Popular myths have always been the bane of society. For some reason we tend to be swayed by “common knowledge”, whether is has any basis of fact or not. While not all common knowledge is far from the truth, there is no denying the many popular myths that lead to backwards thinking. This is also true in the music world, where old modes of thinking can hinder learning. Here we will debunk one of the popular myths that is held amongst a lot of adults, that in which past a certain age one can not learn as quickly as they could when they were a child.

In reality, there is very little difference. An experienced piano tutor once told me that in his experience in teaching both adults and children for many years, that the idea that a child’s brain is more receptive is simply not true. What does tend to be true is that the child has more time on their hands to learn new things and is not so encumbered by the stresses of life which reduces their “mental clutter”.

When in this state, you are naturally better at focusing on the task at hand, which creates the illusion that children absorb new material much faster than an adult does. What a child may not have that an adult does, however is the desire to achieve something. Many adults have a burning desire to become better piano players, which creates greater focus in those people who are seriously committed to learn. Adults who set themselves to “make up for lost time”, can often outperform in learning speed over children by a significant margin.

Adults who do tend to learn slower than children are those who just dabble in learning piano and do not have the desire in them to stretch themselves. This typical “frazzled” adult living a hectic life will often learn slower, but not necessarily because they don’t practice, but due to the fact that they do not have a burning desire to achieve “quality learning”. There is a distinction between time spent learning and quality time spent learning. The two are certainly not equivalent.

Another issue adults tend to have is negative self-judgement as well as impatience and stress they bring on themselves. Adults may have learned music before and so have formed prejudices from the past which can hold them back. They may stubbornly stick to how something is “supposed” to sound rather than how it is presented to them in the sheet music. Children who have never seen the piece before will not think twice about it.

Adults who have been competent players in the past may suffer another limiting factors which is frustration at not playing as well as they used to. Or even if they haven’t may get frustrated that they cannot play one of a selection of easy songs to learn on piano that “should be easy”. The additional stress from this added frustrating can add to the myth that children learn faster than adults. The adult simply may be so stressed that they give up trying.

So if you are an adult piano player, whether you have played in the past or not, you need to realize that adults can learn just as fast or even faster than children can, however you also need to be aware of some of the common limitations that tend to hold adults back. If you can work through these, there is no reason why you can’t come up to speed on the piano very rapidly indeed!

Learn to embrace your current ability and be open minded about learning or re-learning your way of playing.

In modern culture, there are countless popular myths that everyone subscribes to that are not always 100% accurate. While many of them are and can be a good thing, there are certainly many outdated modes of thinking that hold people back. This is also true when it comes to learning a musical instrument like the piano. Students who are serious about becoming great piano players can get caught up in learning “correct” technique. The desire to play music the “correct” way is understandable, but somewhat misguided. In this article we will dismiss the myth that you should learn proper piano technique before you begin to pay music on the piano.

Amongst musicians, there is the age-old debate of whether physical technique and accuracy is as necessary as a player’s interpretation and expression of a musical piece. While technique is certainly important, what’s most important is the music that’s produced as the end-result so the answer to this question is most certainly. No!

Another question to ask is whether playing technique and perfect note-accuracy takes longer to learn than to interpret a piece of music well and express yourself when playing it. The answer again is a resounding No! We are comparing apples and oranges here, peaches and pears. Both skills mentioned above take a lot of time to master. Probably the best way to improve your interpretation and expressiveness is via repertoire. In fact it is not unheard of in some countries for music students to practice repetitive drills for many years before they are even allowed to attempt to play a piece of music! When they do the student is allowed to play repertoire, however the result is that these musicians end up playing fast and accurately with almost no expression! Is this really a big surprise?

Probably the most effective way to study music on the piano is to practice playing music as you practice fingering technique and playing accuracy. The ideal way is that the difficulty of a technique should be harder than what is required of the repertoire. This way you are always pushing yourself to learn more advanced techniques, while not compromising on other factors that are neglected by many piano players.

We advise you begin with easy songs to learn on piano, but we do NOT advise that you get stuck on them. You should ideally be continually advancing your technique and repertoire as your playing ability improves.

An important component of becoming an expert piano player is memorizing piano chords and scales. Learning to play in different piano modes is also important, especially if you wish to become a professional musician or play a role in a band that requires a lot of improvisation. In this article we will discuss minor pentatonic scales. To review other piano modes, refer to our previous articles Piano Modes Part 1, Piano Modes Part 2 and Piano Modes Part 3.

Pentatonic scales are slightly different than the scales we addressed in other articles. Instead of possessing seven notes, they are made up of only five (hence the “pent). The pentatonic scale is made up of five notes all within the same octave. It is believed the pentatonic scales dates back to ancient times. Claude Debussy and other composers have used pentatonic scales to great effect in their music.

Minor Pentatonic Scales

Minor pentatonic scales follow the step pattern as follows:

W+H-W-W-W+H-W (where W = whole step, H = half step)

So for example the C minor pentatonic scale is: C, D#, F, G, A#, C.

The same step pattern relationship applies in all twelve keys.

Major Pentatonic Scales

This is in contrast to the major pentatonic scale, which follows the pattern:

W-W-W+H-W-W+H

Experimenting with both the major and minor pentatonic scales opens up a whole new world of soloing possibilities. There are also more chord choices which you can make up by adding one ore more notes to a standard pentatonic scale. These scales are used quite a lot in rock music, pop music and many other styles and are a first step to playing blues scales. You will find they sound much more “edgy” than major or minor scales when played over a “rocky” chord progression. This has made the pentatonic scales among the most popular to play on guitar in rock music, but they also translate well to the piano. If you plan to join a rock or pop music band, knowledge of the pentatonic scales will not be wasted.

Common misconceptions can be the bane of a society! They can also be the bane of beginning piano players who get trapped in the wrong mode of thinking. Here we address another popular myth that many new players take for granted. Today we will look at the issue of long practice sessions. Most new players starting out believe that it is better to spend many hours of practice at a time to improve, but this has it’s drawbacks too as we will see.

The problem with marathon practice sessions is mental fatigue. After about 15 minutes of practice, the average person becomes mentally tired. Thus, regular short bursts, with breaks in between is actually more effective than extending a session over many hours non-stop. For this reason, we believe that you should practice on days even when you only have a short amount of time available to you. You may think it would be wasted time, but this is not necessarily the case. So long as you keep doing a lot of short practice sessions, by the end of the week they’ll have added up to something significant.

Say you only have 10 minutes per day. If you can squeeze in 16 of these 10-minute bursts over a few days, then that makes 16 micro practice session, totaling 160 minutes which is just under three hours. You might think stopping and starting like this would not give you enough time to “ramp up” to something important, but it can actually be a highly efficient way of practicing.

It can also be much easier to squeeze in 10 minute bursts than committing yourself to an hour a day. If your initial goal is to practice an hour, three days of the week, yet you get tied up and keep postponing your practice, days go by without practicing and by the end of the week you have done exactly ZERO practice. The result is you delay practicing the piano ALTOGETHER. Compare this to sneaking in a 10-15 minute interval twice a day when you can. Even if you can only do it once a day for three days and twice for two that’s an hour or two of practice a week compared to ZERO practice!

Even if you do have as much time on your hand as you need and can dedicate it all to piano practice, small chunks of practice is still preferable to six hours of practice straight. It is also preferable not to practice when you are tired, frustrated, distracted, angry or in a hurry as these will be “learned” into your piano playing which is not a good thing.

On the other hand if you do find yourself stuck seated at the piano for a long time then it will help to rotate your activities so you practice a variety of activities in turn. Select a piece from our easy songs to learn on piano and spend 20 minutes learning it, then switch to practicing chords, then switch to some fingering techniques. You can then switch back to the song you were learning at the beginning and you’ll feel mentally much fresher and your practice session will be much more effective. You are balancing your learning of new skills and your mind will be fresher.

Takeaway lesson: practice sessions need not be long, short bursts of 10-15 minutes are in fact an effective way of learning if you are on a tight schedule.

So you’ve taken the first steps to learn to play the piano. Whether you are seeing a piano teacher every week, or have purchased one of the better online piano courses like Pianoforall and are following the lesson plan, the main thing is you are putting in some effort to improve your piano playing.

A challenge you’d probably like to take sooner or later is playing one of your favorite songs, but chances are, the songs you wish to play are a bit tougher than “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”. While there are easy songs to learn on piano that are also popular, many popular music songs are hard for a beginner to play right off the bat. Nevertheless, you would like to play the songs you would like to play! And if they are a bit more challenging than the piano songs you’ve played up until now, you’ve got a tough job ahead of you! With that in mind, here are a couple of tips to make it a bit easier.

Break It Down Into Chunks

Later when you become a skilled piano player, you should ultimately be trying to sight-read all, but the most complicated music scores without stopping, but for beginners getting started, breaking a song down is perfectly acceptable.

Even songs that are only slightly tricky in complexity can be broken down into sections. You could do this by breaking a song into the usual verse, chorus, bridge, etc, but the natural way to break down a song will vary quite a lot from song to song. As a rule of thumb, try and break it down into 8-16 bars at a time (you may even wish to go as low as 4 bars). When you can play a section comfortably, move onto the next section. Once you are comfortable playing the next section move on to the next and so on until you can play the entire song.

Play at a Slower Tempo

Lowering the tempo at which you practice a piece of music is more important than you might realize.

It’s all about muscular memory. Playing slower is easier and you are more likely to get it right by keeping things simple at a slower pace. Once the body “gets used” to the mechanical action of the song, playing the notes will have been committed to memory and will become as natural as say riding a bicycle, typing or walking. This is the goal anyway and this is what repetitive practice will help you to achieve.

The mind will gain more control of the muscle movements that are required to play the song and you will have more control over your ability to play the song in question. The basic premise is that the better controlled and more precise the muscle movements (which is what happens when you play slow), the quicker your body will commit this action to muscle memory.

Learning to play the piano is not something you will learn in a day. Learning to play your favorite songs will certainly improve your playing ability, but it should be done in combination with other exercises and a structured lesson plan that includes scales, chords and other important exercises.

A common question new piano students ask is what should their practice sessions focus on? They are not sure whether they should spend their time practicing piano chords and scales, or something else altogether. Most students simply wish to know how best to utilize their time spent learning how to play and in learning music theory in general.

The answer is, it depend on what your ultimate goal is. Chords and scales are undoubtedly a very important component of mastering piano. Learning scales will help you improve your finger dexterity. They will help you familiarize yourself with the keys of the instrument. Piano scales are also ingrained in music theory. When you know which key you are in, if you know your scales, your fingers will automatically “know” the configuration of they keys that need to be played without you having to consciously think about it.

You should certainly learn your scales, but don’t become too obsessed over time. They should not be your end goal, unless you wish to become a hard core theorist. Usually it is productive to practice piano scales when you “warm up” at the beginning of a session. Play them once or twice and them move onto something different. In time you’ll improve and scales will become second nature. You’ll be able to play them accurately and without thinking too hard about playing them.

When you’re first learning your scales it is wise to learn them slowly. This way the “muscle memory” of your body learns the mechanics of playing them and in time the pattern will become intuitive.

Another useful skill of a master pianists is to develop your ear’s ability to recognize the intervals between notes. This too will come with practice.

It all comes down to what your goal is as a piano player. To answer the question of what you should practice, you need to first ask yourself why you are learning piano? What’s your end goal? Is it to have to ability to play sheet music on sight. Do you wish to compose and improvise in scales? There are two types of general pianists. Those who play by ear and can improvise well and those who can sight read sheet music extremely well (play by sight).

Very rarely will you find a piano player with the ability to do both well, but they are out there! As you progress it may pay dividends to figure out with type of piano player you belong to and cater your practice along those lines.

Also do not forget that playing piano is not simply about hitting the right notes. Piano playing is about playing with the right expression with the music. Playing music is about expressing emotion as much as it is about scales and chords. You may be the most technically competent player in the world, but if you can’t play with “feeling”, you’ll sound hollow and repetitive.

One of the best ways to get good at playing piano is to look for easy songs to learn on piano to learn and play. Many traditional folk songs fall into this category. These types of songs usually feature a simple melody that can be played against easy chords. One such song is the traditional English ballad “Scarborough Fair”. This song is the tale of a young man who instructs the subject of the song to request his former lover to perform impossible tasks and that if she can perform these tasks he will take her back. The melody is typical of the middle age English period.

Over time, many theories have been proposed about the plot of the song. Some say it was set in the time of the Great Plague of the Middle Ages. That the song is about the Yorkshire town of Scarborough seems obvious, although the worlds “Scarborough Fair” seem to associate with an obscure Scottish ballad which can be traced back at least as far back as 1670.

There have been several commercial recordings of this song, most popularly the 1968 single by Simon and Garfunkel which was released as a 7″ single. Their song performed very well in the charts, breaking into the top 10 in the UK Singles Chart.

Here is a shortened version of the sheet music of Scarborough Fair. It should be sufficient to practice with, but you may wish to track down the full sheet music if you’d like to play the whole song in its entirety.

Scarborough Fair

The chords and melody are fairly straight forward here. Note that this version of the song is in the key of F major or D minor. So the note “B” is flattened. This song is a good one for practicing loudness as there are crescendos (denoted by left pointing “arrow”) and diminuendos (denoted by right pointing “arrow”). If you are not familiar with these in sheet music they depict a gradual increase and decrease in the music respectively. Also take note of the dynamics denoted by “p”, which stands for piano meaning soft and “pp” which stands for “pianissimo” and means very soft.

If dynamics are a bit too tricky for you at the moment, then don’t worry too much about them, just practice the chords and melody for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

piano scalesThe things you most need to practice when learning how to play piano are piano chords and scales. Unfortunately, the thought of practicing chords and scales on piano does not usually inspire dizzying heights in motivation. Learning scales and chords, particularly scales is boring and considered more of a burden by budding pianists. Well I hate to say it, but if you want to get good at playing piano, you need to practice scales and chords. You need to practice them over and over until they’re as natural as breathing! Harsh words, but never hath a more true sentence been spoken!

Despite the obvious drudgery and tedium, it will be crucial to developing your own personal technique and way of playing the piano in the long run. Knowing the major scales and understanding how they relate to tunes and melody is the cornerstone of getting to know the rest of your instrument as well as playing well and knowing how to make music sound interesting.

Notes in a scales tend to be played in order, either going up or down in pitch. Most piano scales are eight notes long, with the first and last notes being of the same pitch an octave apart. The beginning of a piano scale is known as the “root note”, the root being the key of the scale and could be any of the twelve keys in an octave. Chordal and tonal relationships apply to each and every key you may wish to play in. While all keys may have their own unique mood, very often you will be required to transpose a song from one key to a more desired key so that the music that you play is aligned with the key that other band members are playing to, or to suit a signer’s vocal range. Knowing how to change key is a crucial skill as a top musician.

Scales are made up of a sequence of full steps and half steps. While some white keys are right next to one another, others are broken up by a black key. When two white keys are adjacent, the interval between them is a half step. Two whites separated by a black is a whole step. Two halves equals one whole, step-wise.

In any major scale (also called an Ionian scale), the pattern relationships is:

W, W, H, W, W, W, H

Where W = whole step, H = half step

By applying this pattern you will be able to figure out the major scale of any key you wish. In C-Major it is relatively straight forward to play the C-Major scale on the keyboard as this scale features only the white keys, but it can be derived from this pattern as follows:

  • C to D (whole step)
  • D to E (whole step)
  • E to F (half step)
  • F to G (whole step)
  • G to A (wholestep)
  • A to B (whole step)
  • B to C (half step)

But not matter which of the twelve keys you work in, there is no bearing on which notes happen to be black or white, what matters is the step distance between keys, C-Major just happens to be all white.

There are many more scales in addition to C-Major, our aim here is simply to demonstrate to you what a scale actually is. For a more thorough account of this topic, visit our page on piano chords and scales, which addresses all of the major scales in turn.

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.