Preparatory/Beginner Piano Lessons and Tutorials
Preparatory/Beginner Piano Lessons is the place to start if you’re a complete beginner at the piano. In this area, we’ll learn how to read music and rhythms, cover some basic concepts like scales and chords, and learn some pieces while we’re at it.
This level is equivalent to the RCM Preparatory level. I’ve designed this list so that it flows sequentially – if you start from the top and work your way down, you should be good. If you want to jump around, you can, especially if you’ve played a bit before, but some tutorial videos contain deeper explanations of concepts like chords.
For the tutorials and sheet music, you can either learn one at a time, or overlap pieces. I personally like having several songs on the go at once. Don’t be discouraged if some of these pieces take you around a month to really master. Some will be fast for you, and others more challenging, depending on your skillset and coordination.
Let’s get to it!
First Steps for Beginner Piano Lessons:
- Proper Piano Posture
Take a moment to make sure you know how to orient yourself on the bench (and please, for the love of everything, don’t use a chair!). One of the main problems that beginner piano students have is not sitting in the right spot, which effects the way you play.
- How long does it really take to learn piano?
Before we get into rhythms and notes and the actual nitty-gritty of learning piano as a beginner, make sure you’ve got some realistic expectations. Learning piano can be a lifetime commitment. Sure, you can get the basics down in a short amount of time if you’re committed, but you’ll have to be patient before embarking on a Beethoven Sonata.
- Introduction to Rhythm
When I teach beginner piano, rhythm comes before reading notes. It’s the lifeblood of music! Spend some time with this to really master the basics. Some people “get” rhythm instantly, while others need to put a bit more effort into it.
- Introduction to note reading
A lot of people skip learning note reading, and just learn piano by ear. To each their own – but I think that approach is a mistake. Especially if you’d like to get into very complex Classical music down the road.
I like comparing reading music to reading words. Sure, you can learn a language entirely by sound, without ever picking up a book. Plenty of people do this, and it’s fine. But being able to pick up a book and read it offers a whole new wealth of options.
First Piece for Beginner Piano
- Little River (with PDF)
This is a simple little ditty I wrote as a first piece, where you get to apply your new knowledge of note and rhythm reading. It’s a one-page piece and it’s fairly simple – I believe in learning manageable pieces at first. It’s better to ace an easier piece than to struggle with a piece that’s too tough.
- 9 tips for practicing piano
As a companion to learning your first piece, here’s some advice on how to actually practice that piece. If you’re a new musician, the topic of practice won’t necessarily be obvious. These are just some ideas I’ve developed over the years as a piano teacher.
- Finding Books and Sheet Music (for your level!)
Okay, so you’ve practiced your first beginner piano piece and you’re a master at it. Now what?
Well, you’ll find more beginner piano tutorials below, but I highly encourage you to explore music books and other sheet music options out there. Not only is it fun to have a home music collection, it’s inspiring. It’s never too late to build that collection – even “easier” books will be fondly looked upon in the future. I still play through some of my old books when I’m feeling nostalgic!
- Some of my favorite piano books
If you are wanting some specific recommendations, these are some books that I’ve frequently used and enjoyed in my piano studio.
Beginner Piano Chords
- Learning C and G7 chord
Almost all beginner books start with C and G7 chord (such as the popular Adult Piano Adventures and Alfred series). Since that’s the case, I figured we’d start with those chords as well.
This video includes an exercise using chords, as well as a short and sweet Mozart piece.
- Learning C minor chord
Major and minor chords have different qualities, but they’re pretty simple to differentiate – little kids do it all the time in my piano studio. Major and minor chords make up the bulk of chords you’ll learn, so it’s important to get a grip on them early on.
This video has a finger exercise, as well an arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth, which utilizes minor chords.
More on Reading Sheet Music
- Simple tricks for reading sheet music
If you’re comfortable with the basics of sheet music, there are some shortcuts I teach my students. People memorize notes at different rates. Eventually, you’ll be able to look at basically any note on the staff and know what it is instantly, but these little tricks are helpful to speed things up in the meantime.
- Reading Intervals
Not only is it useful to know the “letters” of the notes, but it’s also helpful to be able to see how far apart notes are from each other at a glance. Both of these reading techniques (reading notes and intervals) lead to fluent reading.
- The importance of sight reading
When you’re a kid and learning how to read, you do it every single day. We should treat piano in the same way. Only by reading new things every day will we start to really improve our reading.
Key Signatures and Scales
- The key of C (and C Major scale)
Each key on the piano, from A to G, has its own scale and set of corresponding chords. For example, the chords you play in the key of C (like C and G7) are different than the chords you would play in the key of G. Think of all the keys as being inside of a house, and each letter (A, B, C, so on) is a room in that house. Each room is different, but they all have the same basic elements (like a door, a bed, a light, and so on).
- F major chord
Another tutorial in the key of C major, but this time with a new chord – F major. The tutorial this time is the famous folk tune Red River Valley.
- The key of G (and more chords)
Next we’ll explore the key of G, with some tutorials as per usual (Ode to Joy by Beethoven).
- More on Chords (in the key of G)
Chords can be played in different ways. They can be played “solid”, or all at once, and “broken”, with the notes played individually. In the tutorial for You Are My Sunshine, we explore broken chord patterns.
More on Rhythm in Beginner Piano
- Counting 8th notes
I usually wait quite a while before introducing 8th notes to students. I like leaving plenty of time to master the other basic rhythms before getting into these, because they can be a bit confusing. So make sure you’ve got the basic rhythms down pat first!
- Minuetto by Hook
Here’s an RCM Preparatory piece that serves as a good foray into 8th notes, as well as Classical music. This one is quite a bit tougher to play than it looks.
- Introduction to the Damper Pedal
Some exercises and a tune I wrote to practice using the foot pedal. We also continue our study of 8th notes in this tutorial.
- Morning Mood by Edvard Grieg
This piece puts everything together – use of the damper pedal as well as 8th notes. Morning Mood also happens to be an incredibly famous piece that you’ll likely recognize right away.
More on Chords, Keys and Scales
- Major and minor chords by ear
We’ve explored major and minor chords a little, but this goes a more in depth. Open up your ears and see if you can start recognizing the difference between major and minor chords.
- F Major Scale
We continue our study of scales (so far C and G) and expand to F. F major scale has a different finger pattern in the right hand, so be careful!
- The Key of F (featuring Brahms Lullaby)
Another very famous piece, this time in the key of F and using chords unique to F major scale.
- Beethoven’s Russian Air
This is a preparatory-level piece in the key of G, as a review. This piece is a little more challenging, and serves as a good way to recap a lot of the concepts we’ve already learned.
- Prayer by Gurlitt
Another piece in the key of G, and like the previous Beethoven piece, it’s also standard repertoire for a Preparatory level. This one focuses on playing chords between both hands.
Minor Keys in Piano
- Major and Minor keys
We’ve looked at the difference between major and minor chords – now we’re going to look at how to tell major and minor keys apart.
- A minor scale
In preparation for the first minor key tutorial, let’s start by learning how to play a minor scale on the piano.
- Land of the Silver Birch
Our first tutorial based in a minor key! Just as there can be major and minor chords, there can be songs written in a major or minor key. This effects the overall tone and mood of the piece.
- What is a harmonic minor scale?
Minor scales/keys can have some slight variations. Major keys are only ever major keys, but minor keys can be natural, harmonic or melodic. Today we’ll look at what a harmonic minor scale is – which will play into the next tutorial.
- How to play A harmonic minor scale
This is very similar to the first A minor scale you learned – with a slight variation to make it harmonic.
- Fur Elise by Beethoven
We’ve made it to Fur Elise! We’ll learn a little from the beginning of the piece – the later sections are far too difficult. But the main part – the part that everyone knows – is doable at a beginner level (if a little tough).
The key of D
- How to play a D major scale
Yep, back to major scales. This scale is good preparation for the pieces we’ll be doing in the key of D, so prepare yourself!
- Spring by Vivaldi
“Spring” is a very famous Baroque work, and is fun to play on the piano. It’s a good way to practice thirds, as well as the key of D.
- Overture to William Tell
Another good one in the key of D major. This one is fast – and fast songs generally take a bit more work.
The key of E minor
- E minor scale (Natural and Harmonic)
It’s time to explore a new minor key – and as always, it’s a good idea to start with the scales to get comfortable with the key.
- Using the damper pedal, part 2
Our first talk on the damper pedal was for basic usage. Today’s pedaling technique (syncopated pedal) is much more challenging, but will be the way you use the pedal in most pedalled pieces in the future. It’s like the gold standard of pedaling techniques.
- Greensleeves tutorial
Now it’s time to put that syncopated pedal to action! It may not be Christmas time where you are, but this is a lovely and well-known piece you should try nonetheless.
- Bourree in E minor (From the Notebook for Wolfgang)
Here’s a Classical piece to practice our new E minor key with.
Even more on Rhythm
- 6/8 Time signature
So far we’ve done pieces in 4/4 and 3/4, but what does it mean when the bottom number changes, and we get 6/8? It requires a different way of counting.
- House of the Rising Sun
House of the Rising Sun is a good and famous tune in a 6/8 time signature. The 6/8 rhythm creates a really beautiful “rocking” sensation.
- How to read triplets
Triplets are a more complex rhythmic concept, but common enough that they’re worth learning in the beginning stages.
Key of D minor
- D minor scales (harmonic and melodic)
- Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor
This is an interesting tutorial. It’s not a simplified version of Mozart’s Fantasia, which is actually very long – it’s just the introduction. Sometimes it’s discouraging as a beginner to never get to play these big, difficult pieces – but the reality is that there are parts of complicated songs that are playable early on (like Beethoven’s Fur Elise intro).
Key of A major
- A major scale
- Canadian Boat Song
Sometimes I’ve gotta let my Canadian flag fly! This is a good 6/8 piece in A major that is actually quite a bit of a challenge. Enjoy!
Even more on Rhythm
- How to play 16th notes
Now we’re getting more in-depth with rhythm. Once you’ve mastered 8th notes, 16th notes are the natural next step. They’re quite a bit faster and require even more counting finesse.
- Mozart’s Alla Turca
Let’s put those 16th notes to use in Mozart’s famous Turkish tune.
- Ritardando and a tempo
These are Italian markings you’ll come across in your music that effect the tempo/rhythm of your piece.
- How dotted notes work, part 1 and part 2
To cap off our rhythm studies, let’s take a look at dotted notes, which can be a bit confusing at first. This is about as tough as it gets for beginner piano sheet music.
RCM Examinations: Technique
RCM Preparatory A & B: Piano Technique
This video is a play-through of all the technical requirements for these levels. Preparatory A corresponds with the first year of lessons, and preparatory B with the second. Of course, as an adult beginner, you’ll probably sail through both levels in about a year total.
If you want to make sure your technique is on par with this musical school, definitely check it out.
This is a collection of all the beginner piano videos and tutorials I’ve made that I think will be relevant to you on your musical journey. Be sure to check out other areas of the site, such as Music History, to get a more well-rounded understanding of music.
And once you’ve mastered all of these basics, it’s time to move on to Grade 1 level material!