Masterclass in How to Play a Keyboard

If your dream has always been to play the keyboard then you’re in the right place. Before you can become the next big thing, you will need to learn the basics of how to play. With plenty of practice, you can learn your favorite tunes on the keyboard and may even be able to compose some of your own.

Sitting at the Keyboard

When you sit at your keyboard you want to sit in the middle of the instrument before you start playing. You should have a keyboard stool that has height adjustments on it so you can find the proper posture as you learn to play. Keyboard stools can be picked up online for just $20 but if you don’t have access to one right away and you still want to learn, you can use a short bench or a stool instead.

Next, you will need to position your legs under the keyboard. You want to sit so that your knees are tucked under the instrument. Keep both of your feet flat to the ground and adjust your stool as needed.

Now that you are sitting in the right position you can place your hands on the white keys of the keyboard in front of you. Your fingers should sit comfortably on the white keys and your palms should be hanging off the piano keyboard. Keep your hands as relaxed as possible with your fingers curved downwards slightly. Both of your hands should make a sort of C shape. Elbow should also be hovering at the height of the keyboard.

Finally, you can start playing. Relax and sit up straight. A good posture is paramount to great keyboard playing so try not to tense up.

The Basics

Musical Alphabet

The first part of music theory you will want to learn about is the musical alphabet. In total there are seven notes included on the piano keyboard. These start at A and go up to G in the A B C D E F G formation. Each note goes in order from left to right for all the white keys on the piano. After you hit the G, the notes start again at A. If you have trouble finding where the notes are you may want to stick a piece of tape over the seven notes so you can mark what they are.

Another trick you can do is always look for the A key. The A key sits in the group of three black keys. Take a look at the black keys and find the white key that sits between the second and third ones. This is the A.

Get a Metronome

Buying and using a metronome can help you maintain a consistent tempo as you learn to play. A metronome is a sort of instrument that makes a ticking sound as you play so that you are playing at the same speed throughout the song. You can find them online or at your local music store. There are also smartphone apps that are free and downloadable so you don’t have to buy an actual metronome if you don’t want to. Most electronic keyboards also come with a built-in metronome feature.

When you first start playing it’s a great idea to set your metronome at a slow tempo. Practice each of your scales to the metronome and keep going until you can play them smoothly. At this point as long as you aren’t making mistakes on the keyboard then you can speed up the metronome.

Practice the Notes

Now you need to start practicing your whole, half and quarter notes. Each one of these is represented differently on your sheet music and you will play them differently as well. A whole note is represented by an empty circle and is played for four beats. Half notes are an empty circle with a staff going up. These are played for two beats. Quarter notes are the same as half notes except they’re filled in and are played for just one beat.

You can try practicing these notes using the tips below.

  • Find the middle C. Press down on it with your finger, hold it and count to four. You’ve just learned to play a whole note.
  • Find the white E key. Press and hold it down for two beats to play a half note E.

Learn the C Major Scale

Keyboards have scales that you will learn as the basics to your music theory knowledge. The most common scale is the C major scale. To play it you will need to find the middle C on your keyboard. You’ll see it by looking to the left of the two black keys in the center of the piano. Play this note followed by the one to its right. Go all the way up to the next C. You’ve just leaned a C major scale.

Once you master the C major scale you can start to play others. Some scales only use the white keys while others use a combination of the white and black keys. One way you can practice your scales is by setting your metronome at a slow tempo and then gradually increase it as you become more confident with them.

Play a C Chord

A chord is when you play a group of white keys or black keys together at the same time. There are a lot of different chord combinations with some being easier than others to play. One of the basic chords you can start out with is the C chord.

You can practice the C chord by placing your right hand on the keyboard with the thumb on the C. Your middle finger should be placed on the E and your little finger goes on the G. Press down all three notes with your thumb, middle finger and pinky to play the C chord.

Play an F Chord

The F chord is another one of the basic chords you will want to learn when you begin playing the keyboard. To start you place your left hand with your little finger on the F note. The F key is located to the left of the group of three black keys. Your middle finger should go on the A and your number on the C. Press down and you’re playing an F chord.

Play with Both Hands

Whenever you play a scale with your right hand make sure to practice with your left too. A scale in your left-hand uses the exact same notes as when you play it with your right, just reversed. Basically, when you play the scale with your left hand, the left hand becomes the mirror image of your right hand.

If your right hand is your dominant one then it’s normal for your left hand to progress at a much slower rate. Take your time with it and be patient. It will come in time.

Identify the Octaves

You will have found your first octave on the keyboard when you played the C major scale. Because the scale starts and finishes on the same note, this is an octave apart. If you take a look at your keyboard you will see that the key arrangement repeats itself over and over again. The same 12 notes repeat themselves with 7 white keys and 5 black keys.

The notes in different octaves have the same pitch, they’re just higher or lower in tone. Why not try playing your C major scale an octave higher or lower to get used to the different octaves.

Learn Simple Songs

Learning a few simple songs to start out with can help you familiarise yourself with the keyboard. Once you’re comfortable with the keys and you can play the basic scales without making any mistakes then you are ready to move on to playing real music. There are some relatively simple piano songs that translate over to the keyboard well. You will want to look for beginner arrangements for the more complex ones, to begin with.

When you first start playing songs on the keyboard you should look for beginner sheet music. Music like this helps you to learn to play because it will include the name of the note inside each note symbol. This helps you to play the music much more easily when you are just starting out. Sheet music like this usually appears in beginner keyboard books and there are also apps and websites you can go to to get material.

Hanon Exercises

Hanon exercises for budding keyboard players can help you to build the strength and dexterity in your fingers. Ever since the late 1800s piano teachers have been using Hanon exercises to help their students get stronger with their playing and become more adept. All of the exercises are free to download from the website. To get the most of the exercises we would recommend you practice them daily. Set aside 5 or 10 minutes as part of your daily practice and your finger strength will vastly improve.

Learn the Skills

Practice Every Day

If you want to become good at playing the keyboard then you need to put the time into your learning journey. Music theory can’t be learned overnight. Try and find at least 30 minutes in your day to practice and learn new skills. Work on finding where the notes are and you can even have a go at learning harder chords. There are also lots of free keyboard lessons online. Alternatively, you may also want to find a teacher.

Practicing at the same time every day will eventually become something you get used to like brushing your teeth or having a shower. As soon as you become used to practicing like this you won’t feel like you have to do it anymore. It will just become second nature.

Read Sheet Music

If you want to play the keyboard you will need to read sheet music. Once you have your finger placement mastered and the basic chords are learned you can start to play actual songs. Search for free keyboard sheet music online if there’s a specific song you want to try to learn. Playing and reading sheet music can seem daunting and difficult to begin with but over time you’ll get faster at it. There are some great songs to try out for beginners which are:

Picking up the basics of reading sheet music will help you become a better keyboard player. While some people would say you don’t have to read it in order to play, learning how sheet music is laid out will give you the opportunity to pick up and play pieces a lot quicker.

Music notes are notated on lines called staffs. There are five lines in total with four spaces in between. Every line and space represents a different note in the musical alphabet. When you see the note head on a specific line or space, you play the corresponding note on the keyboard.

You will play the treble clef with your right hand, and this sits at the top of each bar of music. The notes starting from the bottom are E G B D and F. The mnemonic ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fun’ can help you to remember these notes. The spaces represent the notes F A C and E. This spells out the word FACE so it’s easy to remember.

With your left hand you will play the bass clef. The five lines in the bass clef starting from the bottom represent the notes G B D F and A. The mnemonic for this one is ‘Grizzly Bears Don’t Fear Anything’. The four spaces on the bass clef represent the notes A C E and G. The mnemonic for this is ‘All Cows Eat Grass’. If the common mnemonics like this don’t work for you to remember the notes then you may want to make up your own.

Write Your Own Songs

Once you’ve got a good grasp on the notes, scales and chords that go into playing a keyboard you may want to start writing your own pieces. It doesn’t have to be anything complex and you definitely don’t need to become the next Mozart. However, writing music at your current skill level can actually be fun and it will also help you to improve your skills. You’ll may even have a better time playing your own material rather than using other people’s work.

To start out your songwriting journey you can experiment with a few different chords and notes. Once you find a chord formation that you like or a melody that sounds nice then write it down. Build the rest of your song from there and you’ll be composing on the keyboard in no time.

Experiment with Keyboard Settings

One of the greatest things about a keyboard piano is that it has a lot of unique built-in sound settings that you can experiment with. The keyboard settings can be changed from piano to keyboard or even harpsichord. Play some different notes and chords to see which of the built-in instrument sounds you like the most.

Use Theory Books

Music notation can be tricky to pick up, particularly when you first start playing the keyboard. A music theory book may help you to better understand music notation and will also help you to improve your sight-reading. Music theory books are available online and in music stores. There are also lots of helpful websites that give you free music theory exercises. Being able to read music is a key skill in playing the keyboard.

Get a Teacher

If you want a more focused instruction on playing the keyboard then why not work with a teacher? Hiring a teacher will help you to play the keyboard much faster. They have the experience to notice problems with your playing and help you to correct them before they become ingrained. A keyboard teacher may also help to encourage and motivate your playing.

Try an App

When you are learning by yourself it can be difficult to know which step to take next. There are loads of apps available that you can download on either your phone or tablet that will help you to learn the keyboard. Some apps are much more structured than others, giving you lessons that you can try out step by step. Many apps are free to download although your usage may be limited until you purchase a subscription.

Conclusion

And there you have it. A full guide on how to play a keyboard with tips on getting you started. Happy playing!

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