In this segment of our continuing series on how to read music, we're going to talk about the piano. If you think back to the first lesson in this series, we talked all about pitch. Music uses 7 letters of the alphabet to help designate pitch.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G
Remember, when we get to G, we just start the sequence over with 'A'. If you'd like to practice recognizing these pitches on the treble clef staff, remember you can always practice at MusicTheory.net. (You can also teach yourself Bass and Alto clef!)
Here is our piano:
The easiest way to begin to learn with letters go where it to memorize the very first note: C.
As you can "See" (get it? See? C? Nevermind) the letter C is the white key on the piano that always comes before the two grouped black keys. If you can memorize and identify 'C' on the keyboard, that will give you a solid foundation for the rest. As you go 'up' on the piano, you'll want to go forward through the alphabet. When you get to G, simply start over with A. The result is this:
There is an exercise/game that will help you learn to identify the keyboard notes here, thanks to wonderful folks at musictheory.net. You can also do an exercise where they will show you a note on the staff, and you have to click the correct note on the keyboard. They are all great activities to teaching yourself the language of music.
Let's get a very simple song, Mary Had a Little Lamb.
Notice all of the elements we've covered in other posts: the bar lines, the rhythms, the pitches, etc. Since you already (hopefully) know how the song goes, you can use this old knowledge to sync it to your new knowledge.
What is the first note in the song? It is a quarter note, and its letter name is B. Find B on the keyboard.
Now, look at the music again. Does it go up or down from B?
It goes down! If you refer above to the keyboard, it goes down twice from B. So your first 3 notes in the song are B, A, G.
Using this knowledge, you should be able to figure out every letter note in this song, and match it to a key on the piano. You can easily and quickly learn this song on the piano! (I won't give you all the notes for the song, since then there would be no motivation for you to do the work!)
Let's talk about some piano technicalities quickly.
Have you even watched someone who is unfamiliar with a keyboard trying to type? They do so very slowly, and by using one finger to tap each individual letter key. Someone who uses a keyboard frequently would tell you there is a much easier way. There is a specific position you lay your hands in on the keyboard that allows you to quickly and efficiently type using the entire hand.
The piano is the same way: we DO NOT want to individually pick at each key with one finger. Rather, there is a specific position we need to put our hands in. The song above is in treble clef: on the piano, only the right hand uses treble clef.
Let's look at our hand (isn't mine just lovely). Each finger gets a number.
Finding our 'C' note, we are going to line up our thumb (#1) on C and let the rest of our fingers naturally have placements on the following notes. (Try to find middle C, or the C most in the middle of the keyboard).
Your hand position should look like this.
Your thumb is lined up on C (1), and then index finger on D (2), middle finger on E (3), ring finger on F (4), and pinky on G (5).
This is the basic playing position for most beginners and the most basic songs. However, sometimes a song doesn't start in this position, it starts in a different position. Our song Mary Had a little Lamb starts on a B, which our fingers do not reach if we are in our C-G position. So let's shift our position so that our thumb (1) starts on G instead of C. It should look like this.
Now, our hand position should be our thumb (1) on G, our index finger (2) on A, our middle finger (3) on B, our ring finger (4) on C, and our pinky (5) on D. Now we are in the correct position to play Mary Had a Little Lamb. Here again is the music. I won't label it for you, since that's cheating! I highly encourage you to use rote memorization for your music notes and piano keys. It's just like your multiplication tables: you just need to memorize it!
If you have a piano or keyboard handy, give it a try. If not, go here: Online Piano There are a ton of resources available online if you search for easy beginning piano music, and there are also a lot of tutorial videos on YouTube. Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of where to get started.
Next week, we will focus on the LEFT hand of the piano, which reads music in an entirely different way than the treble clef. It's called the bass clef!
See you next time.