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Learn Basic Piano and Music Theory

Learn basic piano and music theory with our course. Here is what we will be covering in this basic piano (and music) theory course.

Chapter 1: How To Read Notes on The Piano
Chapter 2: How To Read Piano Score
Chapter 3: How to Read Notes on Piano Score
Chapter 4: Sharp, Flat and Natural
Chapter 5: Time Signature
Chapter 6: Beats, Rhythm and Time Value of Notes
Chapter 7: What’s in a Bar?
Chapter 8: How to Play The Piano
What’s Next

Chapter 1: How To Read Notes on The Piano

Let’s learn the notes as we see them on the keyboard (or piano).

The notes are C- D- E- F- G- A- B, or Do- Re- Mi- Fa- So- La- Ti (informally).

You will notice that there are 2 black notes that are close to each other, and another 3 black notes that are close to one another. The white notes surrounding the 2 black notes are Do- Re- Mi; the white notes surrounding the 3 black notes are Fa- So- La- Ti.

To remember the notes on the piano or keyboard, learn to sing the “Do- Re- Mi” song from the movie The Sound Of Music.

Chapter 2: How To Read Piano Score

This is how a piece of music looks like:

In this lesson, we will learn about the stave, treble clef and base clef. You will learn about the notes in the next chapter.
Using the stave, treble clef and base clef as an analogy, you can think of:

  • stave as a piece of paper where you write the words
  • clef is like the language e.g. English, Spanish, etc.
  • notes (which you will learn in the next chapter) are like the alphabets of the English language.

The music stave consists of 5 lines with 4 spaces between them, and looks like this:

The treble clef looks like this:

The treble clef is placed like this on the music stave:

The base clef looks like this:

The bass clef is placed like this on the music stave:

To make things simple, think of the treble clef as one for the high pitch notes, and played by the right hand on the piano. Bass clef, will be for the low pitch notes, played by the left hand on the piano.
This is in general of course. You may see the left hand playing notes written in treble clef, and the right hand playing notes written in based clef. But usually, the bass clef will be for low pitch notes played by the left hand on the piano, and the treble clef is for high pitch notes played by the right hand. 

Chapter 3: How to Read Notes on Piano Score

We learn about the treble clef, bass clef and music stave in the previous lesson. It’s time to learn to read the notes on a piano score.

The following are the notes and where they are on the music stave:

What do you notice?

(1) As you move to the right of the piano, you go up the music stave, and the pitch gets higher.

(2) As you move to the left of the piano, you go down the music stave, and the pitch gets lower.

(3) To go one white note to the right on the piano, you go one step up the music stave.

(4) To go one white note to the left on the piano, you go one step down the music stave.

(5) Beyond the music stave, you add music ledgers.

It’s like your book running out of pages, and you add a small piece of paper below or above it to add more words.

Chapter 4: Sharp, Flat and Natural

In the last chapter on notes reading, you notice that all the notes that we talked about are on the white keys. How about the black keys?

In this chapter, we will be introducing the sharps, flats and naturals.

Sharp: ♯
Flat   :  ♭
Natural: ♮
It would be easier to think of sharp as the nearest note (can be black or white) on the right.

Sharp

It would be easier to think of sharp as the nearest note (can be black or white) on the right.
Let’s use F# as an example:

Note that sharps and flats need not always black notes. An example is E#, which is a white note (effectively F):

Flat

Think of flat as the nearest note (can be black or white) on the left.
Let’s use E♭ as an example.

Flats need not always be a black note. An example is F♭ , which is a white note (effectively E):

Natural

A natural sign is like a “cancel” sign. Within each bar, you only need to write the flat/ sharp once. The rest of the same note will have the flat/sharp unless you use the natural sign. 
Some music pieces  will have key signature. This means the entire song will have some notes with sharps/ flats throughout, unless you cancel with the natural sign, ♮.

Chapter 5: Time Signature

In this chapter, let’s learn about time signature.

So what’s a time signature?

A time signature is used to specify how many beats there are in a bar.

Each bar is denoted by a bar line that looks like this: |

At the end of each music piece is a double bar line that looks like this: ||

The most common time signatures are these:




When you see this time signature, it means there are 2 beats in a bar (or the total note value per bar is 2).When you see this time signature, it means there are 3 beats in a bar (or the total note value per bar is 3). When you see this time signature, it means there are 4 beats in a bar (or the total note value per bar is 4). 

Chapter 6: Beats, Rhythm and Time Value of Notes

Beats

Beats are the steady, repeating pulse of a piece of music.

Rhythm

Rhythm is the pulse of a piece of music. It is the pulse of the words or the notes in a song.

Time Value of Notes

The time value refers to how long each note last. A time value of 2 lasts twice as long as one with a time value of one. Think of a minute lasts 60 times as long as a second.

 CrotchetTime value = 1
 MinimTime value = 2 
 Dotted MinimTime value = 3
 SemibreveTime value = 4 
 QuaverTime value = 0.5 
Note: If you have more than one quavers one after another, they are joined together by a line.

For example, 2 quavers one after another looks like this:

3 quavers one after another looks like this:

 Dotted crotchetTime value = 1.5 

Chapter 7: What’s in a Bar?

What’s bar in music?

The time signature tells us the the total note values per bar. In music, a bar is like a paragraph in English, and the end of each bar is denoted with a bar line that looks like this: | . At the end of the music piece, you use a double bar line instead of a bar line. A double bar line looks like this: || .

Bar lines for 2/4 time.

When you see this time signature, it means there are 2 beats per bar, or the total note value per bar is 2.

What would give you a note value of 2 then?

Well, it could be 1 minim, or 2 crotchets, or 4 quavers, and many other combinations!

See the example below for some possible combinations:

Bar lines for 3/4 time.

When you see this time signature, it means there are 3 beats per bar, or the total note value per bar is 3. 
What combinations could give you a note value of 3 then?

Well, it could be 3 crotchets, or 1 minim and a crotchet, or 6 quavers, or 1 dotted minim and many other combinations!

See the example below for some possible combinations:

Bar lines for 4/4 time

When you see this time signature, it means there are 4 beats per bar, or the total note value per bar is 4.

What combinations could give you a note value of 4 then?

Well, it could be 4 crotchets, or 2 minims, or 8 quavers, or 1 semibreve and many other combinations!

See the example below for some possible combinations:

Chapter 8: How to Play The Piano

With this music theory you have learnt, you can start learning how to play the piano and read piano score.

Before we end this course, let’s talk about how to position your hands on the piano.

Step 1: Sit on a chair and place your hand on the piano. The angle at your elbow should be slightly more than 90o.

Step 2: Place your fingers on the keyboard/ piano. Only the portion closer to the tip of the fingers should be touching the keyboard/ piano.

Step 3: Your palms and wrists should be slightly above the keyboard/ piano.

Step 4: Adjust the positions to make yourself feel comfortable!

What’s next?

To reinforce what you have learnt the best way is to practice, practice and practice!

Practice the piano and work on piano theory from time to time.

We have designed an activity book to reinforce the music theory in this course. You can get it here:

Get My First Piano and Music Theory Activity Book here.