Most budding piano players, at some stage struggle with motivation when learning piano chords and scales, but at some point you might wish to have a go at playing in a band and you will quickly discover that your effort has been well worth it! Joining a band can be a cool thing, but making the transition to a band for the first time is a learning experience that you will at some point need to go through. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as a keyboard or piano player in a band. Not a definitive guide to be sure, but some observations from experience.

Usually it is a good idea to stay away from playing left hand bass lines on keyboard when you are working with a bass player. Sometimes however, it can work depending on the music you are performing. Early rock as well as R&B pieces can work exceptionally well in this regard.

When playing you should be conscious of laying back in the grove in time with the drummer and not “rushing” when in a supporting role. The same does not apply when soloing and an experienced drummer will hold back so as to allow your solo to have appeal. A good band should sense where the soloist is taking them and back them up and while taking the lead is a great way to express yourself, playing a supporting role can be equally as satisfying.

An experienced keyboardist once told me, if you do “rush the beat” in the role as a rhythm pianist, watch out for flying drum sticks!

A few more general observations:

Do not “overplay” when playing with other musicians in a band. You should attempt to inject subtleties into your music and allow the melody to shine through the piece. Fast complicated finger work is OK, but only when in the correct context of what you are playing, otherwise you risk capturing the attention of your audience, leaving them dazed from the onslaught of advanced technique. While it is tempting to show off your technique by playing at a million notes a minute throughout a song, it is a mistake to treat music as a race and you risk leaving your audience emotionally flat and underwhelmed.

Working with a good music teacher will help you adapt to playing in a band, as will spending time with other musicians. If you are a young player and still at school, try and take the opportunity to play in school music performances, Even if you are forced to play the kind of music you don’t like, you will learn a lot from the experience of performing with other musicians and you’ll gradually develop your own musical attitude and style as your experience and level of skill increases.

While technique is extremely helpful in broadening your knowledge of music and offering you more choices of material to play in improvisations, an essential element that cannot be simplified to music notation, chords or scales is “feel” for music. This is commonly referred to as “soul” and can be thought of as an extension of your spirit and emotions within relation to the music. While music rules are important, they should serve only to help you express yourself and in breaking music down into components that you can understand. Your personal perspective and originality is what will make you stand out as a piano player in a band.

A common question that comes up is what is the quickest way to learn piano songs when you’re a beginner? There are many answers to this question depending on certain variables. Perhaps the fastest way to get to the stage where you can play something is to find some easy songs to learn on piano, These are songs that are suitable for beginners to play and they should not take you much effort to learn. Once you have a few simple songs down pat, then there are a few general ways you can do to learn songs on the piano a bit faster.

Preparation is King

If your goal is to learn a particular song as quickly as possible, there are a few things you can do before you begin to play notes and chords. First listen to the song a few times, so you are familiar with the tune to start with. It can help to choose a song you are already familiar with. Get acquainted with its dynamics and it’s chords and get a “feel” for the song. From this you will at least know by ear when you are playing it wrong and making mistakes. Next step, break the song into separate parts. This will vary from song to song, but typically you want to address a song’s intro, verse, chorus and bridge separately. Playing a song slowly to begin with will help you memorise it more thoroughly.  Additionally you might also like to track down the sheet music for the song. Even if you wish to learn to play it by ear, you can refer to the sheet music in areas that you have difficulty figuring out.

Practicing The Song

If you have sufficiently prepared to learn the song, then practicing it will go much easier. Try and separate the right hand notes and chords from the left hand and practice each individually before attempting to combine them. It may be tempting to attempt both at the same time, but as you’re just beginning, this can often bring you unstuck! It may well be faster to do this at times, but it can also make it harder, forcing you to take extra time to sort out your issues. Try and practice at a slow, consistent pace. Do not allow yourself to speed up right away. Practice the most challenging sections separately. Do them over and over until they become second nature to you and then try to tie them into the other sections of the song. Do not forget to do this last step as you’ll end up only being able to play part of the song.

Whenever you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break and don’t try and force it, but make sure you practice every day. It will become easier over time!

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.