Play Your First Piano Piece

Beginner Piano Lesson 1


It’s so exciting that you want to learn how to play the piano. The piano is a fantastic instrument – you can play a huge range of music in lots of different styles. I am sure that you will find my online piano lessons helpful.
In this first online piano lesson I am going to:

  • Introduce you to the piano
  • Help you understand how to read music for the piano
  • Teach you how to play your first piece with a backing track!

Introducing the Piano Keyboard

So, first of all, let’s have a look at a piano. (it will really help if you watch this whilst sat at a piano or keyboard)
When you sit down at the piano you will see a whole range of black and white keys in front of you (on a full sized piano there are 88 keys!). Now, this can seem a bit daunting to start with, but it is actually quite easy to understand.

1. When you press down a key it plays a note.
2. As you play the different keys moving to the right hand side of the piano then the sound produced goes up in pitch. As you play the different keys moving to the left hand side of the piano then the sound produced goes down in pitch.

Piano lesson 1 full keyboard with pitch arrows

3. The piano keyboard is built up of a series of repeating patterns. Have a look at the keyboard and you will see that the black notes follow a pattern going up the keyboard – there are 2 black notes grouped together followed by 3 notes grouped together. This pattern repeats itself all the way up the keyboard.

Piano lesson 1 full keyboard with black note groupings

The white notes are also a arranged in a repeating pattern. Find 2 black notes grouped together and then play the white note immediately to the left of these black notes – you have just played a C.

How to find the note C on a piano

Now start on this note and count up 8 white notes to the right and you will find yourself on the white note just to the left of the next group of 2 black notes on the keyboard – you have just played another C. The distance between these 2 C’s is called an octave This C is an octave higher than the 1st C you played.

How to find another note C on a piano

These octaves are repeated all the way up the keyboard so you can play a C 8 times on a piano!!

All the notes C on a piano keyboard

The final thing to understand about these repeating patterns (octaves) is that each of the keys between the C notes we have played has a name. They are easy to remember because they are all letter names and they simply follow the alphabet.

Notes on a piano keyboard one octave

So, as long as you can find C then you will be able to find all the other notes as well. (we are concentrating on the white notes at the moment – don’t worry, all will be revealed about the black notes in a later lesson!).

Introducing Middle C

All of the notes are important on the piano, but there is one note which we will keep coming back to and that is Middle C. To find middle C you need to find the group of 2 black keys nearest to the middle of the piano – the white note to the left hand side of them is Middle C.

Finding Middle C on a Piano Keyboard

There is nothing particularly special about Middle C, but it is a great starting point for our exploration of playing the piano. Lots of the pieces you begin playing will centre around Middle C.

What about sheet music?

The majority of piano performing I do when I play in bands is by ear and I love it! I love the freedom and expression of it.
However, in these online piano lessons I am going to teach you how to read music for the piano. My personal opinion is that learning how to read music gives you a really solid foundation for all different types of piano playing. If you can learn how to read music for the piano then it is going to open up a huge range of musical genres for you to play, from classical to jazz, rock to blues.
However, I am going to teach it to you in such a way that means you are not constrained by it. As time goes on we will look at techniques of improvisation and “playing by ear”.
So, let’s get started. We are going to start to learn how to read music as we learn our first piece!!

Learning Your First Piano Piece

How exciting – we are going to learn to play a piece of piano music!!
In order to do this we need to work out 2 basic things – pitch and timing.

Pitch

Firstly, you need to find Middle C on the piano (have a look at the instructions above if you can’t remember how to do that).
Play the middle C note with your right thumb – this is going to be the first note of our piece.
Let’s have a look at how this is shown on sheet music:

Basic sheet music fingering labelled

There are 4 things to have a look at:
1. The stave – these are the 5 parallel lines on which we write notes.
2. The treble clef – this is a bit like the key to the code – the clef tells us which notes are located on which line/space. Have a look at the code for the Treble Clef:

Piano Lesson 1 Treble Clef Notes

3. The note – Middle C has its own extra line (called a ledger line) added underneath the stave.
4. There is a number “1” above the Middle C note – this is a fingering mark. It tells you what finger to use to play the note. Have a look at the diagram below to see which number corresponds to each finger.

Right hand piano fingering diagram

Great! So now we know how to read Middle C on the sheet music and play it on the keyboard.
Now we are almost ready to learn the pitch of the rest of the notes in our first piano piece.
We just need to understand how to work out the timing:

Timing

We need to add an extra bit of information to our sheet music (a piece of sheet music is often called a score) to show the timing in order to carry on:

Piano Lesson 1 Piece with half notes

Can you see how we have added 5 more notes?
Using the treble clef we can see that these notes are D, E, D, D and then D again. So, we can now play the 1st 6 notes of our piece.
The first 4 notes have stems (the lines coming up from the note) and the notehead is colored in. These are called quarter notes (or crotchets) and should be held for one beat.
The 5th and 6th notes have a stem, but are not colored in – these are called half notes (or minims) and should be held for 2 beats.

So we now know what pitch to play and how long to hold the notes for.
However, can you also see that we have now added in 2 numbers at the start of the piece and a vertical line in the middle and at the end of the piece? The numbers are called a time signature. The top number tells us how many beats there are in every bar – in this piece it is 4. The bottom number tells us what types of beat they are – quarter notes (or crotchets). This means that we should count in fours.

The first vertical line shows us where the end of the 1st bar is. This signals the end of our first bar and the beginning of the next one (There are various reasons why we have bars in music, but one of the main ones is that it stops us from having to count up to ridiculously large numbers when we are counting the beat. Grouping the beats into bars means we can count up to 4 and then go back to start at 1 again).

Piano Lesson 1 Piece with half notes and beats

Playing the Piece

We are now ready to play the piece.
1. Place your hand on the keyboard with the thumb resting on Middle C. Make sure you are sitting at a comfortable distance from the keyboard (lots of people sit too close).
Try to relax your arm – keep the hand level and try to curl your fingers:

piano playing hand position image

2. Try to play the 1st 4 notes of the piece. Remember, stay relaxed and try to move just your fingers rather than your whole arm.
3. Now try to play all 6 notes of the piece. Remember to hold the notes in the first bar for one beat and the 2 notes in the second bar to 2 beats each. You will find it helpful to count yourself in (1-2-3-4) to set a speed for yourself.
4. Practice it a few times.

It should sound like this:

      Play Piano Piece Demo

Playing with the backing track

I have put together a backing track for you to try this with. It has a bit of an “ambient soundtrack” laid back vibe to it.
Playing with a backing track is great fun as you get a full sound.
It also forces you to play in time with a beat which is great skill to learn right from the start of your piano playing journey.

You will hear 4 clicks to count you in and then you can start to play.
This may take you a few goes to get it right, but just keep trying.
You can keep playing the 2 bars over and over again – it will still fit with the backing track.
(The backing tack fades out after about a minute)

Here is what the piece should sound like played with the backing track:

      Play Ambient Piano Piece Demo

Now it is your turn!
Here is the sheet music and the backing track:

Piano Lesson 1 Piece with half notes and beats

      Play Ambient Piano Piece Backing Track

Extension task

How did you get on playing with the backing track?
Want to try something a bit more tricky?
In the score below you will see that I have increased the length of the piece.
I have added in some extra notes for you to try, Again, it is a repeated 2 bar pattern that will work over the backing track.
Remember, you get 4 clicks and then you start playing. Good luck!

Here is what the extended piece should sound like played with the backing track:

      Play Extended Ambient Piano Piece Demo

Piano Lesson 1 Piece Extended Score

      Play Extended Ambient Piano Piece Backing Track

Hope you enjoyed my Beginner Piano Lesson 1.
Click here for Beginner Piano Lesson 2.

If you want to learn a bit more about reading sheet music then try my Beginner How To Read Music Lesson Series.