An Introduction to the Piano

by Jill L. Beram-Liimatta, Music Educator and Music & Arts Lesson Instructor

Tools for Success


Pencils are necessary in taking notes, writing scales, and practicing note writing – all essential skills in becoming a proficient player.


This device provides steady beats through clicks (tempo can be adjusted to fit your needs) in order to help develop the player’s sense of rhythm and steady beat.


Whether a beginner or a professional, no piano player is complete without sheet music.  This is the literature from which the player will learn to read and perform.  The player’s teacher will have a good judgement as to which pieces are best for the player on which to start out.


This is the paper with pre-printed groups of lines on which the player will practice writing notes, rhythms, scales, chords, etc.


A practice log is essentially a journal that helps you to keep track of what you practiced, when you practiced, and for how long you practiced.  This is not only helpful to the teacher, who will help keep track of your progress, but it will help the player develop a sense of routine and to keep track of what you may need any extra help with.

About Your Keyboard: The Three Pedals

On almost any upright, grand, or digital piano, there are three pedals located underneath the keyboard. Each pedal has a specific function and changes the sound of the notes played depending on how and when the pedals are utilized.

  • Right Pedal (also called the sustain or the damper pedal)
  • Middle Pedal (also called the sostenuto pedal)
  • Left Pedal (the soft pedal or the una corda pedal)

The Function of the Soft Pedal

To make the sound more subtle

This gives the pitch a more “distant” sound

The Function of the Sostenuto Pedal

Allows certain notes to be sustained (or held out) while other notes on the keyboard are unaffected

It is used by hitting the desired notes, then depressing the pedal

The selected notes will resonate until pedal is released

The Functions of the Sustain Pedal

Allows the sound to continue even after you have stopped pressing the keys

This changes the timbre of the pitch, making it fuller or warmer

Reading Music: Melody and Rhythm

As the player progresses through his or her musical studies, he or she will improve their ability to read, write, and understand written music. As with any language, there are several components that, once learned, will provide the player with the ability to fluidly connect musical passages, as well as the ability to compose and arrange their own music.


The following are the three major components of written music that students must become familiar with in order to become comfortable with working with sheet music.

  • The Notes: Every note written on sheet music or staff paper corresponds to a key on the keyboard. The notes on the music will tell you which notes to play.
  • The Rhythms: Each note will be a certain shape and color. These differences in shape and color dictate how long each note should be held for.
  • The Time Signatures: The time signature tells you how many beats are in each measure. This will give you the “feel” for how a piece is to be played.

Just as the note names on the keyboard and staff are fundamental to reading music, following a rhythm ensures that each pitch or rest has the correct duration throughout time. A time signature informs the musician of how many beats are located in a measure, and what note receives the beat.

See the following graphics below for a better understanding of the major components:

  1. The colors of the keys are black and white.
  2. The white notes on the eighty-eight keys are A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
  3. Each key is represented on the Grand Staff by higher and lower pitches.
  4. Sharps (#) and (b) can be added to any note. This will raise or lower a pitch.
  5. Ledger Lines are notes that are too high or too low to notate within the lines and spaces of a staff.

  1. The chart on the top left is a brief summary of some of the most common time signatures the player will see.
  2. The chart on the top right shows examples of different rhythms and how many “counts” each one receives.

Measuring Practice Time and Progress


For most piano studios, a reasonable amount of practice is approximately 30 minutes per day. For some students, especially children, one to two short sessions of 10-15 minutes per day is usually much more effective.


Musicians must be diligent regarding their practice time. Younger students are encouraged to visit the piano more often, in smaller increments of time to ensure that their physical need to “move” is met. At any age, sitting at the piano should be productive at every juncture.

Students are encouraged to practice rigorous sections more often; leaving the simpler passages to a later time where the piece of music can be ‘pasted’ back together.


This tool of learning is helpful to maintain goals and progress. Your instructor will guide you through this process.

Posture and Good Practice Habits

Practicing with the correct posture will lead not only to correct acquisition of skills, but a healthy routine as well. Playing with incorrect posture and hand placement can lead to fatigue and possibly worse, injury!


Make sure the following are met each time before you begin playing.

  • Lean slightly forward toward the piano
  • The piano bench should be square in line with the piano
  • Keep knees underneath the piano keyboard
  • Feet should be flat on the floor with the right foot slightly forward when appropriate
  • Elbows should be slightly higher than the piano keys
  • Arms should remain loose and relaxed

Forming Good Habits, Not Bad Habits


Most pianos are made of natural, live wood that is constantly changing due to its environment. It is wise to keep your piano in a room where the temperature and humidity do not fluctuate.


Depending on the conditions, purchasing a humidifier may be required for your instrument (ask your technician!), as a piano should never be left in a dry room.

  • Avoid placing heavy objects on your instrument.
  • Liquids should not be placed on the piano to avoid spills.
  • Keeping your piano away from windows and direct sunlight will keep your instrument in pristine condition for years of enjoyment.


To clean your acoustic piano, you will need a soft cloth that has nothing abrasive (no tags, edges, etc.) on or around the fabric. Use this cloth with non-abrasive cleaner to clean a high-gloss or matte-based instrument.

To clean your digital piano, consider using a commercial spray or cleaner for digital piano keyboards only. These products are available from Music and Arts, both in-store and online.


Your piano will last the test of time with routine maintenance! A piano should be tuned twice a year by a certified technician. Once you have a piano technician visiting your instrument; he or she will assess and “mend” issues focusing on voicing, tuning, and action.

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