There are many people that want to learn to play the keyboard but find the prospect very daunting. With so many keys to memorise and intricate handwork needed to play music, learning to play the keyboard is often viewed as a very difficult task, which is why so many avoid trying to learn.
Yet contrary to popular belief, learning to play the keyboard is that difficult, especially when coming to grips with the basics. All it really takes is hard-work, time and dedication. Plus, once you learn the basics, it becomes so much easier to play more advanced notes and chords on a keyboard.
In fact, learning to play the keyboard provides a fantastic foundation for other musical instruments. The fundamentals of playing the keyboard serve you well when trying to play other instruments, making it a great first-time instrument for children and adults alike.
The below guide aims to give you all the information you need to learn the basics of playing keyboard. If you want to learn to play keyboard, this is a great place to start, as it gives everything you need to know to get started.
Learning on a Keyboard or Piano – What’s the Difference?
A big question many beginners have before they start is whether they’re better off learning to play on a keyboard or piano. It’s often thought that learning to play the keyboard is vastly different from an acoustic piano, but the two are very similar, and it could even be argued that a keyboard is better to learning.
One of the main reasons it is better to learn on a keyboard instead of a piano is maintenance. An acoustic piano consists of several internal strings, and these need to be regularly tuned to ensure the sound is correct, much like a guitar and other stringed instruments.
As this is very difficult process, it’s not ideal for a beginner, whereas a keyboard is perfect for getting started on. It’s completely digital so doesn’t need tuning, while the various sounds they play allows you to learn playing different styles of music – you only play classical music on an acoustic piano.
Plus, an acoustic piano is a very expensive instrument, not to mention large and bulky, so isn’t worth paying for unless you are certain it’s going to be played. While learning to play in an 88-key acoustic piano will make you a better player in the long-term, almost everyone benefits more by learning on a keyboard first.
Everything You Need to Know to Get Started
The most obvious thing you need is a keyboard!
However, bear in mind that there are various types of keyboards available, including digital pianos, which blends together aspects of an acoustic piano (such as weighted keys) and a keyboard (such as various sounds).
A basic keyboard should be more than enough for any beginners, with anything that has 49, 61, or 76 keys a suitable choice. Digital pianos come with a fully 88-key keyboard, which offers the best range, but these aren’t necessary until you become better versed with playing.
Another essential item to go along with the keyboard is a good keyboard bench.
Using a bench when playing a keyboard ensures correct posture to avoid any strains or aches. It also allows for better, more fluid movements as you play along the length of the keyboard. While chairs make for a good substitute, they do limit movement when playing, but a keyboard bench is relatively cheap to buy.
A sustaining pedal is something that may be worth buying, as it makes learning different types of music easier by allowing notes to be sustained, resulting in a fuller sound being produced. It’s something that may not be essential, but if you find a good price for a keyboard that includes a pedal then it may be worth investing in.
Finally, headphones are a great idea when learning to play the keyboard. Not only does it avoid you disturbing others when practising to learn the keyboard, but also allows you to focus entirely on the practicing, making the entire process easier.
Step One – Positioning
Positioning Your Body
One of the most important basics of learning the keyboard is your positioning. You want to be sitting at the centre of the keyboard, preferably on a keyboard bench, as they are designed to make you sit with the proper posture for playing.
Sit on the bench with your feet placed below the keyboard and keep the soles firmly on the ground. Don’t place your legs to far below the keyboard – only have a small part of your knees sitting below the keyboard.
Practice sitting in this position, paying close attention to your posture, and the distance you are from the keyboard. Better posture means better playing, so it’s good to get to grips with this as early as possible.
You want a straight back, relaxed shoulders, and feet placed on the ground at all times when playing.
Positioning Your Hands
Before placing anything on the keys, relax your arms and hands, resting them at your side for a moment. Let your hands naturally form a C shape with your fingers slightly curved, then place them somewhere in the middle on the white keys – make sure your elbows are sitting at the same height as the keyboard.
Step Three – Understanding White Keys
The white keys on a keyboard are whole notes. While many assume there’s dozens of different notes on a keyboard, it’s just seven natural notes in the same sequence played at different octaves across the keyboard – the exact same as you find on a piano too.
As whole notes, the white keys do not have any sharps or flats, just the natural notes of the musical alphabet, which are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. After a G note, it goes back to C and the alphabet starts over again.
Step Four – Finding Notes
Finding the A Note
Because the A note is the beginning of the musical alphabet, it’s worth familiarising yourself with its location on the keyboard. This quite simple, as the A note is always found nearby a group of three black keys.
To locate the A note, simply check for a group of three black keys anywhere on the keyboard. You will find A is the white key found between the second and third black key of any three black keys on a keyboard.
After finding A, you then know that the following keys play out the remainder of the musical alphabet – B, C, D, E, F, and G.
A good way to remember the notes is by finding A and then mark each of the notes on the white keys.
Remember, there is only seven different notes to remember across the keyboard, so try writing them on paper and then sticking this to the appropriate keys to familiarise yourself.
However, it’s worth noting that A isn’t the best note to start playing on, so you will benefit from finding and familiarising yourself with the C note as well.
Trying this step first helps you to better understanding the musical alphabet, so it’s still worth doing!
Finding the C Note
One of the most important notes worth finding and memorising is the C note. As a central note, learning where C is on a keyboard is one of the easiest ways to quickly understand the positioning of all the notes.
This is simple to do, as you just need to locate any grouping of two black keys, and then look for the white key on the left side of the first black key – this is always a C.
Every note after this is a consequence of C, and every C note on the keyboard is an octave, meaning they are always eight notes apart.
So, if you learn how to find a C anywhere on the keyboard, you should find it much easier to identify and play other notes from here.
Try practicing each C note on the keyboard to familiarise yourself with their location. Remember, it’s always the first white key to the left of the first black key at any grouping of two black keys.
Finding the F Note
Another note worth remembering is the F note. Much like C, this is a very important note when playing keyboard, so being able to find it quickly and naturally will always benefit your learning process.
F is quite easy to find, being the first white key before three black keys. So, try finding each of the F notes on the keyboard, just like with A and C, focusing more so on C and F.
Again, it helps to mark the notes on the keys when first learning the keyboard, as you will find the location of each note quickly and without fuss.
Step Five – Practicing Notes
While you won’t need to learn how to read piano music any time soon, it does help to know the differences of each notation, as this will make learning to read the music easier once you progress further.
On sheet music, there are different notes for whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes. They look quite different, so it’s not too hard to understand what each one represents.
Whole Note – Noted as an empty circle on the sheet, is played for four beats.
Half Note – Noted as an empty circle with an upwards line, is played for two beats
Quarter Note – Noted as filled-in circle with an upwards line, is played for one beat
To practice the different notes, try playing each one.
A whole C note involves pressing and holding down C, then counting to four with an even tempo before letting go of the key. Try this, pressing down on the key and counting one, two, three, four.
As half notes last for two beats, you press and hold the note for two seconds before pressing again, so try this out on the E note. Play it a few times over to get a good feel for the tempo, and always count to four instead of one, two, one, two
Finally, quarter notes last for a single beat, meaning you only count to one after pressing the key. Try pressing the G note in this manner, playing it four times over. Remember, lift the finger after counting to one, and always count to four rather saying one, one, one, one.
After practicing each of these, you now have a good understanding of basic rhythms on a keyboard!
Step Six – The C Major Scale
Practicing the C Major Scale
When the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B are played in that specific sequence, the notes form the C Major scale.
Keyboard scales are basically notes that are grouped and played together, with the C Major scale being one of the most widely used on the keyboard.
For this reason, it’s worth practicing playing the C Major scale to familiarise yourself with keyboard scales, as learning C Major scale allows you to play chords, melodies, and arpeggios.
This couldn’t be easier to play either.
Simply start on the C note and then play each of the subsequent key to the right, pressing each note once before moving onto the next. Once you reach B, the seventh key from C, you’ve played the C Major scale!
Trying to play this a few times over, working on finger placement and the overall flow of your movement across each key. It will take time to get a good flow going, so don’t be deterred if making lots of mistakes to begin with – practice makes perfect!
Step Seven – Trying a Chord
A chord is selection of notes that are played at the same time.
These are quite complex for beginners, involving pressing both black and white keys at the same time, so it’s a good idea not to worry about them when you are just learning keyboard basics.
That said, some chords are quite easy to learn, so it might be worth practicing them, so you know what to expect from chords in the future. Being a basic three note chord, the C chord is possibly the easiest cord to play on a keyboard, so is a good place to start.
To play a C chord, start with your right thumb on the C note – the first white key to the left of a group two black keys.
Now, press your index finger onto the E note, which is two white keys down from the C.
Finally, press your pinkie finger on the G note, which is two white keys down from the E note.
Familiarise yourself with the position of each note in the C chord, and then practice pressing all three at the same time to play the C chord.
Following each of these steps gives you a great foundation for learning to play the keyboard. Some steps will be easier than others, so it is important to practice all of these basics of playing the keyboard, and then you progress from here.
Read below for some tips and tricks for learning keyboard!
Tips and Tricks
Practice, practice, practice
This is an obvious statement but one that bear repeating – practice as much as you can!
When learning any instrument, you get exactly what put in, so the more time dedicated to practicing the basics, the better the player you become. Even just playing for 30 minutes each day makes a huge difference in your development, so be ready to put the time in!
Practice every aspect that has been laid out in this guide, working especially on the parts you struggle with.
A good place to begin is to memorise the location of notes on the white keys. It may take a little time, but once you start to remember them more naturally, you’ll start to find everything much easier.
After this, start working on the more complex techniques, such as playing scales and chords.
Make the Most of Free Resources
The age of the internet has made learning an instrument easier than ever, with countless amazing resources available online – most of which are free!
Take full advantage of all these free resources. YouTube is a great resource for learning to play keyboard, with countless fantastic tutors and online lessons available at the tip of your fingers.
Search for videos that tech specific techniques, notes, and other tips and tricks for beginners – you’ll learn so much more at a quicker pace, so it’s well worth taking advantage of.
Check for free applications for your mobile or tablet device too, as these are a great way to make learning the fundamentals easy and enjoyable.
Don’t Forget the Theory
The most important part of music theory for a keyboard is reading sheet music. Now, this seems incredibly daunting at first, but it gets much easier once you have a rough idea of the basics, which you should already know.
Check online for free keyboard sheet music, watch videos and read articles explaining how to read the songbooks, and try practicing some classic beginner songs to get a better understanding of musical notation.