In the Introduction to Teach Yourself Piano, we find that music is an art that builds each step upon the last. Understand the point of each step.
The steps necessary for you to learn how to play piano have been carefully broken down into individual points. Just follow the path between lessons.
Once you get going, how much should you play?
The answer is: 5 or 10 minutes a day are sufficient. Research shows that it’s better to play 5 minutes a day than to cram all your playing into 35 minutes on one day a week.
If you want to learn how to play piano, use short play periods.
Your brain has a better chance of absorbing the information and developing the habits you will need to play.
Pleasure in playing music comes from continuity, and continuity comes from familiarity. You need to allow yourself to thoroughly grasp the physical movements involved, and to do this you need to absorb each step to the point where it becomes almost automatic. Learning how to play piano involves a lot of repetition, and you need to find a way of making that repetition palatable.
Don’t play a song only once, and then say, “Oh, it’s too hard.” Play the song 100 times over ten days and then see what happens: you’ll develop habits with your fingers and eyes, and begin to move faster through the songs.
Don’t worry about which hand or finger you use. Your first task is to get the “number” information from the page and make any finger play those numbers. Until you become like a robot at translating the written numbers into piano keys (via fingers) all other information (like fingers or timing) is irrelevant. Play the numbers until they are virtually memorized and you can play each song without significant stumbling.
Music is essentially a matrix constructed entirely of chords. Think of individual piano keys as atoms and chords as molecules made up of several atoms (keys.) There are only 12 basic chords: most songs use between 3 and 6 chords.
If there were one single tip I could give to adults who want to know how to play piano, it would be, “Learn chords.”
The little finger of your left hand becomes the leader of the three acrobats (fingers) trying to find each chord position. Since chords are named (and categorized) by the lowest key in the chord, the little finger of the left hand is the most essential and usually is placed on the first key to be played in most chords.
All chords are shaped alike, in terms of the distance between the fingers. Chords, in terms of the hand, are nothing more than a series of physical templates that are applied to various positions on the piano keyboard.
Since the distance between the fingers in any chord is basically the same, you should try to move the hand from one chord to the next without significantly changing the distance between the fingers. If you do this, the fingers of your left hand will always be in roughly the correct position, no matter where on the keyboard you are directed to play a chord. When you see any chord symbol, such as the capital letter C, (for C chord) your first thought should be to immediately direct the little finger of your left hand to the “correct” lowest key of the chord (first C below middle C.)
Take your time. It’s not easy to pick out three keys with your left hand again and again, but with repetition, it becomes easy. Don’t try in once. Try it 100 times and see. Repetition is the cornerstone of how you will learn to play piano.
Remember the kid’s game where you patted your head with one hand while you circled your stomach with the other? Playing piano with both hands is exactly like that. When you were four years old, you had to do each hand separately to get the feel of the whole thing.
One basic rule of pianists is: first play the hands separately so the brain can absorb the information of each hand. With every song make sure you can play each hand (chords in left hand or numbers/melody in right hand) separately (by itself) before you try to combine the two hands. If you have a problem putting the two hands together, play the hands separately for a while and then try again until you can easily combine the two hands.
Playing the piano with two hands is almost like an Englishman speaking Portuguese and German at the same time: it is an incredible juggling act and you’ll need to do it many, many times until it feels comfortable. Remember that the brain has two sides, left and right, and the LEFT brain controls the right hand, and the RIGHT brain controls the left hand. Any actor given the task of speaking Portuguese and German at the same time would do well to study each language thoroughly before trying to combine them.
The job descriptions of left hand and right hand are entirely different:
Right hand: Play only one key at a time, (the owner’s kid.)
Left hand: Play at least three keys at once, constantly (the workers.)
Try the songs in three ways: right hand only, left hand only, and both hands. Repeat as many times as you can. If one song seems easier or more fun than the others, concentrate on it. If a song becomes tedious, try another. But you must keep playing, a little bit each day.
Think of a song as a little machine, with chord parts and melody parts. It’s like a three dimensional emotional puzzle with moving pieces: you have to try the moves from key to key and chord to chord again and again until they feel familiar and smooth.
Putting together smaller parts of a song into a larger, whole song, is one of the secrets of how to play piano: professionals don’t necessarily practice an entire piece. They practice the parts and then put it together.
Don’t forget that there are only a limited number of basic chord combinations and even melodic combinations. The chords C F and G, for instance, are used as the entire basis for countless songs. Once you learn a set of common moves like C F and G in one song, the next song will be that much easier and immediately familiar.
By all means memorize the music. Think of the music book as the “library” where you go to get information that you will utilize elsewhere: eventually, like an actor with the script of a play, you will enact the play (the song) at the keyboard without reference to the written symbols. An actor in rehearsal may refer to a script but does not look at it except for a quick reference. In the same way, musicians are completely involved in their instruments and only refer to written music for accuracy and convenience, if at all.
Music making lies in the relationship between your eyes, your hands and the keyboard: the written music is only one way to convey the content of music, and a tedious one. Memorize as much as you can so the music can enter your poetic subconscious: this is the real reason for repetition.
Sharps and flats (the black keys of the piano) are road signs that tell you to turn away from the white keys to which you have become accustomed. There are only a few basic rules associated with sharps and flats. Once you learn the rules, sharps and flats will come to you as automatically as white keys.
Music on a most basic level is a language with but two parameters, up and down, right and left. Sharps and flats are graphic symbols which command you to move in a specific direction, up or down, right or left.
Play Middle C and then every white key to the right: that’s one way to move “up” on the piano. Now play Middle C and then every key to your right, including black keys: it’s just another more complex way to move “up” on the piano.
The reason for the use of groups of two and three black keys on the keyboard lies in the construction of the human hand, and shows the genius of the keyboard’s inventors.
Hold your hand with your fingers stretched out in front of you: note that your thumbs are shorter than any of your fingers, including your little finger. Also note that, at the piano, the black keys are shorter than the white keys. The black keys and white keys of the piano are arranged to accommodate the construction of the human hand. Few machines fit human anatomy as well or to such grand purpose.
Put your right thumb on Middle C and the index finger on the black key to the right. Rock back and forth between the two keys. White keys are long to accommodate the short thumb. Black keys are short to accommodate the longer fingers.
Pianists think in visual terms in order to control the huge number of events (keys) they have to produce. Pianists think as they are playing, “Look here, reach there, black key on top there, here comes the white key thingy.” Any visual, verbal cue you can devise is acceptable if you are to learn how to play piano.
There are only twelve basic chords, and the easiest way to remember them is visually: which white and black keys are used? Since twelve chords is not a lot of information, it is within the realm of possibility to categorize them.
One cannot overemphasize the importance of familiarity with the twelve basic (major) chords. All chords beyond the basic twelve are merely derived from the basic set. All other chords are arrived at by calculating from the “starting point” of the twelve basic chords.
Chords can be categorized in sets of three, both visually and in terms of usage: three chords are usually used together as a powerful unit. Twinkle, Twinkle uses only the unit of C F and G chords, and so do countless other songs.
Three of the twelve chords have all white keys: C F and G. Three of the twelve chords have a black key in the middle: A D and E. Three of the twelve chords have a white key in the middle: Ab Db and Eb. That’s a total of three groups of three or nine chords: the rest (the other three out of twelve chords) are “exceptions” to this rule.
If nothing else, you should understand that there is a visual order to the construction of chords, and that once you begin using them it will readily become apparent. It all comes down to memorizing a few combinations, six to be exact, of black/white key combinations.
All chords are derived from the 12 basic major chords. The two methods used to derive those chords beyond the 12 basic chords are alteration and addition: you can either alter one of the 3 keys in the basic major chord, or you can add another key, or use both methods.
Minor chords indeed sound sad, and there’s a good reason. There are natural, barely audible vibrations within each musical note (overtones) that are attuned to the structure of a major chord: nature (and music) is constantly broadcasting the shape of a major chord. This is why minor chords sound slightly sour, and are a psychoacoustic cue for melancholy. The minor form conflicts with the major form, and makes us take notice.
There are many types of chord, but for the beginner, there are really only two, major and minor. Almost all songs can be played using the 12 basic major and 12 basic minor chords. In fact, the beginner’s vocabulary of chords is rather limited: in almost all beginning repertoire you’ll run across, at most, C F G D E and A major chords, and D G A and E minor chords.
At first, always think of a minor chord in terms of the “default” basic major chord that lies behind it. When asked for a C minor chord, think first of the C major chord as a known starting place, and then move the middle key of the chord one key to your left to make a minor chord.
Visualize the whole process. See it in your mind’s eye and imagine the keys moving slowly from one known position to another. If you can think it, and see it in your mind’s eye, you can play it on the piano, perhaps very slowly at first. Take it slowly, break it into parts: that’s the best way to learn how to play piano.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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