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Mini Lecture

outline of the grand piano with color

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Learning how to play the piano requires some knowledge about the instrument, the correct posture, fingering and hand position.  In addition to this there are also some beginning music theory skills that are helpful when learning how to play songs and for basic music composition as well.

Piano Pedals

On every acoustic piano there are usually three pedals to use while playing.  Since the right pedal is the most frequently used, you should be familiar with that one. The right pedal is also called the damper pedal.  Every string on the piano has a damper on it that keeps the string from vibrating.  When the damper is pressed it keeps the strings vibrating longer and sustains the note. 


White Key Names


Looking at the full size piano, you can easily figure out the letter name of each white and black key.  Starting from the very left of the full size piano the first white key is always going to be called an "A".  From here the next white key would be a "B", the next "C" and all the way up to G - so the first seven white keys starting from the very left are called A through G.  After you get to G, the next white key is going to go back to an A because in the music alphabet, there are only seven letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. 

picture of piano keyboard with labeled keys


You will also notice that on the keyboard there are several black keys either in pairs or groups of three.  This also helps to identify the letter names of the white keys without having to start counting from the left side.  On the full size piano starting from the left, there are seven pairs of black keys and seven groups of three black keys all the way up to the right side.  For each pair of black keys, the white key directly to the left is always going to be a C.  For each group of three black keys, the white key directly to the left is always going to be an F.  This helps to easily identify letter names of the other keys and since there are more than one of each note, it also helps to figure out what notes to play when reading music.


The Grand Staff

The grand staff links the treble staff and the bass staff.  These two staves represent notes that are played with the right hand (treble) and notes that are played with the left hand (bass).  The two staves are joined by a brace on the left side.  Learning the notes of the grand staff in the context of the piano keyboard will help in learning to read piano music and learning how to play beginning songs.  The picture below shows the grand staff with a portion of the piano.  The picture shows the middle of the piano so you can see where middle C falls on the staff and how it matches up with the keys.  All notes to the right of middle C on the keyboard and the treble staff are played with the right hand.  All notes to the left of middle C on the keyboard and the Bass staff are played with the left hand.

picture of grand staff with piano keyboard



Note Names


Both the Treble and Bass staves are made up of five lines and four spaces.  In the treble clef the letter names of the notes on the staff lines from bottom to top are EGBDF - (think of Every Good Boy Does Fine); the letter names of the notes on the staff spaces from bottom to top are FACE - (the space names spell the word "face").

In the Bass Clef the letter names of the notes on the staff lines from bottom to top are GBDFA - (think Great Big Dogs Fight Animals); the letter names of the notes on the staff spaces from bottom to top are ACEG - (think All Cows Eat Grass).

The notes above and below both the treble and bass clef staves are noted in the picture above that shows the grand staff.



C Position

Remember that the fingerings for piano are 1 through 5 starting with the thumb and ending with the pinky on each hand.  Since most beginning songs are played in what is called "C" position, you need to find where middle C on the piano is.  Middle C is usually found directly in the middle of the piano.  It is the white key directly to the left of the pair of black keys that are directly in the middle of the entire keyboard.  When playing in C position, the thumb of your right hand (finger 1) is placed on middle C.  Then the other fingers (numbers 2-5) are placed on the white keys directly to the right of middle C.  These notes are called D, E, F, G.  The thumb of the left hand (finger 1) is placed on the G below middle C.  Then the other fingers (numbers 2-5) are placed on the white keys directly to the left of the G.  These notes are called F, E, D, C.  The picture below represents C position.

picture of c hand position on piano keyboard





Note Values


When learning how to read musical notation you need to know that certain notes and rests have a certain value.  Notes are symbols that respresent a specific sound to be played for a specific duration.  Rests are symbols that replace a notes sound with a specific duration of silence.  Each type of note/rest is given a certain name that also distinguishes its duration. 

picture of music note and rest names



The whole note/rest is given the longest duration in music
The half note/rest is half the value of the whole note
The quarter note/rest is half the value of a half note
The eighth note/rest is half the value of a quarter note
The sixteenth note/rest is half the value of an eighth note


Time Signatures


Time signatures are two numbers placed at the beginning of a piece of music.  Each number means certain things about the note values and the time each bar of music gets.  The top number of a time signature tells you how many beats are in each measure of a piece.  The bottom number tells you what type of note (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth) receives one beat.  Based on a time signature, there can be any combination of notes and rests in a measure making interesting rhythms to play and write.  For beginning piano activities, you will need to know 4/4 time.  This means that the top number (4) indicates that there are four beats in each measure.  The bottom number (4) means that a quarter note receives one beat (think of the fraction 1/4).


Whole and Half Steps


Part of learning how to play, read and write music requires some understanding of whole and half steps.  Whole and half steps on the piano allow you to use the black keys.  In music a half step is the distance from one key (white or black) to the very next white or black key on the right or left.  Half steps to the right are called sharps (noted with the # symbol).  Sharp is a word you use when you make a note sound one half step higher.  Half steps to the left are called flats (noted with the b symbol).  Flat is a word you use when you make a note sound one half step lower.

picture of keyboard with half and whole steps

Looking at the keyboard above, if you were to place your right thumb on C and then move up to the black key on the right, it would become C# (a half step).  If you were to place your left thumb on B and then move to the black key on the left it would become Bb (a half step).  If you placed your right thumb on C and then moved to the next white key to the right it would becom a D (whole step).  If you placed your left thumb on a B and then moved it to the next white key to the left it would become an A (whole step).  On the piano, each black represents either a sharp note or a flat note.

picture of piano with sharps and flats

Notice that each black is given two names.  This is because each could be either a sharp or flat depending on what note you start on and which direction you move in.  For example, if you started on an A and moved up one half step to the black key on the right,you would land on an A#.  If you started on a B and moved down one half step to the black key on the left you would land on Bb.  Both letter names are referring to the same key and will sound the same.  Notes that sound the same but have two different letter names are called enharmonic tones.


Major and Minor Scales


Scales are based on patterns of whole and half steps.  Songs in music are based on two types of scales called Major and minor.  Since we will only play and write music in a Major scale you will only learn this pattern.  When you play scales on piano you must first practice playing the finger pattern in the right hand, then the left hand and then finally both hands together.

Major scales all follow the same pattern of whole and half steps no matter what note they begin on.  The pattern for building Major scales is: WWHWWWH.

                Building the C Major Scale
                For your beginning piano playing, you will learn the C Major scale.  To build the C Major scale you will start on middle C.  The you will follow the                     pattern to go up the C scale: a Whole step up (to the right) from C is D, Whole step up from D is E, Half step up from E is F, Whole step up from F                 is G, Whole step up from G is A, Whole step up from A is B and a Half step up from B is C.  The notes of the C Major scale are CDEFGABC and                     follow the pattern for building Major scales.

                Playing the C Major Scale in the Right Hand
                Playing the C major scale requires the finger pattern of 123 12345.  Finger #1 (thumb) is placed on middle C, #2 on D, #3 on E, then you cross                     your thumb (#1) under and reach to F, #2 on G, #3 on A, #4 on B and #5 on C.

                Playing the C Major Scale in the Left Hand
               
Playing the C major scale in the left hand requires the finger pattern of 54321 321.  Finger #5 (pinky) is placed on the C below middle C, #4 on D,                 #3 on E, #2 on F, #1 on G, then you cross your middle finger (#3) over to get to A, #2 on B, and #1 on C.