How to Learn Piano: A Beginner’s Guide to Piano Lessons

Many people express interest in wanting to learn piano but they’re not sure how.  Learning how to play the piano seems hard because it’s a completely unknown world to most.

I’m here to help you find out that piano lessons don’t have to be intimidating and you can learn to play piano just as well as anyone else…if you do it right.

In this guide, I’ll help you understand a little more about the world of music, specific to pianos, and then take you through a step by step guide to getting you on your feet, or perhaps I should say getting you on your seat!

I’ll give some details into the background of the piano next; if you’re only interested in learning to play, please feel free to jump ahead.

A Five Minute Instrument, History & Music Lesson

Before you really jump into piano, you’ll have to understand some phrases and terminology so that you don’t get frustrated and confused by everything that’s out there before you even get started playing.

Teaching you these things will help you focus on what’s important: playing and learning.

What is a Piano? The Instrument Mechanics

A piano is technically an instrument in the percussion and string categories. You will see it mainly classified under percussion instruments, because these create sound when they are struck or hit by something.

A classic acoustic piano makes its sound when a hammer hits the strings inside of it. A typical string instrument is playing by plucking or some other form of induced vibration in the string, such as a bow (think of a violin, cello, etc.).

The hammers of a piano are struck by means of pressing keys on the keyboard of the piano, which are the white and black keys that you see that are most associated with the instrument.

If you want to sustain the notes, you can make use of the pedals of the piano to do so. These essentially stop the hammers from coming back down and dampening the string so that it stops vibrating, and simply allows it to stop vibrating at a natural rate.

A full size piano has 88 total keys, 52 white and 36 black.

A Quick History Lesson: When, Where, Why

The piano was developed in the early 18th century, and there were many variations that led to the current version. The clavichord and harpsichord were two of the earliest versions.

Invention of the modern piano is given to Bartolome Cristofori, an Italian man. The name of the instrument was originally un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte, shortened later to pianoforte (and a few other variations).

Piano means “soft”, whereas forte means “loud”. This refers to the range of sounds the instrument can make depending on the velocity one presses the keys.

Once the instrument was popularized, the name was shorted to “piano”.

The piano was invented to expand the range of instruments available because there was an apparent lack of keyboard played instruments that could offer a suitable range of musicality.

The Different Types of Pianos and Their Nomenclature

There are a few different types of pianos. You have probably heard of some of them but this will help you understand the full range of availability:

Acoustic Pianos 

The following are acoustic pianos, which means the sounds are produced mechanically.

Grand: The largest sized pianos, these have horizontal frames of varying length depending on the subcategory of piano. The mechanical action of the piano differs in this versus the other versions.

The subcategories of pianos in this type (by size, largest to smallest) are the concert grand, parlor grand, and baby grand. The longer strings of these types of pianos produce larger, richer sounds.

Upright: Also known as a vertical piano, these have a vertical frame. These became popular due to their much more compact nature as well as cost. These are the most popular in home acoustic variety.

Variations in these by size include the upright grand, studio, and console.

Specialized: These are different variations of the regular piano that are not typically used, but you may have heard of. These include the player pianosilent pianoand the transposing piano.

Non-Acoustic Pianos

The following are pianos whose sound is produced by means other than acoustic.

Electric Piano: This is a piano whose sound is produced by means of electric pickups from metal strings, very much like a guitar.

Electronic Piano: These are a type of piano that uses a simple synthesizer to produce sounds like a piano.

Digital Piano: These are more advanced electronic piano, but instead of using a synthesizer, they use digital samples of actual piano sounds to reproduce their sounds, so it is much more natural.

Names We Will Use on This Site

As you can see, there are technically multiple different kinds of pianos. On this site, we will mainly talk about 2 types:

  • The general piano, referring to any type of grand or upright, and
  • The digital piano, referring to any type of piano you plug in and play

First, you should see that if someone can play any of these types of instruments, they can play them all. They’re all laid out the same with the same basic principle. The differences between the different types will only be the number and physical size of the keys.

This makes switching between different types fairly easy, although if you’re used to one size it will feel different on another.

It’s important to know, also, that digital pianos go by many different names in popular culture. Here is a list of names you will see or hear, which all refer to a digital piano:

  • Digital keyboard
  • Keyboard
  • Keys
  • People may also mean digital piano when they use “electric” or “electronic” to describe a piano or keyboard.

We will utilize all these different names throughout the site, all referring to the digital piano. Also, we will use the word “piano” to mean either acoustic or any type of piano in general when appropriate.

For instance, we may say “when practicing piano, you should keep good posture.” This doesn’t mean only on an acoustic piano, it means the general instrument, whether acoustic or digital.

The word “keyboard” may refer to a digital piano, or refer to the actual keys and layout of the keys themselves. Remember that the latter is truly what the word keyboard refers to.

A Short Music Lesson: Piano Posture and Layout

This guide wouldn’t be complete without helping you understand how the fingers meet the keys.

You, sit at a piano. The proper posture is important. Good posture both allows you to play optimally, play for longer periods of time, and keep your body and especially back healthy and aligned.

You should lean forward slighty, keeping your core engaged and your shoulders relaxed and not hunched.

Your elbows will be at 90 degrees, and the height of the bench should be such that your elbows are an inch or two above the line of the keys themselves.

If you are too short, you will have improper hand posture and you will not be able to play optimally. If you are too high, you will hunch forward in order to reach the keys comfortably, putting extra stress in your back and shoulders.

As you can see, if you want to keep healthy, you need to first sit at the piano properly.

When reaching for the keys, you may wonder where to start and sit.

This shows a full 88 key keyboard. Each of the different numbers represents an Octave on the keyboard. If a piano has less than 88 keys, then they will cut off Octave 0, Octave 7/8, or a little of both.

Most songs are played relative from what is called Middle C. Also known as C4 (as in, the C of Octave 4), this is where the right hand will typically start playing, while the left hand will be around Octave 3. This note is denoted in the cyan color in the photo.

The yellow note is called A4 or A440, and is the standard pitch that is generally used to tune all the other notes. We won’t get into the details of sound here.

Your Beginner Lesson is Complete

Hopefully, you enjoyed learning a little more about the history, invention, mechanics, terms, posture, and layout of the piano.

These are all good to know pieces of information in order to familiarize yourself with the world of pianos so that when speaking about it you have better frames of reference.

The real beginners guide to playing piano is coming up in the next part.

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