Grade 1 Piano: Tutorials, Music Theory and Technique

Once you’ve completed the Preparatory/Beginner Piano level, it’s time to move into slightly more complicated territory at the Grade 1 Piano level.

Grade 1 piano is a time where you really start some Baroque music basics – especially minuets. There are more style choices, and the rhythm becomes more difficult. More hand coordination is expected.

So without further ado, here’s my guide to grade 1 piano. It’s a collection of tutorials (with sheet music), technique and piano theory concepts. Some of the pieces are suitable for a Grade 1 exam through the RCM.

Grade 1 Piano RCM/ABRSM

All About Grade 1 RCM

If you’re interested in how the grade 1 piano exam works through the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music), this video is for you. Even if you have absolutely no interest in taking exams, this is useful information to know if you’re self-studying (or just want to better understand what your teacher is telling you).

Grade 1 Pieces: My Favorite Books

It’s a good idea to pick up at least 2 books per level, so you have variety. I love using music from the internet, but there’s something to be said about having a music library to draw from, as well. Here are my picks – the ones I recommend to my students.

My favorite grade 1 piano pieces

This short video is devoid of talking – it’s full of 15-second clips of me playing some of my favorite pieces at this level, pieces that I always recommend to my students. Full details about the pieces (and the books they’re from) are in the blog post.

ABRSM Grade 1: The Basics

The other main school of music education is the ABRSM. If you’re in a country outside of Canada, USA or the UK where the RCM is common, you might want to learn more about ABRSM. This video gives the lowdown on what to expect for an exam.

Beethoven Introductions

Beethoven has a couple short pieces at a grade 1 piano level, but that’s now what we’re looking at here. We’re going to take a couple introductions from some of his most complicated pieces. It’s fun to play difficult music (even if it’s just the intro), and it’s a good way to explore new concepts, too.

How to Play E Major Scale

First things first: A new scale and a new key to prepare us for Beethoven’s Third Concerto.

Beethoven’s Third Concerto (Largo): Introduction

As I previously mentioned, this whole concerto is wildly challenging – very far from a grade 1 piano level. However, this short introduction tutorial is totally doable, and fun too.

What is a Diminished Chord?

To continue our study of music theory (and to prepare for the next tutorial), it’s time to learn diminished chords – how to play them and what effect they create.

Beethoven Sonata Pathetique Introduction

Another short introduction from another wildly complicated Beethoven song – his Sonata Pathetique. You’ll definitely hear some diminished chords in this piano tutorial.

Grade 1 Piano Technique

2-Octave C Major Scale

In the beginner level of piano, we focused on 1-octave scales. In grade 1, 2-octave scales become the norm. It requires a tiny change in the finger pattern – learn it here, and you can apply it to the other scales, as well.

How to Play Triads on the Piano

Triads are one of my favorite piano techniques to teach, because they’re so relevant and useful to learning basically all music. Triads are just chords in different inversions. So if you have any interest in reading chords and getting into pop music, this is a great exercise.

RCM Grade 1 Technique Requirements

Whether you’re doing a Grade 1 exam or not, it’s useful to know the technique required for this level. This play-through includes several different scales and triads.

ABRSM Grade 1 Technique Requirements

The same as the RCM requirements above, but with the ABRSM this time. My preference is to pick a system and stick to it, but you can use both as references if you’d like.

Grade 1 Piano Music Theory

What is a Cadence? The Basics

In the beginner level, music theory is basically just learning how to read (and learning some basics on chords).

In Grade 1, we take our chord study a step further and talk about cadences. Cadences are like musical punctuation – you’ll see them throughout the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods of music.

Bach Chorale BWV 514: Tutorial

Bach’s Chorales are beautiful, and make for good harmony studies. 4-part vocals are adapted to piano in this piece.

The Tritone (The Devil in Music)

History can be strange. In this fun Halloween video, we talk about a theory concept (the tritone) that was forbidden during the middle ages, because it sounded too devilish.

How to Play 7th Chords: 7th, Major 7th and Minor 7th

There are many chords out there in the world. So far we’ve learned major and minor chords. In this video/post, the discussion evolves to 7th chords – the different varieties, and how to form them.

Away in a Manger (2 versions)

I arranged this popular Christmas song for grade 1 piano, and a slightly more challenging version as well.

Playing Baroque Music

Baroque Keyboard Music: Basics of the Style

Since we really begin exploring Baroque music in earnest during grade 1 piano, it’s important to talk about how to play that particular style on piano. Baroque music is a little different – because it’s so old, and the keyboard music was written for harpsichords, we need to alter our playing style a little.

Deck the Halls (2 versions)

In the first version of Deck the Halls, it’s simply melody and chords. The second version, however, is written Baroque-style, so you can practice adapting the style to a popular Christmas tune.

What is Musical Phrasing?

Another thing that’s really important when learning Baroque music (or even all music) is phrasing. Phrasing is a way of marking musical punctuation. This is good to know so your songs develop subtlety and variety.

Playing Romantic Music

Waltz in A Minor by Chopin (Simplified)

This waltz, in its original form, is around a grade 6 level. However, I shortened and simplified the arrangement so we could still learn it at a grade 1 level.

If you’re wanting to be an overachiever (which I highly encourage), take some time learning what a waltz is, and learn a bit about Chopin. Learning the details of your pieces will make the learning process much more enjoyable.

Modern/Pop Music

Yellow Rose of Texas Tutorial

Learning folk or pop tunes takes a different approach than learning Classical – and both are important to learn if you want to be a diverse musician. Here’s a common American folk tune that uses chords.

How to Transpose: An essential pop music skill

Transposing is an art that takes some time to master, but is very useful if you’ll be playing in bands, improvising, or singing while you play. Transposing means moving the song from one key to another. For example, if the song is in E major, and then you play the same tune in B major, that would be transposing.

Playing Piano Fast

How to Speed up a piece on the piano

Learning how to play the piano fast is a skill like anything else. Some people have better coordination at first than others – but even if your fingers don’t want to move fast, they will eventually with practice.

Fast Finger Practice: Clementi Prelude in E minor

Here’s a good little tune that’s fun to play, sounds neat, and requires a fast tempo. Faster pieces take longer to master than slower ones, but the effort is worth it.

Inspiration

How to stay motivated at the piano (when the going gets tough)

At this point, you’ve been playing piano for a while. Sometimes, after the initial burst of motivation wears off, it can be hard to get to the bench. These are some ideas that I find helpful, to keep me going when playing piano seems like it’s too much effort.

How I (almost) Failed my Grade 10 Exam

Be inspired by my mistakes! I learned a lot from doing poorly on my exam. Even if you never take exams, it can still be helpful to know the level you should be aspiring to.

More Classical Music

Telemann Fantasia in G minor

Technically Baroque (not Classical), but we’re using it as a blanket term here. I teach this one a lot, as it offers a nice blend of repetition, patterns and challenge. It also sounds good (a bonus). This is a part of the official RCM grade 1 syllabus.

Dvorak: New World Symphony

This is an easy piano version of the symphonic classic. Most people have heard this tune before, and it’s a good chord study (especially when the same tune changes keys).

What’s an Appoggiatura?

Besides being hard to spell, it’s a melody writing technique you’ll see a lot in Classical music (and, hint hint, the piece below). This is good to learn if you’re into harmony and/or songwriting, or just want to understand your pieces better.

Mozart’s Minuet in F Major

This one is in the same vein as Telemann’s Fantasia, but much more difficult. It is in the Grade 1 piano syllabus for the RCM, so it’s still at the same level, but there are many more leaps to be found here – and it’s faster too.

Mozart’s Minuet in Bb Major

Here’s another Mozart option at the Grade 1 piano level (that is also in the syllabus).

More Grade 1 Piano Theory

Note Stems/Stem Direction

This isn’t absolutely mandatory, but if you’re curious (or want to write your own music), here’s a quick video on why the stems do what they do.

Writing down the note letters: Good or bad?

Some students will write down every single letter for their piece, which I don’t think is a good idea. Of course, writing down a few here and there is fine – but if you write down too much, you aren’t training yourself to read notes anymore.

Scale Theory: How to build a major scale

In addition to discussing how major scales are built (with a formula!), we’ll also talk about why scales are so important to know and understand in the first place. Also included is a scale reference PDF.

Strong and Weak Beats in time signatures

Here we go deeper into rhythm, beyond just being able to count out the notes properly, and talk about how different time signatures affect the “beat” and sound of a piece.

Final Points

Haydn’s Farewell Symphony

In this Grade 1 Piano tutorial of a famous piece, we put together some concepts you’ve been learning at the grade 1 level.

Grade 1 Written Exam: Test Time!

If you’re someone who enjoys tests (like me!), this is a fun way to test your knowledge and see where you excel, and where you need more work.


 

Those are all the Grade 1 piano videos I’ve created on PianoTV. There are many other videos to explore that correspond nicely with these tutorials (such as history videos), so be sure to check out other areas of this site for more information.

Have fun!