How to Start Learning to Play the Piano

Some viewers have told me that they are thinking of learning to play the piano, and asked me for tips on how to start.

Here is one of my answers:

Firstly, learn the basics, either from a teacher or online. What are the basics?

1) Learn the correct technique from the start – always play with your hand shaped as if you were holding the top of a smallish balloon. Keep your fingers curved when you press keys down (don’t let your first finger joint collapse). This will ensure good control of your fingers. It’s the difference between walking with strong ankles and with wobbly feet 🙂

2) Learn letter names of each key on the piano – there are only 7 actually. Learn where they are in relation to the black keys. This should help: http://www.true-piano-lessons.com/piano-notes-chart.html. Once you’ve learnt this, you can already try learning simple songs from tutorials! If you can’t remember the notes, jot them down onto a piece of paper. Eg. Twinkle twinkle – C C G A A G,  F F E E D D C, G G F F E E D, etc. Make your own scorebook of your favourite songs 🙂

3) Learn how to read notes on a stave. This is a very useful skill…and it’s NOT quantum physics, so don’t be afraid to try 😉 You can start here: http://www.true-piano-lessons.com/piano-notes.html

4) Develop aural skills. You need these so that you can play by ear. There are plenty of games and ear training software and smartphone apps for this, so Google them, or check out Google Play or the App Store and enjoy learning 😉

5) Watch lots of pianists on YouTube to see their fingering techniques. Knowing how to choose the right fingering enables you to play smoothly. Learn some fingering techniques like 1. stretching your hand 2. contracting your hand, 3.turning thumb under the fingers, 4. turning fingers over thumb, 5. changing fingers while holding down a key.

6) Be very patient with yourself. Learning an instrument takes time and thought. Acquiring good, independent control of your fingers and hands might (and usually does) take YEARS 😛  Analyse where and why you make mistakes, search for solutions (from your teacher/friends/online) and write reminders to yourself. You can’t remember EVERYTHING, so write it down and practise it correctly until it becomes an automatic thing to do.

All the best…and have great fun!

If you found this helpful, do browse through my other posts in the “About writing/reading/playing music” category 🙂
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Controlling dynamics in each hand independently

Some viewers have said, ” I have a problem that my left hand plays as loudly as my right hand. Could you please tell me how to control my left hand’s strength?”

Here’s one of my answers:

Bring your mom’s/your  kitchen scales next to your piano. Using your RH, press on the scales until it goes as far down as it can (maybe to 1kg or 1.5kg). Using your LH, press it down lightly…maybe to 300g. Now, at the piano, play each hand with the same amount of force and listen to how loud it sounds. To make a loud sound, you need to “push” the keys in FASTER. For softer sounds, you relax when pressing the keys. The trick is to do this at the same time in a different hand.

Then practise a simple exercise first, separate hands, then together eg. C D E F G F E D C, visualising RH pushing the keys further in than LH for EVERY NOTE. Most people can do the first note, then they forget the others. Play slowly and carefully, making every RH note much louder than LH. If you practise like this every day, you’ll soon learn how to control the tone in your hands independently.

Here’s another answer:
To train yourself to play varying dynamics, the kitchen scales will be the best aid 🙂
Sit at your piano, with the scales nearby (preferably at the same level as the keyboard) Put one hand on it as you would on the piano, then start putting varying pressure on it. Use that same degree of pressure/weight/strength on the piano and see how loud it sounds. Learn exactly how many grams you’d have to “push” to make a pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff. Then learn how to create crescendo and diminuendo while playing your fingers one after another – 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 (repeat), 1 3 5 3 1 3 5 3 1 (repeat) and in all kinds of patterns. Alternate just 2 fingers, accenting one and making the other softer. Then increase the number of fingers involved. Basically, you want to learn how to control each finger to produce whatever tone you need from it. 
 
Hanon technical exercises are good for this. They are repetitive and easy enough for you to concentrate on technique (without worrying about reading notes). Choose different dynamic patterns to practise. Eg. alternating loud and soft bars, choosing 3 dynamic levels for 3 consecutive bars (increasing then decreasing), accenting different notes of each group etc. You can use the exercises to improve your skill in articulation (legato, staccato, non-legato, slurs) as well.

English sheet music taken down

I deeply regret to have to inform you all that as of 5th August 2014, most of my sheet music for English songs have been removed due to copyright claims by the NMPA (National Music Publishers’ Association). I will still be making covers and tutorials, but only the MP3 files will be available for downloading. Sheets of other music (Kpop, Kdrama and games) are still up. And of course, I’ll keep sharing my thoughts, tips and music-related videos and anecdotes on Blog Posts!

So don’t stop dropping by, ok? 🙂 Your support and encouragement as always, are much appreciated!

For more enquiries, leave a comment or email me at joycemusic1@gmail.com

 

 

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How to Simplify Arrangements – by ear

If you find any arrangement too difficult and complex for you to play smoothly, you can simplify it yourself. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1) Right Hand – only playing the melody notes in the right hand (that’s usually the top line of notes). Leave out any chord notes that you can’t read easily in time. You can add them in later when you’re better at it, if you want.

2) Left Hand – I always put chord symbols in my scores. That’s so that pianists (and guitarists or organists) can play the accompaniment that they want…without following mine.

You can play:
1. Just the single note shown in the chord (e.g. Cm – just play C note),

2. A block chord if you know the other notes ( Cm = C Eb G all at once)

3. Broken chords or arpeggios if you know how (search YouTube for “how to play arpeggios”)

3) Check out simple tutorials on YouTube for how to play the left hand accompaniment. It doesn’t need to be the song that you want to play. There aren’t that many left hand accompaniment patterns. You can learn to play them by ear 🙂

How to practise

Many viewers have asked me for advice on practising, especially how to play both hands together properly. Here’s one of my answers:

1) Firstly, don’t think that you always have to play both hands. Separate hands practice is good for learning what each hand does properly, before you try putting hands together 😛

2) To match your hands correctly, first write the counts down in the score between the 2 staves – 1+2+3+4+. Then draw lines vertically, connecting the notes where the hands play together. Now you’ll be able to keep track of where you need to play together and where each hand plays by itself. And most importantly, which notes need to be held longer while others go faster, between the counts 😛

3) Now practise very slowly, in small sections, even one bar at a time, until you can play the difficult part correctly 3 times. You want to learn the right finger and hand movements and which direction each hand moves (e.g. RH steps up, LH skips down)

4) When it moves smoothly and feels easy, go on to the next section. When the next section is polished, combine the 2 sections. Do this until you can play fluently and at a reasonable speed.

5) Don’t always start practising from the beginning of the piece. Start from the “problem areas”. Or one day, start from the 3rd page, or even the last page 🙂 This allows you to play those sections while your mind is still fresh.