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
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
First things first: A new scale and a new key to prepare us for Beethoven’s Third Concerto.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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’s Chorales are beautiful, and make for good harmony studies. 4-part vocals are adapted to piano in this piece.
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.
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.
I arranged this popular Christmas song for grade 1 piano, and a slightly more challenging version as well.
Playing Baroque Music
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
Here’s another Mozart option at the Grade 1 piano level (that is also in the syllabus).
More Grade 1 Piano Theory
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this Grade 1 Piano tutorial of a famous piece, we put together some concepts you’ve been learning at the grade 1 level.
For those proud Canadians (or those of you who are interested in Canadian music), here’s an arranged and simplified version of the Canadian national anthem.
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.