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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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).
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!