An important step in achieving piano mastery is the learning of new chords. While the major and minor chords are the most popular chords in modern music, suspended, augmented and diminished chords are important for those who wish to learn how to play piano. While not as common as the above mentioned majors and minors, they are certainly found in a lot of music and need to be addressed at some point in your quest to learn the piano.

For a quick reference of these chords, check out our FREE basic chord chart or advanced chord chart.

It is said that suspended chords often make a piece of music sound like it must resolve into another chord. Csus4 for example resolves to a C-Major chord very nicely.

“Sus4” chords are derived by raising the 3rd note a step. So if you take C-Major which is C, E, F, and raise the third note you are left with C, F, G. Another way of thinking of it is to take the scale of C-Major and play the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale.

There is also “Sus2” chords which are derived by lowering the 3rd note a step rather than raising it, and again this chord can be derived from the C-Major scale in the same way. Csus2 is thus C, D and G.

Augmented chords are derived by sharpening the 5th note, so in the case of C-Major, the resulting chord is C, E, F#. Augmented chords usually work well for blues and gospel tracks, those that feature a turnaround on the 5th chord in particular. So if you were in the key of G and at the end of the sequence you would play D augmented on the turnaround.

Diminished chords feature flattened 3rd and 5th notes, so in the case of C, C diminished is: C, Eb, Gb.

While it can certainly helpful to commit each of these chords in every key to memory, by simply remembering the correct pattern you’ll be able to derive the chords you need, when you need them. This can be just as useful as having a lot of different chords in your head. Perhaps more important a thing to know is chordal relationships, which we will discuss in a future article. For now, if you want to learn all of these chords and their patterns, it will not be time wasted.

If you are hear, you probably already want to learn how to play the piano and do not need to be told that the acoustic piano is an amazing instrument and that playing it is an excellent talent to develop. You may be a jazz enthusiast and aspire to play like the greats in the jazz genre. Or you may prefer the modern piano players in the jazz arena who have touched the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Others will be more interested in rock piano players. There have been some excellent piano players of rock including Ben Folds, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and many others. Some of you will likely be from a classical music persuasion. Even if you have never been a fan, you might still enjoy playing some of the more recognized classical music tracks on the piano for a challenge. This type of music being more complicated in nature is satisfying to play, due to the sheer amount of extra skill needed to achieve mastery. It can be highly educational to learn the work of some of the great classical composers including Brahms, Handel, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Learning some of their work can improve your playing immeasurably, even if you ultimate goal is to be a jazz, rock or blues piano player and it is noteworthy that may popular modern day musicians have been influenced and have even based some of their music on classical influences, the band Queen comes to mind.

So why learn to play the piano? If it is for fun, then this needs no explanation. You may simply just wish to emulate the works of some of the great artists and if you get good enough at doing so it might lead to you joining a top band or having your own solo act one day, however you may simply wish to entertain yourself as well as family and friends.

Another benefit of playing piano is relieving stress and relaxation. Playing the piano has been proven to be therapeutic. When you are tense or angry, music can help soothe the nerves and it can lift you if you are feeling down.

If you are good enough, then the piano can even give you another source of income. While some players will earn just a little and simply enjoy playing in a bar, other more ambitious players can do very well for themselves if they have sufficient talent and luck going their way. Never think that this cannot be you, if this is truly what you want to do with yourself.

Piano is also a great way to improve your discipline and there is not enough good that can be said about this. Learning how to play the piano competently give you a goal to aim more. Reaching the goal of playing a song well can be it’s own huge reward, helping you stay motivated and keeping you practicing harder. The great thing about playing piano is that it is, in many ways, not as hard as many other musical instruments. Vocal music, for instance, requires that you be very precise with pitch. Not so with the piano where a key press will always produce the right tone. There is no need to worry about being just above or below the note.

Whatever your reason to learn the piano, the ultimate “reason” anyone should learn is for their own fulfillment. Whatever your goals are you should be happy to have worked hard and achieved your true potential. When you can play a composition well it is it’s own reward making you a happier person for allowing it to become part of your life! It is our goal here at HighNotesMusicLessons.Com to help you achieve  your goals and enjoy life at the top 😉

Those who choose to learn how to play piano may have encountered some confusion when learning about keys, due to those things you strike with your fingers which bear the same name, but when talking about how music is produced it is necessary to cover the basics of the theoretical notion of “key”. In this context, the word “key” refers to the key the music is played in and not the black and white blocks of wood your fingers strike on the keyboard.

Music Keys and Signatures

Music Keys and Signatures

If you have watched a music performance by a band in a lounge or bar, you may have heard the band mention the “key” in which the piece is performed. Keys of music tracks are typically major or minor (but there are others). Major keys are usually bright sounding and happy, while minors are “gloomy”. Keys derive from musical scales, but we will save this complex theory of another article.

In terms of sheet music the key signature is a grouping of sharps or flats depicted on the staff on the left hand side of the page. If there are no sharps or flats on the staff then the piece is in the key of C major. The important thing to know are the notes that make a “sharp” or a “flat” when you translate from the notes of the sheet music to the physical keys on the keyboard.

When it comes to determining a key signature for a major key, knowing whether there are sharps or flats in the key is crucial. Only the keys of C and F do not have sharps in the key, so if a sharp is featured on a music staff in sheet music, the key can be assumed to be either G, D, A, E, B, F# or C#. If a sharp follows the letter name, then the key signature will of course feature sharps, while if a flat follows the letter name the key will feature flats.

To determine the name of a major key that has starts within it, you can use a simple method: name the note that is half a step above the last sharp, so in the case of four sharps in the staff, the key is E major (as the last sharp is D#). Similarly to determine the name of a major key that has flats in it, another method you can use is to name the second last flat in the music staff which will the the name of the key.

It is important when reading sheet music to look at the key signature on the left hand side of the staff and after the clef symbol. It is displayed as either zero or more sharp (#) or flat (b) symbols over a line or space. Ordinarily these sharps or flats are played throughout a piece, so if you are playing a piece of music in the key of “F”, then every “B” note displayed on the staff equates to a Bb (B flat) and not written beside the note. Sometimes the key signature can change during the piece which will be denoted by a new key signature and a new clef sign (which can also change during a piece).

When you are just learning how to play the piano, just remember to use the key signature to tell you what notes to play flat or sharp throughout the whole piece. In time you will get used to seeing key signatures and it will make more sense.

Most adults know just enough about playing piano (or any other instrument for that matter) to plink out a simple tune of an old classic folk song, or a simple popular TV theme song. While many adults long to play better, they cannot imagine they can learn how to play piano at their full potential and so this desire goes unfulfilled. You have undoubtedly heard a range from excuses by adults who fit this description: “You can’t learn at my age”, “I’m too old”, “Have no time” and so on. In reality there is simply no reason why virtually anyone at any age can’t improve their piano skills beyond the basics, including you.

One of the most celebrated and versatile instruments is the piano. The piano is probably the best known instrument in the world which may be why it is called the “mother of all instruments”. Almost all of the world’s most widely recognized classical music pieces was written on or adapted to the piano. Learning the piano is also necessary for gaining entry into many higher level music courses. When it comes to teaching (and learning) music theory, knowing the piano is a virtual necessity. There is no better instrument for drilling into the complexities of the theoretical component of music.

Given this, it is easy to see why playing the piano is so popular amongst people who wish to play music, yet as Adults we suffer from distinct problems that younger people don’t suffer from so badly. For as adults we have a tendency to shy away from stepping outside of our comfort zones. Unfortunately, to learn (and get good at) playing the piano requires one to do this, to step outside what they are comfortable playing already. The hard truth is that you will never achieve anything by practicing what you already know. To get better at playing the piano (or anything) you need to practice playing what you do NOT know. While adults typically prefer to have complete and total control over every aspect of their lives, this actually works against you when you’re trying to learn something now. It will lead to feelings of frustration and possibly feelings of patronization when you are required to take direction from another adult. But by dedicating the time to practice and taking heed of instructions, anyone can learn to play piano no matter what age you are.

The obvious first step when you have decided to go down the road of improving your ability on piano is to find a decent piano tutor. There will likely be classes and private tutors available in your area. Alternatively you could look into some of the various online piano lessons that are available. Technology has advanced so much over the least couple of decades, that it is no feasible to teach yourself how to play the piano using lessons downloaded over the internet. The advantages of learning piano from online sources are reduced cost and time. If you choose to go down the road of receiving expert one-on-one tuition from an instructor, you will end up paying a lot more. The average cost of an online study course like Pianoforall is about the cost of a single session with a tutor and you can practice at your own pace and whenever you have time on your hands.

On the other hand, a tutor will be able to help you with specific problem areas that with an online course, but you can overcome this by revisiting your problem areas in the online course or by seeking new online material that might help you with your specific problem.

Regardless of your age and ability, there is no reason whey you cannot learn to improve your piano skills, so long as you commit yourself to the necessary practice of music theory, chords, scales and new songs and of course, stretching yourself by moving outside your current comfort zone. In fact it is entirely possible that you will make remarkably rapid progress within a very short space of time with the right attitude. It can be a highly satisfying experience to impress your friends, family and yourself with your new found ability to play the piano.

 

 

 

This is our second article on piano fingering. If you have not read the first article on this topic, then we suggest you start here: Piano fingering.

Piano fingering is important in becoming a skilled piano player. While there is no wide consensus on the “correct” fingering method, few instructors will deny that bad fingering will lead to playing that is awkward, so learning good fingering techniques is important for those who wish to improve their playing no matter which school of thought they are in.

Some instructors advocate a “strict” and “correct” fingering pattern that follows some general fingering rules, whereas others will recommend a more “free flowing” approach, whereby the piano player moves their fingers in a manner that is natural to them and unhidden by the burden of getting everything absolutely perfect. Neither one of these approaches is better than the other. New players would probably do well to learn some of the generally accepted “rules” (which are not in any way set in stone). As a player increases their skill he or she can then “break the rules” and play in a manner that is less restrictive.

For now we will consider that you are relatively new and still learning and so offer a couple more tips on fingering. This is far from exhaustive and is simply to present some ideas. It should supplement a more structured lesson plan like the Pianoforall course, which takes your through fingering techniques over a series of lessons.

It is important to keep in mind that the “correct” fingering may vary from composition to composition. In many classical pieces, a slight change in fingering can cause a major disruption to the whole phrasing of the piece. On the other hand for pieces that are less strict that have more scope for improvisation, fingering is far less critical. In fact many top piano players use different fingering depending on their mood at the time when they play improvisations within a piece of music. The mood of the song and the pace of rhythm can also have a bearing on the finger combinations used on the piano.

Another thing you may notice in sheet music is that different editors will have different fingering arrangements (where it is included) for similar pieces of music, or for the same song, so “correct” or “proper” fingering can usually be considered arbitrary. While some music editors prefer the second finger more often, others have a tendency toward the third, so in summary, if you are improvising to music, the correct fingering is not so critical. You should still learn the rules, like those mentioned in the other article, which ensure a smooth flow in a piece of music for the most part, but you do not need to be 100% rigid in sticking to these rules. Too much rigidity will cause you to over-think which can lead to bad sounding music. It is the final sound that you produce that is important after all!

Piano playing can become over complicated when you are trying to balance too much, playing with both of your hands, pedal timing, while thinking about rhythm and finger position. While it is good to learn good technique, the end result should be to get to a level where you don’t have to think too hard. Otherwise making music will be no fun at all!

 

If you have ever observed a beginner, you may have noticed how awkward playing the piano can look when a player’s fingering is not right, however instructor’s opinions on the topic of correct fingering can vary. There are some who are of the school of thought that the correct fingering is strictly important at all times, while others advocate a more free-style fingering approach.

While neither school of thought is strictly right or wrong, let me share my own perspective on the topic of piano fingering positions for those seeking the ideal way to learn how to play piano.

The length of a player’s fingers will vary from person to person, but our thumbs are always shorter than our fingers. Our thumb is also a bit stronger than our fingers. The most common fingers used are generally the thumb, second finger or index finger, and the little (pinky) finger or fifth finger, however the first three are generally stronger than the last two.

Some general rules are as follows:

1. Try not to play black keys with your thumb. However, here there are some exceptions: If the piece has all black notes, then obviously playing black keys with your thumb cannot be avoided.

The reason why playing black keys with your thumb is not recommended is due to the shorter length of your thumb. It is generally recommended that black notes be played with your second or third fingers, even when playing scales that start with a black note. In this case you start playing the scale with your second or third finger instead of your thumb.

2. If you are playing a melody and need to play a key that is beyond your reach, you can move your hand to reach the note you need to play. When the key is only a step or two lower than your current thumb position, then you can anchor your thumb and move the second finger left so as to reach the note left of your thumb. The hand does not need to move, but only the second finger. Once the note is played, your thumb can be moved left if needed.

3. This rule also applies to the left hand.

4. Whenever you can, watch experienced pianists and see how they position their fingers. Learning to imitate their finger positions can be a great learning experience, especially musicians who are classically trained as musicians at this level tend to be well trained with many years of experience. They have usually undergone years of training of a structured repertoire as well as virtuoso training beyond that of other musicians.

Keep in mind that the goal in getting the right fingering is to ensure a high level of smoothness in musical passages. This is especially important when playing the work of classical composers, who’s work can be great to learn for practice. Learning the work of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven and playing it well can, for example help to mold a piano player who is aiming for a higher level.

 

One of the easiest way to get started for those who wish to learn how to play piano is to practice playing piano chords to songs. Most sheet music you are likely to have seen will print the chords, usually above the melody line. There are literally hundreds of possible chord combinations that can be played on piano, but most songs are made up of a main group of important chords.

If you’re looking for a quick piano chord reference, then feel free to check out our chord charts that we offer for free:

You can either learn chords as part of a structured piano course like the Pianoforall course which builds up your knowledge of chords over a structured series of exercises, or you can find some sheet music to a song you like and play the chords along with the song. We’ve provided some examples of songs for beginners on our page of easy songs to learn on pian and we will add fresh new piano songs that are easy to play to the category of the same name, found here from time to time, but you can basically play along to any sheet music you like that has the chords printed on it.

Some of the main chords are major, minor, diminished and augmented chords and there are useful chord inversions to wrap your head around too. It is quite possible that you are overwhelmed by all the possible chord combinations to learn, but just because there are so many should not discourage you from getting started on them right away.

Learning the major chords is the easiest place for most beginners to start. Chords are based on scales and so the major chords are all based on major scales. C-Major is arguably the easiest of the majors because all of the C-Scale notes are white keys. The major scale pattern (use Piano Chords and Scales Explained as a reference for scales) is W-W-H-W-W-W-W-H (where W = whole step and H = half step). A major chord can have more than three notes in it, but most of the time only three notes are played in chords. The root position for C-major is then: C (root=thumb), E (middle=third), G (end=fifth). You play the beginning note, which is “C”, skip a step and play the next step, skip a half step and play the next step.

While the “inverted” version of this chord may be a bit advanced if you are a beginner,I will briefly explain it for clarity. It is possible to play the C-major chord differently to this. You could say start with E, play the note G with your 3rd and the note C, the next octave up with your fifth finger. Chord inversions are convenient for chord transitions where it’s desirable for your hand to be close to the previous chord. They will sound slightly different, but will “work” just as well as the chord played in the root position in a song. This is why it is useful to learn and practice chord inversions for all the major chords, but don’t worry about that yet. Just stick to the basics for now.

It is possible to make up chords from any scale. If you know the sequence of the notes in the scale then you can easily make up a corresponding chord. Two other major chords that use all white keys are F and G. They are easy like the C Major chord using the one-three-five sequence.

Chords D, E and A are also fairly straight forward if you remember that your middle (3rd) finger plays a black key on the keyboard. The root (1st) and 5th play white notes like C, F and G. The next three major chords are opposite to the previous group. The Db, Eb and Ab chords require you to put your fingers on black keys for the 1st and 5th positions, while the 3rd is a white note. The chords Gb (or F#) is a chord that is played using only black keys, while the B major and Bb major are a bit trickier. B is white for its root, black for the 3rd and black for it’s 5th. Bb is the exact opposite, it’s root is black, while it’s 3rd and 5th are white.

The next most important group of chords are the minors. These are gloomier sounding chords, which are played the same way as major chords except the middle note played a half-step down. So for C minor you play C-Eb-G instead of C-E-G. If you know the minor scale you can derive this chord pattern from the scale. When counting steps and half steps, you need to remember that for a minor scale, the third step is a half step lower, so the chord is: the beginning note, W, H, W, W, W for the first five notes.

It will likely take you a long time before you have mastered all of the important chords on the piano, but by expanding your chord repetoir you will be able to add additional material to the list of songs you have the ability to play. It becomes much easier the more you learn too, so don’t be put off if it all seems too overwhelming at first.

If you are at the start of your quest to learn how to play piano, then you are probably not ready for sight reading at this stage. It is more appropriate that you learn basic piano chords as sight reading is a more advanced topic that you will learn later. Sight reading written sheet music is playing music as you see it printed on paper for the first time. When you first look at an unfamiliar piece of music it will all be unfamiliar and possibly quite overwhelming. While you may be one of the lucky few that can learn it quickly and easily (usually after years of practice), here are a few tips for the rest of us learning the art of reading sheet music:

  1. Examine the key signature. Get into the habit of always checking the key of any piece of music you are intending to play. Pay close attention to whichever sharps or flats are listed in the signature as you’ll want to commit these to memory in advance if possible.
  2. Examine the time signature. This is another important habit you should get into as measures will note make any sense if you are not sure how many beats are contained within them. You will be lost if you make a mistake here.
  3. Make sure you are aware of any changes in key and time signature. More complicated songs often features changes of either or both of these. You can save a lot of trouble if you’re aware of them ahead of time and before you begin to play the piece.
  4. It is useful to make a mental note of which note or chord the piece begins on and which it ends on. This can often help you to predict changes in the song which will help to guide you through it.
  5. Make note of the rhythm of the left hand staff. The bass line you usually play with your left hand usually defines the rhythm of the song (although not always). Ensure you know which notes are on the left hand before you start playing so you’ll have a better picture of what the song involves.
  6. Before you begin, do a “once-over” of the melody section. The melody usually defines the “vibe” of the song and so getting it into your head will give you the general idea of how the song should be played. Once you “get” the meaning of how the song is intended to be played, you’ll have unlocked it’s “charm” and “character” and how it is unique from other songs. Having the melody stand out in your mind before you start playing can help a great deal.
  7. Finally, go over any other “quirks” and “markings” associated with the piece. Or more of the advanced music symbols that indicate how long or short to play each note and the loudness or softess of notes at various places within the score. Get an idea for the overall speed of the music as well.
  8. At last, take a deep breath, concentrate and then start playing. Try your best to play the song to the end if you can the first time. You will have time later to break it down into sections (measures) and practice any particular part you find difficult, but at first simply trying to make it to the end will help you pick up the piece a lot more completely.

Being able to sight read music is undoubtedly a valuable skill for skilled pianists to know. By sight-reading you are forced to concentrate and focus until you reach the end of the song which can help you overcome bad habits such as spending too much time looking at each note before you attempt to play it. Starting and stopping whenever you get a part wrong is always a bad habbit that will stall your ability to learn new music quickly.

This being said, very few piano players have the ability to play a piece perfectly on first sighting of a song. Perfection is not the goal here, learning to read music as quickly and efficiently is what you’re aiming for.

piano chordLearning how to harmonize a major scale is a valuable skill. By doing so you’ll learn which chords you can use. The other way is to play by ear, but having a more solid foundation behind you is a stronger basis to learn how to play the piano. The concept of harmonizing a major scale requires you know a few simple rules. A great deal of music has been composed using just a few of the relationships I will divulge here, even though the concept is simple. Like all great rules, they can be broken, but we urge you to learn to stick with them for now. You can feel free to break them later as you gain more skill.

Many variations of chords can be created by altering a one or a couple of notes. You no doubt already know that to form a major chord, you take it’s root (C for instance), add the third note of the C-Major scale (E) and add the fifth note of the scale (E), to give you a three-note triad. By the way the definition of a chord, requires you play at least three notes. Next you repeat this pattern for each note of the scale and you have a group of chords built note by note going up the scale. The result of this is the “harmonized major scale” of whatever key you started with.

For C-Major this is then:

  • C-Major
  • D-Minor
  • E-Minor
  • F-Major
  • G-Major
  • A-Minor
  • B-Diminished
  • C-Major (next octave)

Note: Check out our basic chord chart or our extended chord chart if you’d like to practice playing this sequence of chords.

Now you can play any combination of these chords and it should sound good. Needless to say this can be a great exercise when writing new music of your own, in whatever key you would like.

So the basic rules are then:

  • Locate the root note of a key and play up the scale, but with chord shapes instead of individual notes.
  • Don’t forget to keep the same step pattern intervals. They will be the same regardless of key

A more advanced exercise is to experiment with harmonizing a major scale to four notes rather than just three. You can also repeat the same exercise on different types of scales to see what kinds of interesting combinations you come up with. This can be a lot of fun if you are willing to experiment!

How To Buy A Piano

So you are keen to learn to play piano. You will not get far without said instrument to play and practice on. If you are on a tight budget then a cheap keyboard might be your best option. A synthesizer is a great option and allows you to practice getting your fingering right, but few will deny you can’t beat the the experience of playing the real thing, so here are a few tips on buying your first real piano.

When shopping for a new instrument, it’s important to bear a few things in mind. The two main disadvantages of acoustic pianos are:

  1. They are expensive
  2. They are cumbersome to move from point A to point B; and
  3. They take up a lot of space in a house!

Point c is particularly true if you’re considering a genuine grand piano. For convenience of storage most people purchase upright pianos, but if you are serious about getting a grand (and grand pianos are lovely instruments to behold, don’t get me wrong!) then first factor in the available space in your house and where you plan to keep it. Also factor in that it will be more difficult to move and you may need to hire a piano mover to relocate your article to the desired location. While a smaller, upright piano is a far easier proposition to deal with, it is still heavy and bulky and so you will need to factor in transportation.

When buying a piano, you can often save a lot of money by buying second hand, but if you do you should be particularly wary that your purchase is up to par. You should at least tinker with the keys and ensure they are in the right pitch. A piano can be tuned if it is not perfectly tuned, but if it is out of key because of abuse by the previous owner or lack of care and maintenance, then you need to consider what you are getting yourself into. At the very least a piano you plan to buy from a previous owner should sound good to you and have a nice action that feels good to play. Pianos can vary a bit. Some have key strengths like a stronger touch which some people like, but others don’t. Those who prefer to play softer classical music and slower ballads will often prefer a softer touch on the keys. Ensure that you are happy with the way the instrument performs.

spinet piano

A typical Spinet Piano

A popular choice for beginners is a Spinet Piano, that is about half the height of a standard sized upright version. These are less bulky, cheaper, yet still offer a high quality tone. One of the obvious benefits of this type of instrument is that it is much easier to relocate and you may even be able to move your new piano yourself.

A final word on purchasing an electronic keyboard. While this may be an excellent instrument for a serious musician, for a beginner who is interested in playing a real piano, the two are definitely not the same thing. While the keyboard will be identical, you lose the foot pedals (although some digital instruments offer electronic pedals), but there is also a loss of the complete, “full” sound that only an acoustic piano can deliver. Generally electronic keyboards and synthesizers merely mimic the sound of a real piano, but are no substitution for the sound and feel of the real instrument.