your thumb and middle finger (which is more common).
Triads are an extension of third chords. They are essentially the same, but with an extra note played at the same time. The extra note is 4 tones and 1 semi-tone above the tonic note. This goes for both major and minor triads. For example, take the C+ triad. It is played with the same notes as the C+ third (C and E), but you play G as well (since it is 4 tones above C would be F#, and one semi-tone above F# would be G). For a C- triad, you'd play the same notes as a C- third (C and Eb), and play G as well. Another way to put this would be to look at the scale of the tonic note of the chord, and find the fifth note in the scale. That would be the note you play, along with the third note and the tonic note. You'd usually play a triad with your thumb, middle finger, and pinky/little finger.
NOTE: There is a variation of the triad which I use extensively in almost every song I play. I call it a four-note chord. You basically play a triad, and you add a fourth note to the chord. This chord is the same as the tonic note, but played an octave higher. For example, a C+ four-note chord would be played with C, E, G, and C. You'd play this with your thumb, index finger, middle finger, and pinky finger. Yeah, you might have to stretch a bit, but you'll get used to it. If you still can't do ti after trying for some time, try settling for just the tonic note, the fifth note, and the octave; leave out the third note.
For these chords, there is no major or minor, there's just one version of the chord.
A fourth is a chord that is played by playing the tonic note and another note that is 2 tones and 1 semi-tone above it. Alternatively, look at the scale (doesn't matter if it's major or minor; the fourth note is the same either way) of the tonic note of the chord, and find the fourth note of the scale. Play the tonic note, and the fourth note at the same time. For example, a fourth of C would be played with C and F (2 tones above C is E, one semi-tone above E is F). A typical fourth would be played with the thumb and ring finger (on the right hand), or the pinky and index finger (on the left hand).
A fifth is a chord that is played by playing the tonic note and another note that is 4 tones and 1 semi-tone above it. Alternatively, look at the scale (doesn't matter if it's major or minor; the fifth note is the same either way) of the tonic note of the chord, and find the fifth note of the scale. Play the tonic note, and the fifth note at the same time. For example, a fifth of C would be played with C and G (3 tones above C is F#, one semi-tone above F# is G). A typical fifth would be played with the thumb and pinky finger.
I touched on octaves in the previous step. An octave is when you play a tonic note, and then you play the same note; however it is 6 tones above the tonic. An example of a C octave is C, C (the second C is 6 tones above the first one). You play an octave with your thumb and pinky. Yes, I know it may be a bit of a stretch, but you'll get used to it.
Those are the chords! You've now learned pretty much everything you need to be able to learn how to play my piano covers. Thanks for reading, and please leave some feedback as this is my first tutorial/Instructable. When I can find the time, I will start working on tutorials for my covers so that you can continue from this one on to actually learning songs. Check back occasionally as I may update this with new material if I come across something that I forgot to say.
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