How to Play Piano in 7 Easy Steps

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Instructions by a Thumbtack professional

Learn to play piano in 7 easy steps

Learning how to play piano may sound daunting, but Top Pro Jessica Evans wants to tell you it doesn’t have to be. Imagine her seated behind her 1914 Steinway grand piano, trilling out notes, encouraging you to let go of your fears and let the music inside you free. Trained at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Evans is now a celebrated San Francisco pianist and piano teacher. She’s been helping students learn to love piano for decades, and she’s got some tips for you as you start down the same path.

STEP 1: Learn to play piano

Get comfortable with the piano

Take time to just get to know your piano. Sit with good posture and a straight back, holding your arms parallel to the keyboard. Evans recommends positioning your hands as though you’re holding a little tangerine in each palm. Being able to deftly move your fingers is important to the scales you will learn, so get familiar with this hand position.

Before studying notes or learning music theory, Evans encourages students to sit down at the piano and play. Listen to what you hear in your head and experiment on the keyboard to see what it feels like. Do so without judgement and try to have fun with it!

If your old family piano needs a tune up before you can start, check out this blog post for tips on how to hire a great tuner.

STEP 2: Learn to play piano

Understand piano keys

A standard piano has 52 white keys and 36 black keys, for a total of 88 keys. As you strike them they create different notes. The keys and notes on the piano are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet — A, B, C, D, E, F, G — and they repeat going up the keyboard. You can create all manner of sound combinations from these 88 keys.

The center white key is called the "Middle C." Use this key to orient yourself — it is the starting point for scales and knowing where this key is will help situate all the other notes for you. The black keys are often used to create a sharp (#) note or a flat (b) note. All together, there are 12 tones that result from the notes and their flat and sharp variations, and they can be combined for endless chords.

STEP 3: Learn to play piano

Practice listening

Attune your ear to the sounds of the different notes. Walk up and down the keyboard with your fingers, keeping your proper posture and finger positioning and start to familiarize yourself with how the notes sound.

STEP 4: Learn to play piano

Read up on music theory

In addition to becoming acquainted with the instrument, it’s important to learn something about the how and why of music. Evans is loving but strict with her students and quizzes them all the time with questions such as, "How many sharps are in the D Major Scale?" She recommends the John Schaum piano lesson books to students for guidance at home.

STEP 5: Learn to play piano

Practice the C major scale

The C major scale is a basic building block for learning to play piano, and as the name implies, begins with the C note. It consists of seven notes and eight keys in this succession: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. The C major scale begins with C and ends with C — the final C being one octave higher than the starting C. Here you can find a visual breakdown of the C major scale.

Play this scale on repeat as your fingers and ears learn the movement and sound. Each note has a major scale, and you will come to learn and practice these as well.

STEP 6: Learn to play piano

Learn the Circle of Fifths

As you become acquainted with the keyboard and the major and minor scales, you’ll want to learn more about building chords. The circle of fifths is a geometrical representation of the relationship between the 12 different pitches. Use it as a tool for learning to read sheet music, build chords and eventually write your own pieces.

STEP 7: Learn to play piano

Create a practice schedule

Practicing everyday is vitally important. Set up a routine that you can adhere to. Play for just 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes when you get home from school or work. Create a ritual. Evans says to play for the love of music. Let everything else go away!

Piano is for everyone. Evans encourages her students to explore the music inside them and to experiment and play. As you’re beginning your piano journey, you may become frustrated or confused. How-to tutorials are helpful, but having a practiced teacher on hand can greatly speed up the learning process. Whether she’s teaching a child or a kid-at-heart, Evans says the greatest honor is to be someone’s teacher.

About the pro - I do not believe in mediocrity or half measures. My music reflects this. My teaching reflects this. I care deeply about my students progress and their goals. I am by nature very competitive and I want to be the best teacher, the most inspirational and motivating. There are teachers I have had in my past that I will always revere... teachers who have influenced me in such a positive manner. I want to be that Teacher to my pupils. If you ride a motorcycle or scooter, I have indoor, secure parking for you. I always say that I have the best gift in the world. When you have the gift of music, it is always inside of you, coloring everything you do and see. Doing what I love and sharing it with others is the best job in the world. Music is supposed to be fun! Don't get me wrong- there is no substitute for practice and hard work- but enjoying the journey is also the gig. Some of my students come to me after not-so-great experiences with past teachers. It is my job to change and replace those feelings. The joy, wonder, and love that I have for music and the Piano can be highly contagious. You want to catch this one... I have students ages 3-7, and I am their very first piano teacher. This is a responsibility and an honor that I take very seriously ( while making it totally fun for them ). I am constantly honing my creative skills, seeing this musical world through their eyes. I know what moved and inspired me when I was a kid and I draw upon these memories. Every student is different so I individualize and tailor my teaching approach accordingly. I continue to fine tune it as we go along, never losing track of my students initial goals. I am delighted when I see a students eyes light up- when they "get" it. And those "Ahhh..." moments when it all comes together. Understanding the language of this incredible instrument called The Piano gives me the best voice I will ever have.

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