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How to play the Piano?

Learning to play the piano can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for people of all ages. Whether you are a complete beginner or have some musical background, this guide will help you understand the basics of piano playing, from identifying the keys to reading sheet music.

By following these steps, you will be able to play simple melodies, build dexterity, and develop good habits that will set you on the path to becoming a proficient pianist.

Key Takeaways for how to play the piano

  • Understand the layout of the piano keyboard and the importance of hand positioning.

  • Learn to play simple melodies and build dexterity with both hands separately and together.

  • Develop proper posture and hand technique to avoid common mistakes and injuries.

  • Gain confidence in reading basic sheet music notation and understanding fundamental music theory.

  • Practice regularly and enjoy the process of learning to play the piano.

How to play the piano

Understanding the Piano Keyboard

While you may feel a little overwhelmed looking at your keyboard, the layout is really quite easy to understand. There is a repeating pattern of white keys and black keys on the piano. You will notice that there are alternating groups of two black keys and three black keys. This alternating pattern is quite comfortable for our hands and will help provide us with useful landmarks as we progress along our journey.

Identifying the Keys

The piano keyboard may look dizzying with its vast array of keys (88, to be exact). But once you understand the patterns that make it work, it’s actually quite simple. Notice the black keys—see how there are sets of two and sets of three? We’ll use these sets of twos and threes to find Middle C. Find a group of two black notes, then find the white note immediately to the left of them, and you have the note C.

Learning Octaves

An octave is a series of eight notes. On the piano, an octave spans from one C to the next C. This pattern repeats across the entire keyboard. Understanding octaves is crucial as it helps in navigating the keyboard efficiently. Each octave contains the same set of notes, making it easier to learn and play music.

Understanding Sharps and Flats

The black keys are used to play what is known as sharp (#) and flat (b) notes and appear in groups of twos and threes. Sharps and flats are essential for playing in different keys and adding complexity to your music. For example, the black key immediately to the right of C is C#, and the one immediately to the left of D is Db.

Playing with the Right Hand

Finger Placement

Proper finger placement is crucial for playing the piano efficiently. The right and left hands are a mirror for one another. The index finger is always finger number 2, the middle finger is always finger number 3, the ring finger is always finger number 4, and the pinky is always finger number 5. Unless you master the right technique, you’ll run out of fingers! So, before playing hands together, be sure to practice playing a full-octave scale on your right and left hands.

Simple Melodies

Start with simple melodies to get accustomed to the keyboard. Play the right-hand five-finger scale a few times. Once you get the hang of it, move on to the left hand. If this feels weird at first, that’s totally normal and okay. It’s a new movement, so it’ll take time to get used to. Your fingers may want to stick together, especially fingers 3 and 4. To improve, challenge yourself to play all five notes as evenly and articulated as you can.

Building Dexterity

Building dexterity in your right hand is essential for more complex pieces. Try playing loudly in one hand and softly in the other. Then, switch. This will help you develop independence between your hands. If you’re curious about scales, now is a good time to start. You’ve mastered the five-finger scale, but what happens when you want to play the entire C major scale, from one octave to the next?

Practicing with the Left Hand

Finger Exercises

To improve your left-hand technique, start with basic finger exercises. If this feels weird at first, that’s totally normal and okay. It’s a new movement, so it’ll take time to get used to. Your fingers may want to stick together, especially fingers 3 and 4. To improve, challenge yourself to play all five notes as evenly and articulated as you can.

Coordination Techniques

On day 19, we will shift our focus to prepare to play with both hands together. On day 2, we will work on Lesson 5 from the Beginner 2 course, “Musette & Both Hand Training.” In preparation for that, we will spend today working on Lesson 4 from the Beginner 2 course, “Musette & Left Hand Training.”

Playing Simple Tunes

Unless you master the right technique, you’ll run out of fingers! So, before playing hands together, be sure to practice playing a full-octave scale on your right and left hands.


Combining Both Hands

Learning to play both hands together on the piano requires patience, practice, and systematic training. Start by mastering each hand's part individually, then slowly combine them. Hand coordination is crucial for playing more complex pieces.

Once you feel comfortable with hand coordination, begin with simple songs. Practice scales and simple melodies to build confidence. Remember, unless you master the right technique, you’ll run out of fingers!

Playing with both hands can be challenging. Some common issues include timing discrepancies and finger independence. To overcome these, practice playing loudly in one hand and softly in the other, then switch. This will help in developing better control and independence between your hands.

Learning Piano Chords

Major and Minor Chords

Chords are three or more notes played together at the same time. Because piano chords involve playing multiple keys at the same time, they can feel quite intimidating to beginners at first. However, knowing how to play at least the most basic piano chords is one of the essential piano skills for all beginners. Spend some time finding these chords and try listening to whether they’re major or minor. In every case, the note you build the chord on is the one that gives the chord its name.

Chord Progressions

Once you’re comfortable playing a few chords, check out the I-V-vi-IV progression, which will unlock hundreds (not an exaggeration!) of songs. A chord chart is a document that shows a song’s lyrics with the names of chords above the lyrics as the chords change. This is a great way to start learning how to play songs with chords.

Using Chords in Songs

You can find the chords for almost any song you want to play online or in a book of songs, whether you want to play classical music or a popular pop song. Let’s take the Beatles song “Hey Jude”. The first four chords are: G, A, A, D. Learning to play songs with chords can be a fun and rewarding experience.

Reading Sheet Music

Understanding Notation

Understanding musical notation is crucial for any pianist. Sight-reading is encouraged if you want to play classical music, as it allows you to recreate a song exactly how it was written. However, if you want to play pop music, knowing how to read chord charts should be enough. Sheet music is useful, but it can also limit your creativity. On the other hand, chord charts and lead sheets encourage original improvisation while providing guidance.

Reading Right-Hand Notes

When starting to read sheet music, focus on the right-hand notes first. This will help you get familiar with the melody and the structure of the piece. Websites such as Musicnotes allow you to download sheet music and make it available on all of your devices. If you have a tablet, you can display your music on your tablet instead of printing it out (just make sure you turn off sleep mode).

Practicing with Sheet Music

To practice effectively with sheet music, you can buy collections of sheet music arranged for different levels, either online or at your favorite music or book store. You can also download and print sheet music off the internet. The Petrucci Music Library, also known as the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), is an online database of (mostly) public domain sheet music from classical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart, whose sheet music copyright has expired.

Developing Good Habits

Good habits start from day one. Before you start playing, always stretch, warm up, and check your posture. Sit down on your bench facing the middle of the piano. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms are gently bent at the elbow.

Remember these posture tips:

  • Don’t sit hunched over

  • Warm up with a few stretches before each practice session

  • Pay close attention to your wrists, forearms, and shoulders

Consistency is also important. It may be more effective to practice 10 minutes a day, every day, than one hour of binge-practicing and then no practice for the rest of the week. Consistency is key to developing muscle memory and improving your skills over time.

Reflect on the progress made during the week, noting areas of improvement and challenges faced. Keep a practice journal or log to track daily practice time and observations. This will help you identify patterns and areas that need more focus.

Developing good habits is essential for any musician looking to succeed in the industry. At Musician Guidance, we offer a range of resources and expert advice to help you build and maintain these habits. From personalized mentoring to industry insights, our platform is designed to support your musical journey. Ready to take the next step? Visit our website and explore our services today!


Learning to play the piano is a rewarding journey that combines patience, practice, and passion. By following the outlined steps, from understanding the layout of the keyboard to playing with both hands and reading sheet music, you can build a strong foundation in piano playing. Remember, the key is consistent practice and not getting discouraged by initial challenges. As you progress, delve into music theory and explore various genres to expand your skills. Whether you're playing for personal enjoyment or aiming to perform for others, the piano offers endless opportunities for musical expression. Keep practicing, stay motivated, and most importantly, have fun with your musical journey!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first step to learning the piano?

The first step is to learn the layout of the piano keyboard and understand the basic hand positioning.

How should I place my fingers on the piano?

Place your right thumb on middle C and your next four fingers on the D, E, F, and G keys. For your left hand, place your pinky on the C one octave below middle C and your next four fingers on the D, E, F, and G keys.

What are some simple melodies to start with?

Simple melodies like 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' or 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' are great for beginners to start with.

How do I practice playing with both hands?

Start by practicing each hand separately, then slowly combine them by playing simple melodies and gradually increasing the complexity.

What are major and minor chords?

Major chords have a happy sound and are made up of the root note, major third, and perfect fifth. Minor chords have a sadder sound and consist of the root note, minor third, and perfect fifth.

How can I improve my sheet music reading skills?

Begin by understanding basic notation, practice reading right-hand notes, and gradually work on more complex pieces. Regular practice is key to improvement.


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