Top 5 Piano Tutorial Videos on YouTube

Before the Internet, the library was the best resource when researching schoolwork, and tutorial books provided step-by-step instruction for budding instrumentalists. Now, you’re far more likely to switch on your computer and search for piano lessons online. With YouTube rapidly becoming the go-to place for tutorials in just about anything you can think of, these five short videos will form a useful starting point for piano lessons online.

Piano Lessons for Beginners – Lesson I

As this YouTuber says, this is a fun video taking the absolute beginner through the basics of piano; the beauty of this video is the assumption that the budding player has never even sat at a piano before, and therefore has no prior knowledge, so it’s a very simple introduction to the instrument.

Two Hands Together Practice – Part I

One thing that many beginners find very difficult is coordinating right and left hand together, and there are surprisingly few piano lessons online that address this. The simple exercises shown in the video below will give you some help. Your dominant hand – whether you are right- or left-handed – will always be a little in front of the other, and it’s worth incorporating exercises early on that help to even this out.

Finger Exercises For Piano That Really Helped Me

This video has the benefit of a clearly-written chart behind the keyboard, which is particularly useful if you’re still learning the notes on the piano. These exercises are aimed at finger strength as well as dexterity, which are essential elements in helping you to improve.

Music Theory – Bass Clef (Understanding and Identifying Notes)

Not strictly a piano tutorial as such, but it’s not uncommon for bass clef knowledge to lag far behind note recognition in the treble clef, which can hold you back as a beginner. Unless you have sung in a choir as a bass, you’re likely to be scrambling for unfamiliar notes in combination with your less-able hand (if you’re right-handed).

Tutorial: Sightreading at the Piano

Although this piano tutorial is aimed at slightly more advanced players, the principles addressed are extremely useful for beginner players, too. It’s helpful to learn how a more advanced and experienced pianist approaches music, as these are skills that you should develop early on. It’s interesting to note that he doesn’t advise learning the two hands separately, which he equates to learning to speak with only vowels first and adding consonants later. This video really addresses the importance of making your hands work together!

However informative and high-quality these videos might be, keep in mind that they shouldn’t replace working with a piano teacher in an interactive, one-on-one setting. These videos can’t check your posture, or hear any mistakes you make that you might not notice. Nor will they be able to recommend further exercises that might help you, or which piano pieces to work on next! Unlike band instruments or being a choral singer, being a pianist can be a slightly isolating experience, and another function a good teacher can fulfill is to give you someone simply to “talk piano” with. Ready to get started? Find a piano teacher near you here!


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Dueling Piano Bars 101: Popular Songs for Piano to Request

Fun Piano Songs If you haven’t heard of dueling piano bars yet, you will soon! As audiences demand a renaissance of live entertainment on large stages, this has also trickled down to bar scenes; the result is a rise in not just karaoke clubs and open mic nights, but also jazz clubs, indie band clubs, and piano bars of every kind. The “dueling pianos” style of entertainment in particular (which traces back as far as the 1890s in the form of speed battles with ragtime piano songs) has experienced a recent resurgence in popularity in most American cities.

What started with Pat O’Brien’s Bar in the 1930s in New Orleans, dueling piano bars are typically characterized by having two grand or baby grand pianos placed opposite each other, and two talented musicians performing and accepting audience requests for songs. Most dueling piano songs are in the rock and roll, country, classic rock, and contemporary rock music genres. Generally, the performers are operating with the goal of encouraging audience participation, rather than directly battling one another like a more organized talent competition.

Former or hobbyist piano players might want to take note of this kind of show’s rise in popularity; if you enjoy performing live, covering popular music, and improvising, this is a great time to brush up with a few lessons and pick up a new gig!

Whether you’d rather go to a dueling piano bar to play or to party, it’s a good move to get familiar with the most popular songs for piano. Here are 36 song ideas to request:

All-Time Favorites

Some of the most requested popular songs for piano

  • “Joy to the World” – Three Dog Night

  • “Rocket Man” – Elton John

  • “Barracuda” – Heart

  • “Carry On, Wayward Son” – Kansas

  • “Rock and Roll All Nite” – KISS

  • “Piano Man” – Billy Joel

Push the Envelope

Well-loved, complex tunes, to challenge your favorite performers

  • “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – Charlie Daniels Band

  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

  • “Layla” – Eric Clapton

  • “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits

  • “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” – AC/DC

  • “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” – George Thorogood

Make it Modern

Contemporary pop tunes that the whole bar secretly wants to hear one more time

  • “That’s What You Get” – Paramore

  • “Firework” – Katy Perry

  • “Someone Like You” – Adele

  • “Crazy in Love” – Beyonce feat. Jay-Z

  • “Every Morning” – Sugar Ray

  • “The Way” – Fastball

Stage and Screen

Everyone loves hits from movies and musicals

  • “Singin’ in the Rain” – Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain)

  • “Stayin’ Alive” – the Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever)

  • “Hakuna Matata” – Nathan Lane and Co. (the Lion King)

  • “Summer Nights” – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (Grease)

  • “All That Jazz” – Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger (Chicago, film version)

  • “Footloose” – Kenny Loggins (Footloose)

Play That Funky Music

Take it back with jazz, funk, soul, and reggae

  • “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” – Wild Cherry

  • “Mack the Knife” – Louis Armstrong

  • “Superfreak” – Rick James

  • “Sophisticated Lady” – Duke Ellington

  • “Stand by Me” – Ben E. King

  • “No Woman, No Cry” – Bob Marley

Keepin’ it Classic

More rock and roll hits, to stay true to the traditions

  • “Old Time Rock & Roll” – Bob Seger

  • “Take it Easy” – the Eagles

  • “Sharp Dressed Man” – ZZ Top

  • “Born to Be Wild” – Steppenwolf

  • “Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor

  • “Great Balls of Fire” – Jerry Lee Lewis

Spending an evening at a dueling piano bar is a great way to get some sing-along therapy, make some new friends, and discover new music! Try searching the web or your music library for these recommendations to get more confident singing along with the crowd’s favorite hits. We hope you have a great time requesting these popular songs for piano the next time you go out!


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The Do’s and Don’ts of Piano Care | How to Clean a Piano


Not sure how to clean your piano? Check out these tips from Olympia, WA teacher Tali H


Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “A clean room gives way to a clear mind.” Although I’m not so sure this logic follows for the piano (“a clean piano gives ways to clear playing”), it’s still important to keep your playing area relatively clutter-free and your piano tidy. While caring for the piano is simple, there are a few things to watch out for and some easy steps you can take to make the maintenance minimal. Here are the do’s and don’ts of how to clean a piano:

1. The Do’s

There are two extremely easy ways to keep your piano clean. One, wash your hands before playing every time (just a good 30-second rub down with soap). Most of the dirt that gets on your piano comes from the fingers and hands of people who play it, so taking this preventative step is very important. Then, when you’re done playing, pull the piano lid down over the keys so they’re not exposed to dust, sunlight, or the occasional mishap with spilled drinks, food, etc.

Even with careful preventative care, it’s likely that grease, dirt, and dust will still build up on your piano from time to time. Remove the dust often (a quick once-over before you start playing) with a feather duster or a soft, slightly damp cloth (such as flannel or cheesecloth). I recommend white to avoid discoloration of the keys and using filtered water on the cloth. However, don’t get carried away with cleaning. Only wipe the outside of the piano – leave the inside (which can be more fragile) to the professionals.

2. The Don’ts

When dusting your piano, don’t use a rough or dry cloth (you want to avoid scratching the keys). No paper towels! Also, avoid using mineral water or any type of spray, perfume, polish or aerosol. These have the potential to alter the coloration of the piano or create unfavorable marks.

Avoid getting water in between the keys by wiping up and down one key at a time, rather than across the keys where water can seep into the cracks. Also, have a dry cloth on hand to quickly pat down the wet keys.

3. Whitening the Keys

After your piano is free of dust and dirt, there may still be discoloration. In this case, you’ll want to whiten the keys. The first step is determining what the piano keys are made of (generally plastic, ebony, or ivory). Ivory keys will have a fine split on each key, as they are molded together. Ebony keys have a matte texture and tend to feel more solid. For ivory keys, use milk and gently rub each key, taking caution that the milk doesn’t get inside the piano. This process can be time-consuming. For ebony keys, take a gentle toothpaste, and lightly polish the keys. Next, take a cloth dampened with milk and wash away the toothpaste residue. Pat dry immediately.

Remember the best action for a clean piano is preventative action. So wash your hands before you play and keep the keys hidden under the cover! Also, it helps to have your piano in a cool, dark place. Sun exposure leads to discoloration on the keys. These are some of the best strategies for how to clean a piano and will ensure years of quality music-making!

TaliHTali H. tutors and teaches piano in Olympia, WA, as well as through online lessons. Since 2010, she has worked with numerous students in elementary, middle, high school, and college in both group settings and one-on-one. Learn more about Tali here! 



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10 Most Popular Piano Pieces to Play


When you’re learning how to play the piano, which songs are the go-to, must-learn pieces to add to your repertoire? Here, take a look at ten of the most popular piano pieces to play, as compiled by Brooklyn teacher Jennifer K


Most people begin to play the piano because of a song they have heard, that they want to play. Piano is the most popular instrument to study because it has the largest range and is one of the most accessible instruments. Many simply love the sound and movement of this beautiful instrument. So many of these beloved piano pieces are in our consciousness because they are also included in our popular culture, such as in cartoons, commercials, and our favorite movies.

Here is a list I have compiled of the top ten piano pieces worth adding to your repertoire:

10 – Moonlight Sonata – The opening theme of this piano sonata is a lovely, sad melody that is dramatic and emotional. Moonlight Sonata was actually written without a title. Beethoven’s publisher attached this programmatic title for marketing purposes! Talk about great advertising!

9 – Old MacDonald – From American folk music, this is a great piece to learn when you are just starting out because it is instantly recognizable. It’s great for sing-alongs as well.

8 – Clair de Lune – Ah, the French. Romance, rich food, and beautiful music. They are so good at it! Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” is one of the most popular piano pieces to play, evoking themes of peaceful reflection and natural settings. It will take some focused practice to get these chords right, but pianists are rewarded for their labor when they perform this piece. It is a joy to play and a pleasure to listen to. Take this song anywhere and you will have a captive audience.

7 – Row, Row, Row Your Boat – This piece is awesome to play because most arrangements have the hands cross while playing, so the beginning pianist can look like a pro! Also, this can be played with a partner in a round or “canon.”

6 – Prelude 1 in C Major – J. S. Bach was the master. I like to think of Bach as the power breakfast of a training musician. He is chock-full of musical nutrients. The preludes and fugues are a must for any pianist wanting to learn proper technique and knowledge of all keys. This prelude introduces a repetitive figure with a beautiful resultant melody. I love the way the notes only change one or two at a time. Playing Bach in the morning is like going for a morning jog to get the metabolism going!

5 – Yankee Doodle – A great American folksong, “Yankee Doodle” is a fabulous beginner piece because it incorporates a more complex melody, but is still easy to learn because we already know the tune. This is one of the first pieces you can learn with two hands, and the folk rhythm also serves as a great timing exercise.

4 – Fur Elise – This is an instantly recognizable Beethoven composition that is beautiful and has your hands flowing all over the piano. This piece will take a little time for beginners to learn, but it is worth the practice! Little known fact: “Fur Elise” is the piece that inspired Alicia Keys’ piano intro to her first hit single, “Fallin’”.

3 – Minuet in G – Now we’re into some truly great classical music. This Bach minuet introduces an open hand position and opportunities to practice both legato (smoothly connected) and staccato (detached) notes. This piece is also a great way to experiment with a different dynamics on the piano.

2 – Ode to Joy – Beethoven’s third appearance on this list. Beethoven and Mozart are so popular here because they built upon simple melodies. They wrote the kind of music that gets stuck in our heads!

1 – Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star – Everyone knows and loves pieces like this, because they are part of our common culture, and will link a sense a familiarity to a new instrument. It is also great tool for teachers as it provides students an instant bond to their instrument.
Mozart wrote variations on this theme, which is from a French lullaby. Beginner students can play this song after just a few lessons at the piano.

Little known fact: Did you know that “Twinkle, Twinkle” is the same as the “ABC” song? Don’t believe me? Have a friend sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” while you sing the alphabet song. Yes, this is a tune from hundreds of years ago, embedded into our brains from infanthood. So every toddler who can sing his or her ABCs is sort of a Little Mozart!

JennKennedyJennifer K. teaches piano, guitar, songwriting, and tutors in various subjects in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Masters in Music from Purchase College. Learn more about Jennifer here! 



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Learn How to Play Piano: How Often Should I Practice?

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“I’d love to learn how to play piano, but I just don’t have the time.” Does that sound familiar? If you say you’re too busy to learn, think again! Check out this advice from Hyde Park, MA teacher Marie-france M

Many people are under the impression that there is no point in learning how to play piano unless you are able to practice a minimum of one hour a day – but nothing could be further from the truth. When you learn how to play piano, even at a rudimentary level, it’s a multi-faceted undertaking best accomplished in small steps. I have watched a great many people grow into fine musicians simply by making a commitment to practice a total of 25 minutes a week, dividing that 25 minutes into five, five-minute practice session. So, what can you do with that five-minute session?

Here is a typical five-point, five-minute beginner level practice list:

  • Finger Clenches

Finger clenches can be performed either as “Tennis Singles” (squeeze a tennis ball five times with each hand) or “Double Dutch” (partner with someone facing you with outstretched arms and clenched hands, and squeeze their clenched fists five times, both hands simultaneously).

  • Two-Hands, Five-Finger Exercises (CDEFG)

Play the first five degrees of the C Scale in ascending order, using the following fingering:

Right hand is thumb (1) on C, index finger (2) on D, middle finger (3) on E, ring finger (4) on F, and Pinky (5) on G.
Left hand fingering is the reverse 5 Pinky, 4 Ring, 3 Middle, 2 index, and 1 thumb.

Master each hand separately, then put both hands together. When that is mastered, increase your speed.

  • C Scale, Right Hand

Play the C scale with your right hand only Ascending use this fingering: 123,12345. Make sure your tone is even.

  • C Scale Chords

Play the C scale chords in ascending order, speaking their names as you do so: C chord, D minor, E minor, F Chord, G Chord, A Minor, B Diminished, and C chord.

  • Michael Aaron Red Book Page 7, measures 1-4

For my students, I recommend this Michael Aaron Primer/Performance Book. The song is “Shoo Fly!” in 4/4 time, and it is a work in rhythm utilizing quarter and half notes in both treble and bass clef. The hands alternate in playing the melody and the lyrics are provided for singing along.

In these five minutes you’ll work on strengthening and stretching your hand muscles , fingering techniques, speed, dexterity, harmony, ear- training, sight reading, and more. And because the session only lasts five minutes, you will be ready, willing, and able to come back for a repeat session tomorrow.

Repetition is key for developing the fine motor control required for our five fingers to land on exactly the right notes at exactly the right time. The best way to ensure your success is to return to the keyboard and mindfully practice the same thing over and over again. And the easiest way to do that is to think of your practice in five-minute increments.

What if I want to keep practicing past the five-minute mark?

With the understanding that five-minute practice sessions require full concentration, when you feel ready, try increasing your practice time by additional five-minute intervals. Some students are fully capable of concentrated practice of an hour or more, but it is a thing best worked up to, like running a 10K.

While practice makes (almost) perfect, it is during free time at the keyboard where the magic happens, where the true musicians and composers emerge. To do this, make sure to balance your practice time with copious amounts of free time to explore your musical inclinations. Have fun!

Marie-franceMarie-france M. teaches piano, singing, acting, and songwriting in Hyde Park, MA. She draws on a wide range of materials in The Holistic Piano (and voice) method, which is especially effective with Autism-spectrum students. Learn more about Marie-france here!


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Piano Guitar

5 Contemporary Songs for the Piano, Guitar, and Voice

Practicing any song on the piano can be fun at first, but after a while playing the same songs by yourself can be a bit boring. Why not find some songs for the piano, guitar, and voice? You can perform for others in a talent show or an open mic night, or just for yourselves and have a good jam session!

With any of the songs for the piano, guitar, and voice, your music teacher can help you with some pointers, and might even be able to teach you the chords by listening to the song. Be sure to ask your instructor before setting out to practice one of these songs by yourself, because there might be certain techniques that he or she wants you to focus on within the song. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

OneRepublic – “If I Lose Myself”

While this acoustic cover of OneRepublic’s song also features a violin part, you can easily do without it and still get the same feel. This might not be one of the newest songs for piano and guitar, but it’s still out on the radio now and then and you’ll have no problem getting into the groove of it.

Decide which parts each instrument will take, as the song has a few different riffs that happen simultaneously. The guitar player should be able to pick a fairly fast rate, as the riffs can get going pretty fast!

Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball”

If your singer really likes to croon, this is the perfect song to try! With a melody that is fairly slow and methodical, you won’t have to worry about things picking up speed and getting left behind.

Both the piano player and guitar player should be prepared for powerful chords throughout the chorus, and lighter playing during the verse. You can mix it up and make this one of your own songs for the piano and guitar if you’d like though, by making a few simple changes here and there.

The YouTube video above does not feature any vocals, but that just means that the melody is picked up by the piano and guitar. In the long run, having someone sing along with the piano and guitar parts can make things easier, as they can concentrate on the harmony and rhythm of their own playing, and the singer can carry the melody!

Coldplay – “A Sky Full Of Stars”

The YouTube video for this song again has no vocal part, so the melody is covered by the piano and guitar. Both this Coldplay song and the Miley Cyrus song can be much easier songs for the piano and guitar if the vocal melody is actually sung instead of played!

The guitar part for this song is mostly chords above the 12th fret, so be sure you’ve got those polished up! The piano part has many staccato chords scattered throughout the song. The vocal part is picked up by the piano, so the right hand octaves the melody.

Adele – “Skyfall”

If you haven’t seen the latest Bond movie, the opening credits alone are definitely worth watching. Adele lends her signature sound to the James Bond saga, and definitely does it justice! If you’re looking for songs for the piano and guitar with soaring vocals, look no further than this tune.

This is another song that’s a little bit more contemplative and dramatic than just upbeat and fast-paced. While it might be easier to learn, be careful, as the slower pace of the song leaves more space between notes. And it’s easier to notice your mistakes with this pace, if you happen to make any!

The vocal part is played by the guitar in this particular cover (above), but doubling the vocals and guitar is a great way to add some depth if your guitar player also sings (otherwise any late or early notes on the guitar would sound well out of place). You could also make this song a duet for piano and either guitar or voice, if you’d like.

Maroon 5 – “Payphone”

This final song is a great closing number. It can really rock, and most people know the words, so it’s good for a crowd sing-along at the end of a set. In the video, the piano plays chords and doubles the vocal melody, and the guitar doubles the chords played on the piano.

While this isn’t one of the most complicated songs for the piano, guitar, and voice, it is a crowd favorite. If you’re playing an open mic or talent show, sometimes that’s the best way to leave things, with a familiar tune that everyone can enjoy and hum or sing to even after the show is over!


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6 Beautiful Songs for Piano and Voice

Sometimes, it’s good to take your singing practice back to the basics, and just sing with a small ensemble. Most satisfying of all is working only with a good pianist – the level of detail just you and one other musician can achieve when working on material for piano and voice is very valuable to your development as a singer, no matter what stage you’re at.

If you’re stuck for ideas of what to work on, the following six songs – one religious, two modern pop classics, one German-language lied, one jazz standard, and one music theater number – may give you some ideas. They won’t all be suitable for your voice type, nor will they all be suitable for your current level of ability, but these six songs for piano and voice can give you an idea of which composers or artists to start your search with.

Schubert – “Ave Maria”

Perhaps the most beautiful and appropriate setting of the Latin text for this combination, “Ave Maria” is the perfect addition to any singer’s repertoire of songs for piano and voice. Suitable for singers at an intermediate level and up, it demands great purity of line, good breath control, and a moderate level of vocal flexibility. When working on this song, concentrate on evenness of tone, and experiment with dynamic contrast.

Adele – “Someone Like You”

British sensation Adele supplies a variety of modern classics for the female singer. This breakthrough hit requires considerable vocal control, however, and a solid technique. Make sure that you aren’t changing the shape or sound of the vowel as you change pitch on it, and practice exercises of arpeggios through the fifth on “ah” and “ooh” vowels before you sing this song to help you master this.

The Fray – “How to Save a Life”

Lyrics-driven pop songs for piano and voice are an excellent addition to your vocal repertoire, as they make you pay close attention to text, and how to color it. For this song in particular, the vocal line itself isn’t that difficult, and a beginner to intermediate singer should be able to master it quite quickly. However, bland and colorless words can be a problem for a beginner singer, so rather than preparing for this song with vocal exercises, practice speaking the text aloud, and pay special attention to your diction.

Schubert – “An die Musik”

We make no apologies for including a second Schubert song in this list of songs for piano and voice; the undisputed king of song repertoire, Schubert’s beautiful “An die Musik” is an ideal first foreign-language song for a beginner singer, as it covers many of the singing basics that you will cover in your first few lessons, including sustaining a lyric line, mastering vocal leaps, and managing dynamic contrasts.

George Gershwin – “The Man I Love”

Gershwin’s great jazz and big band standard is the ideal starting point for a female singer at an intermediate stage of vocal development to learn how to develop flexibility within a rhythmic pulse, and how to improvise around an existing written vocal line. Classical singers have been experimenting with similar vocal embellishments – called cadenzas – for hundreds of years, and it’s a great way to add some excitement to your singing.

Lerner & Loewe – “On the Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady)

Sung by the hapless Freddy Eynsford-Hill, this is a perfect addition to the music theater and concert repertoire of a young male singer. Ideal for learning purity of vowels, it will also help for work with high notes and working toward a big climax at the end of the song. Aim for breathless, enthusiastic innocence and don’t be afraid to use your full voice.

For every song you discover by a composer that you like, try to find at least one more, as this is an excellent way to build repertoire and to explore music that you might not already know. Finally, although exploring repertoire can be fun on your own, make sure that you’re also working with a good teacher, who can help you find songs that are appropriate for your specific development and abilities. Have fun!


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Top 4 Piano Models for Beginners | Piano Cost & Reviews

There’s no way around it – pianos are among one of the most expensive instruments. Not only is there an initial investment, they also require regular maintenance. But if you or your child have your heart set on learning piano, there’s no need to spend beyond your means on an expensive or fancy model. The following four models are great for beginners:

Kawai K2


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This piano was designed with the beginner in mind. It is relatively short and does not include a lot of additional features. It has three pedals, and a sturdy shell, and comes at a cost of around $3,500.

The benefits of this piano are that it is made for a beginner, but it still includes everything you need to get started. The downside to this piano is that it is still relatively expensive; if you’re on a budget, consider getting a used model to begin with to cut down the piano cost.

Steinway & Sons Essex


This recommendation actually covers several different models of upright pianos by Steinway & Sons, which are all great choices for a beginner piano. You can browse through several different shells (polished ebony, mahogany, and several others). It includes the same features as other beginner pianos, with the look and feel for more advanced players. A new Essex generally costs between $4,000 and $6,000.

The benefits of this piano are that it will last longer than most beginner pianos. You can select a look and style that fits your home and it will provide a beautiful sound.

Yamaha U1


This is actually a preferred piano of more experienced pianists, so it is the costliest piano on this list. The price ranges from roughly $3,400 for a used model in great condition to over $8,000 for a new model.

Although it’s costly, think about the benefits: if you’re serious about your studies, this is a high-quality model that will provide you with years of playing and enjoyment!

Yamaha P105

Yamaha P105

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Not ready to commit to a full piano? A keyboard is a perfectly fine alternative for most beginner pianists – especially if you’re concerned about the piano cost. This model in particular is a great keyboard for a beginner on a tight budget. It has 88 keys and an easy user interface to get used to the keyboard, for around $600.

The benefit of a digital piano is that it’s typically less expense that a regular piano. However, they do not have the same feel or sound as an acoustic.

Regardless of which piano brand or model you get, make sure you always try out the instrument first. Make a day of it and go around to different music stores to try out a variety of types. If you’re new to learning piano, cost can certainly be an important factor – and it’s a big investment, so you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the purchase. Need extra help? Your piano teacher can also provide recommendations, or may even know of another student selling a used model.

Good luck, and happy playing!

Readers, what are your thoughts on these models? Do you have any other recommendations for beginners? Let us know in the comments! 


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How to Make Composing Fun for Singers and Pianists

compose a song for piano

Want to learn how to compose a song, but not sure where to start? Here, Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her strategy for teaching the process and making it fun at the same time! Read on to learn more…


Teaching my voice and piano students how to compose a song is a huge part of my curriculum. It is multi-functional, in that it works to hone students’ sightsinging, musicianship, creativity, and theory knowledge in practice. And with most students out of school for the summer, it’s a great time to do something out-of-the-box, like composing!

One of the easiest ways to get even the youngest students to write and then sightread their own music is a simple game. First, on a sheet of staff paper, I draw a five-note scale in a tessitura where the singer’s comfortable. If the student is a pianist, I’ll choose a position where they’re comfortable. I prefer the simplicity of C major for beginners, but I might use an entire scale for more advanced students. Below it or beside it, I draw a series of notes. For instance, for my six-year-old voice student, Ella, I drew a quarter note, then a half note, then a dotted half, then a whole note. Depending on the student’s theory level, I sometimes write the number of beats beside each kind of note.

Now, the fun begins. I’ll ask the student to choose a note from the scale that’s been custom tailored, so to speak, just for his theory level. Then I’ll ask him to choose what kind of note we’ll use. So my voice student, Ella, asks, “May I please have an F and a half note?” I write a half note on F. Ella then asks, “May I please have a G and a dotted half note?” I reply, “No, Ella. It’s in 4/4 time. Only four beats fit into this measure. With a dotted half added to a half, that’d be five beats. That’s too many.” “Okay,” Ella says, “I’ll take a quarter note on C and a quarter note on D.”

Many of the best piano curriculum books feature a few exercises in which you must write a few measures of melody, but this game extends it and makes it accessible either for voice students who don’t have those books or for piano students who may not be quite ready for the exercise of simply coming up with something. Eventually, of course, you will slowly grow to take charge of this game and be able to compose a song more freely and independently. As that time comes along, I’ll begin to allow more freedom with only some constraints.

For instance, if you’re an intermediate student, I would ask you to write your own eight measure piece, but I’ll give you the time signature, the key signature, and perhaps the left hand chord progression. Making it even more fun could mean writing some lyrics first and trying to write the melody to match.

When I was growing up, it was always the running joke that singers were the dumbest of the musicians when it comes to theory and composition. Often, pianists weren’t regarded much more highly. But perhaps, that’s because they were never given the encouragement needed even to try.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star, Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!


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Learning the Piano: 5 Ways to Bring Out the Melody in Songs


How do you make your melodies shine when you’re learning the piano? Read on as Powell, OH teacher Sara Marie B. shares some exercises to try…


As you’re learning the piano, one of the most difficult things to do, especially for young children or beginning pianists, is to bring out the melody. Simply saying it does not help, so I’ve found I need to provide students with ways to practice this at home, guiding them toward the correct sound. If you’re listening well and spending time focusing on hearing the repertoire performed correctly, you will be more successful more quickly.

Here are five ways to practice bringing out the melody:

1) Crossing your hands. Cross your right hand over your left, or your left over your right, and make sure you can hear the hand that has the melody. By scrambling what your eyes see as the upper hand, you’re able to allow your ear and body to do the work.

2) Stop and prepare. When the sections come in the piece where you have to switch to a different melody, such as the melody changing from right hand to left, stop and prepare. What this means is to literally stop (while you’re practicing of course, not during performance), think, prepare yourself, and then move on. Teachers can mark this in the music. After stopping and preparing for some time, the change will happen on auto-pilot.

3) Elephant vs. mouse. Children especially love this one, using an elephant to provide imagery. I personally have stuffed animals on the piano, and the elephant comes out to play when a hand is supposed to be the melody and moves to that side of the piano. I have a small little frog for the hand that is supposed to be the accompaniment. This imagery works well with children, especially if you have stopped and prepared (see #2).

4) Ghosting. This is probably my favorite idea, and seems to work the best. There are three parts to this, though. First, play the section with the melody only (assuming the melody is in the right hand, play only the right hand). Once or twice should be fine. Next, “ghost” the left hand, or non-melody hand, by lightly touching – but not sounding or pressing down – the keys of the notes from that section. Repeat this a few times. Finally, go one small step past ghosting and actually make the keys sound. You will find that 9 times out of 10, the result is a perfect balance between right hand melody and left hand accompaniment.

5) Teacher plays left hand accompaniment. Sometimes, all it takes is to hear it correctly. It’s not enough to have your teacher play both hands. When you’re playing the melody (again, assuming it’s right hand) and your teacher plays the accompaniment, you’ll be able to feel the right hand movement while also hearing and seeing what the left hand should be like. The demonstration, followed by a dutiful imitation, will help you understand what the balance in sound should be.

How long you play each of these is not relevant. Your teacher should assign a certain number of repetitions for each, and also do one or two of these with you during the lesson. These ideas do work – I’ve seen them produce fabulous results in my own studio! And now, every student can have a beautiful, singing melody.

SaraSara Marie B. teaches piano, singing, songwriting, music theory, and more in Powell, OH, as well as online. She has been teaching music lessons since 1992, and has been involved in music and performance since 1983. Learn more about Sara Marie here!



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