The Ultimate Guide to Piano Keyboard

Are you looking for the ultimate guide to piano keyboard in general? If your answer is yes, congratulations. You have come to the right place and I’m glad you’re here. 

If you have never played a musical instrument before, the piano is the perfect place to start. Unlike every other instrument, the piano is very visual, with the keys laid out in front of the performer. 

Playing the piano also doesn’t require finding the notes by ear, as string instruments do, meaning it can be played without any prior musical knowledge. A beginner’s keyboard can also be purchased and it’s relatively cheap, making it the perfect place to begin your musical journey.

Finding high and low sounds

Using your left hand, play a few notes on the left-hand side of your piano. (Use any fingers and don’t worry about the shape of your hand for now.) Listen to the sound. How would you classify it? High or low?

Switch hands and play a few notes on the right-hand side of the piano. How do these notes sound?

To produce a low sound, play the notes on the left-hand side of the piano, with the pitch getting higher as you move to the right. Start from the lowest note and play each key until you reach the top of the piano, listening to the change in sound as you move higher up the keyboard. Then reverse it and play the notes from highest to lowest again.

Black and white notes

Take a good look at the way the notes of the piano are arranged. Notice how the black notes are grouped in two, then in three, then in two, then three continuously.

Because the piano is such a visual instrument, we use this arrangement of black keys to locate each note. 

Improvisation

The best possible way to get comfortable with your instrument is to try improvising it. This means making up a song on the spot. Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as it sounds! You are making up your own song, so you can’t possibly get in wrong.

Try playing one note at a time, then try more than one. (This is called playing a chord.) Experiment playing on the white keys, then the black. Which sound do you like better?

Relax and enjoy experimenting with the different sounds on the piano. Try not to let your critical mind get in the way. Take note of your discoveries and have fun!

Types of Pianos

Electric keyboard, Grand piano, Upright piano, Digital piano. With so many options out there, choosing the right piano can be difficult. It is important to choose something that’s comfortable to you and within your budget, so that you can learn playing without spending a fortune. Let’s take a look at the choices to determine which is the best for you.

Electric Keyboards

The easiest way to begin learning the piano is to start with an electric keyboard. These are small and portable and far cheaper than full-sized acoustic pianos. Keyboards usually come with a detachable music stand, however, you will need to purchase a keyboard stand and pedal separately. 

The keys of an electric keyboard are plastic and unweighted, meaning they feel very different to those of an acoustic piano. Playing unweighted keys has both pros and cons. The positive side is that it requires less effort to push the keys down, making it easier to concentrate on technique and hand position. 

This can be particularly beneficial for young children with smaller, weaker hands. The downside side is that learning on unweighted keys can make it difficult to transition onto an acoustic piano as it requires a different type of finger control.

Most electric keyboards contain only five octaves (a modern acoustic piano contains seven), meaning only a limited repertoire can be played on this instrument.

While an electric keyboard can be a great place to start, it is recommended that students who are serious about learning the piano transition to a full-sized instrument within a year.

Top brands: Yamaha, Casio

Cost: Lesser-known brands’ new instruments start from approximately $50. Top brands range between $120-$300. It is also very easy to find second-hand keyboards.

Digital Pianos

If you are looking for a full-sized instrument but are not ready to commit to an upright piano, a digital piano can be a good option.

Digital piano by Casio

Digital pianos usually consist of the full seven octaves and the keys are generally weighed, making them a much closer replica to an acoustic piano. They can be purchased with either a separate stand and pedal or with everything built-in.

Digital pianos are basically cheaper than acoustic uprights and take up less space. Their sound quality is usually far superior to that of an electric keyboard, but still lacks the authenticity of an acoustic instrument.

They can be a great option if you have outgrown an electric keyboard but are not ready to commit to a large and more expensive acoustic instrument. Parents who want their kids to learn piano with a little more sincerity choose to invest in this.

Top brands: Yamaha, Casio, Kawai, Roland

Cost: Prices for a new digital piano range from approximately $300 for a full-sized digital piano without a stand to over $2000 for an instrument with stand and pedals.

Upright Pianos

This instrument’s most common and most accessible form is the upright piano, so-called because its strings stand vertically. (Open the lid of an upright piano and take a look inside at the incredibly complex workings of the instrument)

While these are bigger and generally more expensive than their electronic counterparts, upright pianos produce a richer, more authentic sound and a greater range of tone and volume. Unlike digital pianos, however, acoustic instruments require tuning which can be costly. Finding a suitable place in the home for the piano can also be a challenge. It is recommended to keep pianos against the outside walls of the house as the changes in temperature can affect the tuning.

People who don’t even want to learn piano, often buy an upright piano as it dresses up the living room and houses in a very elegant way.

There are countless different brands of upright pianos, each producing their own distinct sound. This is due to elements such as the tension in the strings and the surface and condition of the hammers. As a generalization, brands like Yamaha and Kawai will produce a sharp, bright sound, while pianos produced by companies such as Steinway & Sons and Bluthner will sound more mellow.

Top Brands: Steinway & Sons, Bosendorfer, Kawai, Stuart and Sons

Cost: A new upright piano begins at approximately $3000. It is possible to pay upwards of $20,000 for a new, top of the range instrument.

Grand Pianos

Watch any piano performance in a concert hall and the performer will no doubt be playing a grand piano. These are large, acoustic instruments that produce a rich and resonant sound.

While it is unlikely that a beginner student will seek out a grand piano as their first instrument, no guide to pianos would be complete without looking at the instruments at the very top of the range!

These instruments are of varying sizes, ranging from 4 feet (1.2m) to an enormous 8 feet (2.4m)! The bigger the piano, the longer the strings, and subsequently, the richer the sound.

Top brands: Steinway & Sons, Bosendorfer, Kawai, Fazioli

Cost: For the smallest grand piano, you can expect to pay around $13,000 with top quality concert grand pianos going for anything up to $170,000!

Shopping for an instrument

In today’s digital age, it is tempting to buy a piano or keyboard online. While simply clicking a button is undoubtedly the easiest option, it is highly recommended that you choose a piano by shopping in person.

Piano sales staff are generally highly trained musicians able to give you detailed advice and suggestions regarding each specific instrument. Particularly if you are new to playing the piano, such expert advice can be invaluable.

Shopping in person sometimes doesn’t work but no worries because here at The Musical Arts can provide the expert advice you need right at home. 

It is important to choose an instrument that is both comfortable and enjoyable for your own particular tastes.

Buying Used Pianos

Given the price of new pianos, it can be tempting to seek out a second-hand instrument. While this is definitely a viable option, it does come with a word of caution. Acoustic pianos, particularly those made by lower quality brands can depreciate quickly and may be prone to breakages and tuning problems. A great way to find a good quality, affordable, second-hand piano is to use a reputable piano restorer, who will be able to advise you on the qualities and challenges of each instrument.

Hand Position and Sitting Posture

Now you have chosen your piano, it’s important to spend a little time ensuring your posture and hand position are correct. 

Stool and keyboard placement

Ensure you are using a proper piano stool. The standard stool height is 19-20 inches (50 cm) and while it is possible to find stools with adjustable heights, keeping to the standard measurements is a good place to start.

If you are playing a keyboard rather than a piano, adjust your stance so the keys are approximately 28 inches (71cm) from the floor. This is the standard height of a piano.

Make sure the piano stool is squarely facing the keyboard.

Sitting position

When your keyboard and bench are at the correct height, take a seat facing the keys. Ensure your arms and shoulders are relaxed. Now bring your hands to the keyboard. Don’t worry about your hand shape-shape,  we’ll get to that shortly. 

Adjust your stool forwards or backward until you can comfortably reach the keys while keeping the elbows in front of the body. Many beginners find it tempting to sit close to the keys, but by sitting further back, you allow the arms more freedom and ease of movement. 

It’s also much easier to take in the whole keyboard from this distance, making it easier to jump to different octaves and hand positions. While this is not such a concern when beginning to play, remember, it’s much easier to get into good habits right from the beginning!

Ensure that your feet are flat on the floor. Your knees should be slightly under the keyboard and should not be touching any part of the piano. Never let the elbows touch the knees.

Lean forward a little as you play. Sit tall, while ensuring the back muscles are loose and relaxed.

Using the pedal

If you own a keyboard, you can purchase a sustain pedal that plugs into the back of the instrument. If using one of these, make sure it is placed directly beneath the keyboard in front of your right foot.

When pedaling, ensure that the heel is kept on the floor so it acts as a hinge. Move the pedal up and down with the same action as tapping your foot along to a piece of music.

Use the right foot to play the sustain pedal. In more advanced music, you will also use the left pedal to create bigger variations in volume. The same rules apply in terms of posture, just switch feet.

When not using the pedal, make sure the feet return to sitting flat on the floor.  

Hand Shape

Developing a correct hand shape is possibly the most important element when learning the piano.

As with the arms, it’s important to keep the muscles of your hands relaxed. Take a moment to shake out the hands, making sure there is no tension in your wrists or fingers.

Hand posture and position

Place your hands over your kneecaps. Let the fingers curve loosely around the knee. Notice their rounded shape. Now, lift the hands away from the knees and bring them to the keyboard, maintaining the same curve.

Use the tips of the fingers, not the finger pads, to push the keys. You should play with the side of the thumb, not the tip.

The Bubble Technique 

Another great way to find the correct hand shape— and a method that works particularly well with young children— is to hold the hands upwards with the palms flat. Now, imagine placing a bubble the size of an orange in each of the palms. What kind of shape would you need to make to ensure the bubble doesn’t float away? Remember to keep the hands soft, otherwise, the bubble will pop!

Wrists and forearms

Aim to maintain a straight line between the wrists and elbows. A great way to check this is to balance a ruler on the forearm. Can you move your fingers without it falling off?! Keep the elbows slightly away from the body.

Why is this important?

So, we have spoken in detail about getting the hand shape and posture right. But why is this so important?

Playing on the tips of the fingers allows much greater control compared to playing with the finger pads. You will be able to play with much more accurate dynamics (loud and soft) and a more controlled, musical tone. You will also have greater accuracy of notes!

If you have seen someone play a piano scale or played one yourself, you will know that piano playing involves a lot of crossing the fingers over and under each other. Try doing this with flat hands. Impossible, right?

Finally, playing in this shape allows the fingers to move much more quickly. 

Perfecting the hand shape and posture

Keeping a curved hand shape when playing the piano is not easy! Many beginners find their hands flattening, the moment they stop thinking about the curved position! Take a moment at the start of each piece to ensure your hands are beginning in the correct position. And the end of the piece, check back. Are your hands still rounded? Or have the fingers slipped into a flattened shape? If so, don’t worry. Just bring the hands back to the rounded shape. This trains the muscles in the hand to behave in a particular manner.

Take a moment to check whether your hands are still relaxed. Particularly while developing this position, it is easy to carry tension in the fingers and wrists. If you notice this happening, shake out the hands to relax them.

Like anything in life, playing with the correct hand shape and posture becomes easier with practice. Spend time developing these elements and before you know it, they will become natural.

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The Ultimate Guide to Piano Keyboard
piano keyboard

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