An Introduction to the Piano
by Jill L. Beram-Liimatta, Music Educator and Music & Arts Lesson Instructor
Tools for Success
Pencils are necessary for taking notes, writing scales and writing music notation. These are all essential skills in becoming a proficient player.Metronome Shop Now >
This device provides steady beats through clicks (tempo can be adjusted to fit your needs) to help develop the player’s sense of rhythm and steady beat. No piano student’s practice is complete without a metronome.Sheet Music Shop Now >
Sheet music is essential for every pianist, no matter their age and skill level. This is the literature from which the player will learn to read and perform. The player’s teacher will have a good idea as to which pieces are best to start with.Staff Paper Shop Now >
This is paper with pre-printed groups of lines on which the player will practice writing notes, rhythms, scales, chords, etc. Staff paper is important because it helps piano students learn to read music by writing it.Practice Log
A practice log is essentially a journal that helps you to keep track of what, when and for how long you practiced. This is not only helpful to the teacher who will help keep track of your progress, but also in helping you 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 that 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 (called the soft pedal or the una corda pedal)
The soft pedal gives a soft and distant sound to the piano.The Function of the Sostenuto Pedal
This pedal allows certain notes to be sustained (or held out) while other notes on the keyboard are unaffected. It’s 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
This 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 their musical studies, they’ll improve their ability to read, write and understand written music. As with any language, there are several components that, once learned, will give the player the ability to fluidly connect musical passages and to compose and arrange their own music.The Components
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:
- The colors of the keys are black and white.
- The white notes on the 88 keys are A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
- Each key is represented on the Grand Staff by higher and lower pitches.
- Sharps (#) and flats (b) can be added to any note. This will raise or lower a pitch.
- Ledger Lines are notes that are too high or too low to notate within the lines and spaces of a staff.
- The chart on the top left is a brief summary of some of the most common time signatures the player will see.
- 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.Using Your Time Efficiently
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.Practice Logs And Charts
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!
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!BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Make sure the following are met each time before you begin playing:
- Lean slightly forward toward the piano
- The piano bench should be square and 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.Basic Care
Depending on the conditions, purchasing a humidifier may be required for your instrument––ask your technician! 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 online2 Times per year tuning
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, they’ll assess and “mend” issues focusing on voicing, tuning, and action.
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