How to Read Piano Sheet Music

How to Read Sheet Music in 5 Easy Steps

How to Read Piano Sheet Music

Learning how to read sheet music unlocks a world of expression and freedom on the piano. Although it takes practice to become proficient at sight reading, it is one of the most valuable skills to have as a musician. Even if your main instrument is not the piano, learning the basics of how to read music notes can be easier when you know your way around a keyboard.

Studying the piano and learning how to read sheet music go hand-in-hand. Memorizing the notes on the piano is the first step for beginners who want to tackle a piece of music and expand their playing skills. To develop your skills in the most efficient way possible, you must start learning how to read sheet music right off the bat. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll be reading piano notes in no time!

How to Read Piano Sheet Music for Beginners

Before we dive into the basics of how to read sheet music, you’ll want to make sure you have all the supplies you need. This means some blank grand staff paper, an erasable pencil (stay away from pens!), and a keyboard instrument of some kind. You don’t need a Steinway to get started — a small keyboard will do fine for learning the basics of music reading. You will, however, want at least 66 keys to play complete pieces of music. 

Step 1: Label white spaces with FACE and EGBDF for the treble clef

If you want to learn how to read sheet music you should start by looking at the treble clef first. This is the staff that shows which notes to play with your right hand. If you are learning for the first time, you must familiarize yourself with the letter names of the lines and spaces. On your staff paper, label the white spaces with FACE starting with the first space at the bottom of the page and going up, then the lines EGBDF starting at the bottom line going to the top line. There are little tricks to help you remember the names of the lines and spaces – for example, just remember the phrase “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.” Work on memorizing this a little bit each day.

Treble clef

Step 2: Write the note letter names

Now take a piece of music you want to learn, and underneath the music notes of the right hand in the treble clef, write the letter names (remember: use a pencil, that way you can erase it later!). This isn’t a great habit to get into in the long run, but it’s fine for just starting out. If there is one note you’re having a hard time remembering specifically, just write that one note letter name. Keep in mind, you’re only focusing on the white notes on a piano for now. Don’t worry about the black keys (your sharps and flats) just yet.

Step 3: Memorize letter names, and move onto bass clef

After you’ve memorized all of the letter names on the lines and spaces for your right hand (the treble clef), you can move on to reading piano notes on the bass clef, where the notes on the lines and spaces will be played with your left hand.

Step 4: Name your spaces ACEGB and GBDFA

Practice drawing the bass clef, which will start on the F line. Then with the spaces at the bottom of the page, name your spaces ACEGB (remember “All Cows Eat Grass,” and don’t forget to add your B at the top!). Next, name your lines starting at the bottom of the page GBDFA (“Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always”). Memorize these notations as well. Now transfer these letter names of the lines and spaces to your piano song from step #2, and name all the notes with your left hand in the bass clef.

Bass Clef

Step 5: Find a hand diagram and label each finger 1-5

There is another method with numbers that may be easier for you to read. Find a diagram of your hands and looking at the right hand starting with your thumb, label each finger with 1-5. Do the same with your left hand. There are many easy piano songs to begin with, such as “Three Blind Mice”, “Hot Cross Buns”, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and “Jingle Bells” that only use notes C-G, or numbers 1-5. Starting on middle C of the piano, put both thumbs on the note, and align both your hands so that your right pinky ends on 5 (G) and your left pinky lands on 5 (F). You can write in the numbers next to letter names, if that helps you more. Remember to begin with only the white notes on a piano.

finger placement piano

Now, as you read through your song, play and sing the letter or numbers while playing, which will help you memorize the names of numbers of the notes on a piano. Once you’ve practiced this for a while, try erasing the letter names and testing yourself to see if you still remember the playing pattern and tune of the song.

With these steps, learning how to read music notes will start to become natural to you. For each piece you learn, write in the letter names or fingers, and then erase them when you get comfortable enough. Pretty soon you won’t even need to write them in!

A Different Way to Learn How to Read Sheet Music: The Mental Flip Strategy

One of the most difficult things about learning how to read sheet music for the piano, as opposed to most other instruments, is that there is not just a single melody to be played. Piano music requires you to play more than one part at a time. Usually these parts are interconnected – they are part of a chord that you need to be able to accurately read.

Although the concept of reading multiple lines of music may seem overwhelming at first, in time, you’ll find that this is what makes the piano such a powerful instrument. A pianist can carry the bassline, chords, and melody all at once, eliminating the need for accompaniment and providing orchestra-like backing for solo instruments. Many beginners prefer to use a technique called the mental flip strategy to get more comfortable with reading and memorizing the notes. Before we dive into how to use that strategy, let’s take a step back and see why sheet music is written the way it is.

A Little History Behind Reading Music Notes

Sheet music is read from left to right. The reasoning behind this is that music began as an exercise most focused on the progression of notes in a scale or mode in a horizontal fashion. When more than one voice was sounded together, they usually sang in unison it was not till the 9th century that musicians became increasingly concerned with vertical harmony and polyphony.

Keyboard instruments, such as the organ, the harpsichord, and ultimately the piano, were instruments developed to satisfy this changing aesthetic and the increased importance of vertical harmonies. They were adapted into a notation that had been developed to address primarily horizontal concerns (i.e. what note comes next). This is not to say that sheet music cannot be read for the piano, but rather the beginner student of piano must learn to think about the music on the page differently from the words on a page.

The Mental Flip Strategy: Reading Piano Notes for Beginners

You must flip the orientation of the sheet music in front of you mentally, so you can read the vertical orientation of the notes.

In order to begin to think about and practice this mental flip, there is an extremely helpful strategy you can use. You can actually turn the sheet music so you are reading the notes down the page. Doing so allows you to more easily understand the spacing between the notes and more intuitively grasp where your fingers should be placed on the keys. This technique is also incredibly helpful for visualizing the grand staff as a whole and where the octaves on the keyboard are located.

In order to properly perform this strategy and learn how to read sheet music for piano, follow these three simple steps:

  1. Take your original sheet music and flip it clockwise. The line of music you’re working on playing should be read down the page, from top to bottom, instead of across.

  2. Begin to identify chord units and think about each measure in terms of chordal units. Most bars or measures of beginning piano music contain one or two chords. Sometimes these chords are arpeggiated, other times there is an alternation pattern of notes in the treble and bass in quick succession. Your success with this technique depends on your ability to identify which chord is being outlined. To do this, name the notes. In beginning sheet music you’ll most likely see either major or minor triads.

  3. Match the notes on the page to your fingers on the keyboard. Notice how, with the sheet music turned, the sheet music is actually a diagram of the intervals between each note and how this realization helps you visualize where to place your fingers.

Here’s how it looks on your sheet music:

Mental flip strategy for learning to read sheet music for piano

With music, there are many different strategies that can help you move quickly to a better understanding. Everyone approaches music differently. Some beginners intuitively grasp complex concepts, others need a little help along the way. Some may even find this strategy more confusing than the standard approach.

Whether this technique is right for you depends largely on whether or not it yields a type of “aha” moment, where you can better visualize the spacing of your fingers and their placement on the keys. The important thing is to find out which learning technique works for you and then use these tools to reach your musical goals.

The best way to learn how to read music notes is with piano lessons. A professional piano teacher can walk you through these steps and ensure that you’re building your skills on a solid foundation of music theory. With each lesson, your knowledge of the piano will grow and your music reading skills will develop. Lesson plans that are catered to your learning style and current skill level will help you stay motivated for the long term. Once you have a handle on reading music, the playing possibilities are endless!

Do you have a favorite technique for learning how to read sheet music? Let us know in the comments below!


LizTPost Author: Liz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local or online lessons. Sign up for affordable private lessons!

Photo by Basheer Tome

[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”74612″]

What Piano Pedals Do + How to Use Them to Sound Like a Pro

What do the pedals on a piano do

Piano pedals are levers which alter the sound of the piano in a variety of different ways. The three types of pedals most pianos have are, from right to left: a sustain pedal, a sostenuto pedal, and a soft pedal.

Note: Some digital keyboards may only have one – the sustain pedal – which you can plug into the keyboard.

As you get more comfortable at the piano, you may start to wonder about these three pedals at the bottom. What do the pedals on a piano do? You’ll find the answers in this complete guide. We’ll go over each pedal’s effects, how to use them correctly, and how to recognize them in your sheet music.

What do the Pedals on a Piano do? 

The Sustain Pedal

piano pedals

The most commonly used out of all the piano pedals is the sustain (or damper) pedal. This pedal is the farthest right, and the right foot depresses it. The sustain pedals allows pianists to extend the sound of a note far longer than they could by simply pressing the key.

This allows pianists to hold notes for as long as indicated in the music, or as long as they feel appropriate. Some notes will have a fermata marking, which means to hold the note past the amount of time its value indicates.

One common usage for the sustain pedal is to hold long chords that are serving as an accompaniment to the melody. The other use of this pedal is to play with a “legato articulation.” This means connecting smoothly one note to the next, without any break in between the sounds.

One of its names is the “damper” pedal because it works by lifting the dampers off the strings so that the strings keep vibrating. What typically happens when a key is released from being pushed down is that the felt of the dampers stop the movement of the string.

For this reason, the sustain pedal provides an added richness to the sound through sympathetic vibration. In other words, the other strings (not in use) also vibrate along with the ones that are in use.

The Sustain Pedal in Sheet Music

Some music notates the exact places where you should depress and release the sustain pedal. It can also be up to you to decide when and how to use it, so its use won’t always be notated in your music.

The most common notation you’ll see is a symbol underneath the grand staff of the music. The symbol shows when to depress it (whether multiple times, or a single time), and when to release it.

Below is an example of what a pedaling symbol could look like. 

what do the pedals on a piano do (2)

In this example, the initial line indicates the start of the pedaling. The carrot in the middle indicates a quick release and re-depression of the pedal, and the final line indicates a complete release of the pedal.

Keep in mind that this symbol can be much longer in sheet music. It can even be just a single line if there is just one depression and release of the pedal. Here is another example-

piano pedals

Another way of notating the pedal in sheet music is by use of the word “Ped.” This indicates the beginning of a pedaling. A following asterisk (*) indicates the release of the pedal.

One more general way of marking pedaling is to indicate it at the beginning of the music, or section of music, with the indication “senza sordini.” This translates to “without dampers.”

How to Use the Sustain Pedal

When pedaling, it’s important to remember that the foot operates like a lever. Your heel is on the ground and the ball of your foot is depressing the pedal.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always leave your foot resting in contact with the pedal. This way, you can easily depress the sustain pedal when needed.

When you’re resting on the pedal, you can even keep it slightly depressed already to make your pedaling more efficient. You’ll notice that doing this doesn’t cause the pedal to engage yet.

When using the pedal, you’ll want to depress it slightly before you play a note, or right as you play a note. You’ll also usually want to change the pedal right after playing a note.

This level of coordination can be complex and it requires practice. Don’t be discouraged if you find it challenging to incorporate pedaling into your playing at first!

The Sostenuto Pedal        

The middle pedal is usually a sostenuto pedal. Out of the three piano pedals, pianists use this one the least often. The sostenuto pedal offers an exciting variation on the sustain pedal.

Instead of holding down every note struck, the sostenuto pedal allows you to hold down some but not others. This is often used to sustain long bass notes while allowing for melodic and harmonic lines to continue moving.

How to Use the Sostenuto Pedal

In your sheet music, you’ll see sostenuto pedaling indicated just like normal pedaling, except with the addition of the abbreviation “Sost.” To use this pedal, first strike and hold down the notes you wish to sustain while depressing the sostenuto pedal.

Once you’ve done so, you can release the keys you depressed, but they will still be sustained. You can play any additional notes you wish, but they won’t be sustained since they were depressed after you engaged the sostenuto pedal.

It’s also possible to use the sustain pedal as you would normally while using the sostenuto pedal simultaneously. The short video below shows the difference inside the piano between the sustain pedal and the sostenuto pedal.

Other Middle Pedal Variations

Today, most grand pianos are equipped with the sostenuto pedal, while upright pianos have a practice mute pedal instead of the sostenuto pedal in the middle. 

The practice mute pedal is quite straightforward: it quiets the sound of the whole piano by inserting a layer of felt between the hammers and the strings, so the sound is still created but not as loudly. This pedal is depressed with the left foot.

On a practical note, this is useful if you want to practice but need to reduce the volume level for others around. Another useful feature of this pedal is that you can usually lock it to the left so you don’t have to hold it down during your entire practice session.

You’ll likely never see a notation for the practice mute pedal in your sheet music since it’s only used for practice.

The middle pedal isn’t used frequently and it has different possibilities depending on the type of piano. Because of this, the pedal’s usage and purpose is often misunderstood.

While the practice mute pedal and the sostenuto pedal are the two most common middle pedals, it’s also possible that the middle pedal could be a sustain pedal for only the bass notes. This is a “bass damper.”

Additionally, it could be a “silent pedal.” A silent pedal blocks the hammers from striking the strings, allowing you to hear the sound in your connected headphones only. Or, it could be a pedal with no purpose other than visual show.

The Soft Pedal

what do the pedals on a piano do

Another name for the soft pedal is the “una corda” pedal. This far-left pedal appears to simply offer a reduction in the volume of sound. However, the true intention of the pedal is to also offer a change in the color and timbre of the sound.

Due to the change in color and volume, this pedal creates a sense of mystery, introspection, or awe.

When the una corda pedal was created, it meant that the whole keyboard and its hammers shifted slightly to the right. All the hammers hit only one string rather than the two they typically hit.

With modern pianos, using the una corda pedal now means that the keyboard shifts slightly to the right. So, the hammers hit two strings instead of the typical three that are now associated with each note.

This means it’s a bit of a misnomer today since “una corda” translates to “one string.” In addition, today’s upright pianos execute una corda a little differently than grand pianos. For this reason, the correct name for the upright piano’s pedal is a “half-blow” pedal.

Due to the angle of the strings in upright pianos, the keyboard doesn’t shift when una corda is depressed. Instead, the hammers approach the strings more closely, which leads to a similar effect of lowered volume.

How to Use the Soft Pedal

Like the sostenuto pedal, your left foot depresses this pedal as well. In your sheet music, you’ll see una corda pedaling indicated with the phrases “con sordino” and “una corda.” The following symbol also indicates una corda pedaling. 

piano pedals

The phrases “senza sordino” and “tre corde” tell you to release the soft pedal. You may also see the following symbol.

piano pedals

This video nicely shows how each of the three piano pedals sound. It also demonstrates good usage of all three pedals at the end of his improvisation.

Knowing how to use the piano pedals allows you to add finesse, accuracy, and color to your playing. While it may seem straightforward, pedaling at the piano is an art. There are many techniques you can use to make pedaling flawless within the music.

As a piano student, it’s always a good idea to get feedback and advice on how to master pedaling. TakeLessons is an excellent place to find a piano instructor for private lessons, or learn piano in online classes.

Have any more questions about what the pedals on a piano do? Leave a comment and let us know!

Need Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

5 Little-Known Factors That Affect Your Piano Posture

correct piano posture

Proper piano posture: the words alone are enough to make any pianist wince, straighten up, and make every effort to maintain it, at least for a few minutes.

You may not realize that when you’re playing the piano, your posture is a key factor in your technique and whether or not you feel at ease practicing the instrument.

Because practicing is a repetitive activity, it’s important to do it well. Otherwise, you risk reinforcing bad habits through repetition. If you struggle with maintaining proper piano posture over time, it could lead to pain and injury.

When your body is in an optimal relationship to the bench, the ground, the pedals, and the keys, you develop ways of executing challenging passages with coordination, skill, and grace without as much effort. Let’s take a look at how to improve our piano posture.

5 Factors That Affect Piano Posture

Slumping at the piano is an obvious no-no, but there are a few additional factors that you probably haven’t considered relevant to your piano posture.

Recognizing these factors and making adjustments can create a significant difference in feeling poised and comfortable at the piano. The best part is, these changes are all very easy to implement into your routine!

1. Your Bench

The first culprit to proper piano posture is often your bench (or lack thereof). The bench is the last thing someone considers when buying a piano or keyboard. You may not even have a bench at all!

Remember that the bench is an integral part of the piano, and it’s important to find one that’s a good fit for you. A good option for many people is an adjustable bench, which you can tailor to any player’s height. This ensures that your hand and wrist positioning are correct, so that you can make a good tactile connection to the piano and avoid repetitive stress injuries.

Your bench is also a source of stability.

Your sitting-bones (at the bottom of your pelvis) give you strength to play forcefully when needed. Standing up while playing is particularly hazardous, since you’re forced to look down at the piano and bend your arms at an awkward angle to reach the keys.

One other common problem is using a chair instead of a bench. While not the worst option, this can also negatively affect your posture, particularly if you have a tendency to recline into the backrest while playing. As you can see, your bench can make a big difference in your ability to stabilize, connect to the piano, and draw the music from your whole body, not just your hands.

2. Practice Session Length

Another critical factor that’s often missed when thinking about correct piano posture is how long you’ve been seated. Playing for extra long periods of time can wreck anyone’s posture, even those who started with good posture at the beginning of the practice session.

This is especially true for beginners, since the amount of concentration needed to execute your playing makes it challenging to also dedicate attention to your posture.

At the end of a long practice session, you might find yourself over-focused at the piano, with your neck drawn forward to your music and your spine collapsed. Luckily, this hidden factor in piano posture is easily fixed.

Take frequent breaks, set a timer if needed, and build up to longer playing times as your body adjusts and forms good habits.

3. Not Using a Footstool

This next surprising pitfall is particularly key for children and shorter adults at the piano. Are your legs dangling from the piano bench? This is a big red flag! Just like the bench helps you to stabilize your body, so does the ground.

If you’re not touching the ground, you’re losing a place to release your weight into while maintaining an upright posture.

Being upright at the piano actually starts from the ground, and an adjustable footrest is an excellent solution.

Not using a footstool when it’s needed means you’ll be putting a lot of effort and strain into your upper body. You may even find that your legs are tense, as you can get into the habit of holding them up while they dangle in the air.

4. Lack of Exercise

Another factor you may not have considered actually happens outside of piano practice. Have you ever thought about physical fitness as a part of maintaining good posture at the piano?

Playing the piano is an endurance sport of your small muscles, as well as your spine and upper body.

Exercising allows you to release any tension from your practice session and encourage circulation.

Another reason to exercise outside of your piano practice goes back to the idea of repetition. Since you’re exercising certain muscles repeatedly at the piano, it’s important to vary your workout so you can avoid tension from over-strengthening certain muscles.

5. Your Position on the Bench

Lastly, it’s important to take a few minutes to notice how you’re sitting on the bench. A big factor in correct piano posture is to make sure you don’t just have the right equipment, but that you’re also using it well.

If you’re sitting too far back on the bench, this can have a detrimental effect on your posture.

Why? Just like you don’t want to be collapsed forward and leaning too far into the piano, it’s equally important not to lean back and over-straighten your arms.

This position strains your connection to the keys and causes too much effort to maintain your posture. It also throws off the positioning of your head, as your head may crane forward to compensate for your backwards stance. Yikes!

Final Tips & Tricks

Now that you’ve seen some sneaky causes of bad piano posture, here are a few tips that will help you reduce strain in the future. With these tips, you’ll feel better and look effortlessly graceful at the piano, too!

  • For pianists who feel that the weight of the music lies in their shoulders, try to release your upper body weight into the bench, so your shoulders can release and widen.
  • You can do the same with your feet by allowing them to release into the ground, so your legs feel free instead of tense.
  • Allow your head to rest easily on top of your spine and try to avoid pulling your neck forward, toward the music.
  • Let your eyes view the music with a wide, easy gaze so the muscles of your head and neck can release.

Having correct piano posture is very important, and if you feel like you need some more attention in this area, a qualified piano teacher can help you overcome these challenges and improve your technique.

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

piano styles

Ultimate Guide to the 5 Most Popular Piano Styles

piano styles

Don’t know what piano style you want to learn? Below, piano teacher Liz T. shares the five most popular piano styles to give you a better idea of what suits you…

Having the ability to play a number of different piano styles will help you become a better overall piano player.

What’s more, knowing the important composers, performers, and pieces of each piano style will assist you in your musical studies.

Below, I’ve listed the five most important piano styles, which include classical, jazz, musical theater, pop/rock, and liturgical.

Read through the various piano styles to see which one jumps out at you most.

After browsing, if you’re still not sure what piano style fits you, take the quiz at the end of the article to help you determine.

1. Classical Piano

Throughout 1750-1820, classical piano was performed for royalty and the upper class in Europe. There were three main composers who paved the way for classical piano composition: Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

As the years progressed and classical music transformed from renaissance to baroque and romantic, other great pianists emerged, including Haydn, Chopin, Handel, Wagner, Debussy, and Tchaikovsky.

Classical piano is often what students study first because it forces them to have a very strong technique and knowledge of music theory.

Without having an understanding of the classical piano technique, it’s very hard to learn and pick up other piano styles. That’s because most music has stemmed from the classical style.

Famous Classical Piano Composers

Just because classical music was popular many years ago, doesn’t mean it’s not thriving today.

There are many classical piano composers who are still performing music from the greats as well as creating their own classical compositions, such as the following:

Van Cliburn: Cliburn was one of the greatest American piano players of our century. Each year, thousands of piano players audition to compete in the “Annual Van Cliburn Piano Competition.”

Phillip Glass: Glass had an extensive career in writing, recording, and orchestrating classical music ranging from symphonic orchestras to the big screen.

Eric Whitacare: A regular chart-topper, Whitacare often writes for choirs, and has released several classical music albums that have won Grammys.

Classical Piano Books

Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are crucial composers to know as a classical pianist. I recommend having these books around when you to start learning this piano style:

      • Schirmer’s Library of Musical Classics “First Lessons in Bach, Complete Books I and II for Piano”
      • Alfred Series “Mozart: 21 of His Most Popular Pieces for Piano”
      • Dover Music “A First Book of Beethoven: 24 Arrangements for the Beginning Pianist with Downloadable Mp3’s”

2. Jazz Piano

1918 marked the big start of American jazz. Pianists such as Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and Fats Waller are piano players influential in building the jazz scene around New York, Chicago, and New Orleans.

At the time, jazz piano was a rebellious type of music, as it deviated from the classic rhythms, harmony, and technique.

Jazz music incorporates swing, improvisation, ragtime, boogie woogie, and bee bop to create captivating melodies and rhythmic patterns.

People turned to jazz music during “The Great Depression” as well as in times of celebration.

It also became an important mark in history where African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Europeans were able to come together to create music in America.

Famous Jazz Piano Players

While Joplin, Morton, and Waller paved the way for jazz piano, today’s contemporary jazz players are keeping it alive.

I suggest listening to some of today’s most well-known contemporary jazz players, including the following:

Herbie Hancock: Hancock is an innovative American pianist and keyboardist. Popular albums include “Head Hunters,” “Maiden Voyages,” and “Possibilities.”

Michel Camilo: Camilo is a Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer from the Dominican Republic who specializes in jazz, Latin, and classical work.

Kenny Barron: An American jazz piano player, Barron is one of the most influential mainstream jazz pianists of the bebop area, currently on faculty at Juilliard School.

Essential Jazz Piano Books:

If you want to learn more about jazz piano style, then I suggest you check out these helpful books:

      • “The Jazz Theory Book,” by Mark Levine (Comprehensive guide to jazz music theory)
      • “Aebersold Play-a-longs” (Volumes with popular jazz standards with lead sheet notation, and CD play alongs to practice with.)
      • “The Real Books,” Hal Leonard (Volumes with 100+ jazz lead sheets, perfect for any gig or jam)

3. Musical Theater Piano

Piano plays a big role in musical theater. In fact, piano players are crucial for the development and success of musical theater.

Musical theater accompanists must be very good sight readers and versatile, as every musical theater production is different.

Musical theater pianists can find work performing in the pit bands of shows, and can serve as accompanist alongside singers at auditions.

Listen to some of the old Broadway composers and lyricists for inspiration, such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, and Gershwin.

There are also many popular Broadway composers today–such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Steven Sondheim, and Steven Schwartz–who have used piano primarily in their writing for musical theater.

Well-known Musical Theater Piano Players

Below are some of my favorite pianists  who’ve made a strong impact writing and performing musical theater:

Jason Robert Brown: Known for his works “Songs for a New World” and “The Last 5 Years,”  Brown uses incredible chords and harmonies. He has a knack for knowing how to capture both piano and voice together.

Marvin Hamlish: This legendary pianist served as the composer of one of Broadway’s longest running musicals, “A Chorus Line.” Hamlish was very skilled at capturing dancers and the sound of the piano together.

Seth Rudetsky: An accompanist and radio talk show host, Rudetsky really knows how to work with singers whether it be for a cabaret performance, audition, or cruise ship!

Best Musical Theater Piano Books:

If you wish to be a part of the Broadway scene, take a look at these essential books:

      • “The Big Book of Broadway-4th Edition,” Hal Leonard
      • “The Singers Musical Theater Anthology Series,” Hal Leonard
      • “Kids Musical Theater Collection (Volumes 1, 2),” Hal Leonard

4. Pop/Rock Piano

Starting in the ’50s, the piano was incorporated in many popular pop and rock songs. In the ’70s, the keyboard was heavily introduced because of it’s cool electric sounds.

Being a contemporary rock/pop piano player and composer is no easy task, but is one of the most rewarding piano gigs around.

As a pop/rock piano player you will probably find the most paid work, ranging from cover bands, wedding gigs, session recordings, and touring performances.

With this piano style, you’re free to explore new sounds, as the charts are always changing. What’s more, having the ability to both sing and play the piano looks and sounds great in performance.

Famous Pop/Rock Piano Players

Here’s a sample of some of piano pop and rock players who’ve made a huge impact on the genre. Listen to these folks to get inspired and maybe pick up a few performance tricks.

Elton John and Billy Joel: Both of these music veterans hit the top of their careers in the ’70s and ’80s. However, they still continue to perform to sold out stadiums today.

Alicia Keys: At the tender age of 16, Keys was already signed and recording her own original music. Her piano chords and melodies are in sync with her original vocals and lyrics.

Carole King: One of the most powerful women in songwriting, King is a singer/pianist from New York who’s written and recorded some of the most influential pop music of our time.

Essential Pop/Rock Piano Books:

There are tons of really great piano pop/rock books available. Below are just a few helpful piano books that will guide you:

      • “Let it Go, Happy, and More Hot Pop Singles 2014,” by Hal Leonard
      • “Piano Styles of 23 Pop Masters,” by Mark Harrison
      • “The Piano Songbook: Contemporary Songs Book 2,” by Faber Music

5. Liturgical Piano

Liturgical music originated as a part of religious ceremonies ranging from Catholic to Protestant to Jewish.

Almost every religion has their own unique sounding liturgical music that plays an important and meaningful role in its culture.

Liturgical music has been passed on from generation to generation, and today musicians are still performing and composing new music for religious services, performances, and recordings.

The piano is able to serve in all the various types of religious music. Many pianists start out by playing religious services professionally to make their living as a musician.

Notable Liturgical Piano Players

The composers and pianists below are influential in the liturgical music genre.

David Haas: An influential pianist and composer of the modern day liturgies in the Christian community.

Hector Olivera: An internationally acclaimed organist, watch his technique and how he brings the organ to life.

Jason White: White is a leading musical director and performer. He plays primarily gospel music on the piano, keyboards, and organ.

Liturgical Piano Books for Beginners

If you want to learn how to play this piano style, then check out these helpful books for beginners:

      • “Big Book of Hymns,” Hal Leonard
      • “Gospel Keyboard Styles: A Complete Guide to Harmony, Rhythm and Melody,” Mark Harrison
      • “The Practical Organist: 50 Short Works for Church Services,” Dover Music

I hope this guide to the five most popular piano styles will help determine what style you want to learn. Talk with your piano teacher on ways you can practice whatever piano style you choose.

If you’re still unsure which piano style to choose, take this fun quiz to find out!

Photo by André P. Meyer-Vitali

LizTPost Author: Liz T.
Liz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Newsletter Sign Up

piano hand position

Guide to Proper Piano Hand Position [Infographic]


piano hand position

Learning the proper piano hand position is essential for both beginner and accomplished piano players. Below piano teacher, Ryan C. shares some tips and exercises on how to perfect your piano hand placement…

If you were to sit down at a piano right now and throw your hands on the keys, how would they land? Would your fingers be curved or flat? How would your wrist look relative to your arm? Would you feel any tension in your shoulder or would you feel relaxed?

Considerations like these are often overlooked by both amateur and accomplished pianists. Perhaps the concept of having a consistent piano hand position was never taught to you or never occurred to you.

Whatever the case may be, having good piano hand placement is extremely important for both aspiring and accomplished pianists.

In this post, we will discuss the importance of proper piano finger position as well as some exercises you can do to perfect your piano hand position.

Let’s get started!

The Importance of Proper Piano Hand Position

Why does good piano hand position matter? So glad you asked! To answer this question, allow me to give you a small glimpse into my history as a pianist. When I first started studying piano at college, I had a teacher who didn’t teach me proper piano hand position.

For a while, this didn’t matter, as I was able to get a satisfactory sounding tone, sense of phrasing, and musicality out of the instrument. As a college level pianist, however, I was required to practice many hours a day; at one point, I was doing 5 hours a day.

Very quickly, my hands and arms would hurt to the point where picking anything up would be painful. At the time, I didn’t know that this pain was caused by poor piano hand placement.

It wasn’t until I came to San Diego State University to further my piano playing, when my piano teacher Dr. Follingstad, immediately began to address and remedy the issues within my piano hand positions.

Good piano hand placement not only prevents injury, but it also allows a pianist to get better tone quality. I remember when I was a beginner and thought that the tone of the piano was unchangeable. I didn’t realize that the position of my hands could absolutely affect the sound coming out of the instrument.

In addition to the previously mentioned benefits, proper piano finger positions allows a pianist to play quicker, with more agility, and with greater accuracy.

What is the Proper Piano Hand Position?

With all of the aforementioned benefits of using a proper piano hand positions, it would seem that the only thing left to do is to learn how to actually do it!

Thankfully, a good piano hand position is actually much easier to learn than many people think! Like any new skill, however, maintaining good piano hand placement requires consistent practice on behalf of the student.

I will be using piano hand positions approaches that have worked for me, specifically that of my teacher Dr. Follingstad, as well as tips from renowned piano teachers like Leschetizky, Dohnanyi, and Alfred Cortot.

  • Step One: To get a natural piano finger position, try standing up beside your piano and relaxing your hands at your sides. If you feel tense, shake out any stress that you may have in your arms, hands, and fingers.
  • Step Two: One should sit far enough from the keyboard to let the fingertips rest on the keys without effort when the arms are normally bent, and the feet should reach the pedals without stretching.
  • Step Three: Notice how your fingers natural curve in toward your body and how your knuckles curve out slightly away from your body. Also, notice how the thumb and index finger make a slight “C” shape. Keep your hands and fingers in the same position as this, but bend your arm at your elbow so your hands are in front of you with your palms down.
  • Step Four: The result should be that the fingertips are in contact with the lid, the knuckles of the hand should be fairly even with one another, and they should be slightly higher than the wrist. The first knuckle closest to the fingertips should be flexed during most playing styles. It should not collapse or cause the fingers to become perfectly straight.
  • Step Five: The wrist should be relaxed and level with the hand. To find the ideal position, hold your fingertips on the surface of the keys while maintaining the firmness of the knuckles of the hand. Move your wrist upwards and downwards and notice the tension created by having the wrist be either too high or too low. Now find the place in your wrist that feels most natural; often it will be where the wrist is even with the arm.
  • Step Six: Finally, make sure to notice whether or not any part of your arm has tensed up. Check your wrist, shoulder, and forearm – if they feel tense, relax them while keeping your fingers on the keys.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this infographic depicting the proper piano hand positions below:

piano hand position

Tips and Exercises for Proper Piano Hand Placement

As previously mentioned, proper piano hand position takes consistent practice to develop.

Cortot, Leschetizky, and Dohnanyi all offer similar techniques when it comes to practicing good piano hand positions. In particular, playing variations of pentascales as chords, while lifting one finger at a time and holding the remaining notes down.

To make this applicable to students, try the following exercise:

Play the notes C, D, E, F, G simultaneously as a chord with your right hand with one finger per key. Slowly let your thumb come up by letting the key lift it. When it reaches the top, don’t let your thumb lose contact with the key. Instead, simply press it down again by using the muscles in your hand.

Try not to let your arm and elbow do the work for you. If you have never done these piano hand exercises before, you may feel as though you can’t push down the keys very hard. This is totally normal! Don’t attempt to push down the keys hard, just focus on making your fingers do the work.

Double check your piano hand position– are the knuckles firm or floppy? Are you tense in your arm or shoulder?

After completing this exercise with your thumb, work your way up your hand by having each finger separately push down its respective key while holding the others down. In this manner, work your way up the hand and back down, eventually switching over to the left hand and doing the same process.

For those who are more adventurous or want some more piano hand exercises to do, try this page of Dohnanyi exercises and see how you do!

Make sure to pay careful attention to the positioning of the hands relative to the wrist, the knuckles, fingers, and so on. Go slow enough that you can do the page without tension.

A good piano hand position is fundamentally important to both aspiring and accomplished pianists.

By following some of the tips above and applying them with consistent practice, you can rapidly improve your ability to play the piano with accuracy and dexterity.

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Newsletter Sign Up

How to Read Sheet Music for Piano: A Visual Tour

Visual Tour of How to Read Sheet Music

As you learn how to read piano sheet music, a whole new world opens up! Instead of just black dots on a page, you’ll see beautiful melody and chords right before you. Here, piano teacher Nadia B. takes you on a helpful visual tour… 


One of the most interesting things about learning piano is that it’s truly like learning a new language – just as you learn how to decode words on a page to read them aloud, you are learning to unlock the symbols on the page to play music. It’s a whole different world, and this article will help you to more easily understand what all the symbols mean. That way, when you look at a piece of sheet music, you won’t think it’s Greek; you’ll see music!

First, let’s take a look a piece of sheet music; then, read on to learn more about each element:

how to read piano sheet music

1) The grand staff

The first thing to recognize is the grand staff. It is composed of two staffs (or groups of five parallel lines) joined together. The top staff uses the treble clef, while the bottom staff uses the bass clef. In general, the treble clef is where right hand notes are placed, while the bass clef is where left hand notes are placed. Once you know the piano note names, you will be able to read from the two staffs to play the correct notes with the correct hand.

In piano music, you can use different fingers to play a single note. The finger you use will depend on the location of the note within the phrase, as well as the hand position you are using. For this reason, you will often see finger numbers marked in the music to indicate which finger you should use. Finger numbers are an essential aid to playing well, as they will ensure that you maintain a good hand position and move naturally around the keyboard without awkward finger tucks.

2) Key signature

Directly after the treble and bass clef, you will see the key signature: a collection of sharps or flats that indicate which notes to alter within the music, as well as what key you are playing in.

3) Time signature

After the key signature comes the time signature: usually two numbers, one above the other, that tell you how many beats are in each measure and what type of note (quarter, eighth, half, etc.) is equal to one beat.

4) Tempo marking

You will also see a marking indicating what tempo the piece should be played (for example, allegro, indicating lively, or largo, indicating very slow). As you progress on the piano, you’ll get to know these common sheet music terms very well. Sometimes this also includes a specific metronome marking, which is a guideline to understand the range of tempi that are possible.

Then, you will see several things that occur throughout the music:

5) Dynamic markings

These markings tell you how loudly or softly to play the music, and when to gradually increase or decrease the sound. The letter ‘p’ indicates to play piano, or softly, while the letter ‘f’ stands for forte, or to play loudly.

You will see a marking similar to a hairpin for a crescendo, or gradual increase in sound, and a reverse hairpin for a decrescendo, or gradual decrease in sound. The location and length of the crescendo and decrescendo markings show you how long they should last and where to begin and end them.

6) Articulation markings

Another category of markings you will see is for articulation, or the way in which notes begin and end. In the written music, you will see symbols like accents (similar to a forward arrow), indicating to play the note with emphasis, or staccato (a dot above the note), indicating to play the note with space before the next note (slightly shorter than full value). You will also see slurs, lines that slope above or below a group of notes, which signify to connect the notes smoothly together as you play them.

7) Mood markings

Another marking you may see will indicate the mood of a particular passage. So you may see espressivo (play with great emotion) or appassionato (play passionately) marked in the music, among many others.

8) Pedal markings

One of the most important markings specific to piano is pedal markings. These illustrate where to depress the pedal and, often, how long to sustain it for. You will see this in the music as the abbreviation ‘Ped.; or sometimes as a bracket underneath the line of music.


So, the next time you pull out your piano sheet music, don’t feel overwhelmed. Instead, try going on a treasure hunt for these markings and symbols, and see what you discover about the music itself as a result!

Still struggling with understanding how the notes translate to the keys? Check out my visual intro to the piano keys!

View all Free Sheet Music Resources.

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Learning Piano

5 Bad Habits Holding You Back as You Learn Piano

Learning Piano

Are you not making the progress you were hoping for in your piano lessons? Read on as piano teacher Nadia B. explains some of the common bad habits that may be holding you back…


When you’re learning piano, you’re busy mastering a variety of skill sets — note reading, rhythmic competency, independence of the hands, musicality, and so much more. It’s easy to focus so much on these things that you might be developing bad habits… without noticing. Read on to learn more about the five worst habits for piano players, so that you can make sure you avoid them!

1. Practicing scales mindlessly or with bad technique

You should definitely pat yourself on the back for practicing your scales, one of the most important components of learning piano. But once you see the value of practicing scales, it’s important to make sure that your scale practice is helping you improve and not reinforcing bad habits. It you find yourself slogging through scales, not really paying attention to what you’re doing, or if your hand position is awkward and not well-coordinated, then you might want to re-evaluate your scales practice routine. Try for precision, correct fingering, ease of hand position, and fingers flowing onto the keys, even if it takes a little longer and means you do fewer scales. With scale practice, it’s definitely quality over quantity.

Tip: Bored with scales? Try these four fun ways to practice scales!

2. Memorizing music completely with muscle memory

Pianists have a long tradition of performing music from memory, and the pressure can be on when it’s almost recital time and your piece still isn’t memorized. Pianists often resort to playing the piece they’re trying to memorize over and over until they can play it in their sleep. The only problem? That type of rote memorization can go terribly wrong if there’s a moment of distraction, or if the pianist messes up and tries to restart where he or she left off.

The way to avoid this bad habit is to leave plenty of time to memorize piano music by analyzing the score, listening to and playing along with recordings, and practicing intelligently and consciously, instead of relying on muscle memory to commit the song to memory.

Tip: Here are some additional strategies for memorizing piano music from music teacher Joy Morin.

3. Not breathing well, combined with bad posture

Breathing and posture go hand in hand, since our ribs attach to the spine, and excessive compression in the torso can severely limit breathing. If you find yourself hunched over the piano, with your head pulled forward to see the music better and your breathing is shallow, your posture is compromised. Believe it or not, this will affect your music-making.

To solve this bad habit, take a few moments in between practicing sections of a piece to notice your sitting bones releasing into the piano bench, allow your spine to uncurl from any compression, and send your head away from your spine, allowing it to balance easily right on top of your spine. You should feel more spacious and have more flexibility for ease of breathing.

Tip: Here’s an infographic explaining piano posture.

4. Unruly hand position

Perhaps one of your fingers sticks up in the air, or your thumb hangs low, below the keyboard. Whatever your habitual hand position, finding a comfortable, flexible and coordinated hand position can change your entire relationship with the piano. You will make better contact with the keys, have more control over dynamics and coloring, and play technical passages more easily and smoothly. Having an uncoordinated hand position can hold you back in a variety of ways as you’re learning piano, so make sure this bad habit isn’t one of yours!

Tip: Check out this infographic for an easy exercise to improve your hand shape for playing the piano.

5. Not learning to read music correctly

Do you find yourself struggling to read piano music correctly, over and over? Or perhaps you struggle with playing in time and with correct rhythm. It’s important to learn to read and interpret all aspects of the music correctly, so that you can play with correct notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulation, and phrasing. If you’re struggling to recognize all the various symbols and positions of the notes on the staff, try going through a music theory book and/or note speller.

If you work to avoid these five worst habits for piano players, you will be a more coordinated and skilled pianist who can confidently learn new music, practice efficiently, and perform well. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to incorporate the strategies to combat these bad habits, as you’ll see a great improvement in your musicality, technique, and fundamental keyboard skills.

Tip: Here are some fun online games for learning piano notes!

Think you’re avoiding these bad habits? It’s always a good idea to check with your piano teacher, who can give you expert advice and help you continue to practice piano like a pro!

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

How to Read Piano Music Faster: Intro to the Keys

Visual Intro to the Keyboard

When you’re new to playing piano, you might feel overwhelmed by all the keys! But here’s a secret: those 88 keys can be reduced to just seven piano notes, and a few essential patterns. Easy, right? Here, teacher Nadia B. shares a super-easy visual introduction…


Did you know the keyboard of a piano is full of tricks and secrets? Music is full of different patterns, and as you become more familiar with them, you’ll learn how to read piano music faster, while playing confidently and correctly. If you want to learn how to read piano notes quickly (and improve your sight-reading skills), knowledge of these basics is essential. Following along with a YouTube piano tutorial might be fun, but it’s not going to help you progress as a pianist.

So where do you start? Some of the main building blocks of music that come in handy with piano are half steps and whole steps, the chromatic scale, enharmonics, and flats (noted as ‘b‘) and sharps (notated as ‘#’). Here’s what you need to know…

Half Steps

Just like the structures of chromosomes make up the whole of a DNA strand, half steps make up the whole of the keyboard. A half step on the keyboard is going from one key to the next one directly above or below it, without skipping any keys. A half step could go from a white key to a black key (for example, G to G#), a black key to a white key (e.g. G# to A), or a white key to a white key (e.g. E to F). See the image below for an illustration of these examples.

Half Steps

You will find half steps in both major and minor scales. For example, in the C major scale, E to F and B to C are both half steps.

C Major Scale Half Steps

Familiarizing yourself with half steps and being able to rapidly recognize them will allow you to decode music more easily, as you’ll be able to see the same patterns of half steps in written music.

Whole Steps

Whole steps are the big sibling to half steps. Two half steps make a whole step, and whole steps are what make up major and minor scales, in addition to half steps. An example of a whole step is from F to G on the keyboard; in between F and G we have two half steps — F to F# and F# to G.

Whole Steps

An example of a whole step in a major scale is from F to G in the F major scale. Similarly to half steps, recognizing whole steps and understanding their function allows you to read piano music faster and also learn how to create major and minor scales using a set pattern of whole and half steps.

Chromatic Scale

Now that we’ve covered the building blocks of any piano scale, we can cover a scale that relates directly to half steps: the chromatic scale. Composed entirely of consecutive half steps (that is, not skipping any keys from the beginning to the end of the scale), the chromatic scale is most often practiced by starting on any note, reaching the same note one octave higher, and then descending back to the original note. For example, we can start from F in one octave, play up to F in the next octave, and return back to the original F.

F Chromatic Scale

A sequence of notes may start on one note and end on a different note — it’s the pattern of consecutive half steps that distinguishes it as chromatic.


Another fundamental concept of the keyboard is that one key can have multiple names. This can cause a great deal of confusion, but once you understand how it works, you’ll find it pretty simple. ‘Enharmonic’ is the name for this concept. For example, F sharp, which we find by identifying F on the keyboard and then moving up a half step, can also be called G flat, which we find by identifying G on the keyboard and then moving down a half step. We arrive at the same note, F sharp/G flat (F#/Gb).

Enharmonic Notes

It’s good to recognize the dual names of enharmonics because you will sometimes see both names within one piece as the key modulates. Enharmonics allow us to travel to different keys seamlessly and logically.

Sharps and Flats on the Piano

Going right along with harmonics is an understanding of how sharps and flats work. Sharps always indicate a movement up in pitch and direction on the keyboard (i.e. to the right), while flats always indicate a movement down in pitch and direction on the keyboard (i.e. to the left). It’s important to understand them because you will see flats and sharps in the key signature and as accidentals throughout the music, and you’ll need to apply them correctly throughout the music.

The key to applying sharps and flats correctly is knowing that you are always moving in half steps. A flat indicates a half step down, while a sharp indicates a half step up. Knowing this, you can also apply double flats and double sharps properly. If you see a double flat, that means you should move downward two half steps from the original note, while a double sharp indicates that you should move upward two half steps from the original note. An example of this would be D double flat: by moving from D to D flat and then again from D flat to C, we arrive at D double flat (which is the same key as C).

Double Flat

Using half steps as a means of applying flats and sharps is an infallible method, and you’ll be moving around the keyboard easily once you learn this method.

To recap, here are the four building blocks on one handy infographic:

How to Read Piano Music Faster - Visual Intro the Piano

How to Read Music Faster & Improve Your Sight Reading

Understanding these basic structures at the piano will help you to read piano music faster, especially when you’re sight reading. Viewing a phrase, you will no longer see each note as a separate entity — rather, you’ll see the relationships between them (whole steps, half steps and larger intervals), as well as patterns that make up scales like the chromatic scale or the major scale. Knowing how sharps, flats, and enharmonics work means that you won’t be stymied by an unusual flat, like C flat. Instead, you’ll easily translate it to B natural in your mind. With these tips, you should be sight reading more fluently and accurately than ever before.

Now that you understand the patterns of the keyboard, don’t hesitate to try to find examples of these in your piano music! You will discover a unique language that is logical, organized, and creative all at once, and decoding it will result in many hours of delight making music at the piano.

Next up? Check out my other visual tour, and learn how to read piano sheet music!

Need some extra help? A private piano teacher can lead the way! Search for a teacher near you here.

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

Photo by mararie

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

How to Make Scales and Arpeggios FUN

4 Ways to Make Practicing Piano Scales FUN! [Infographic]

Tired of practicing piano scales over and over… and over again? While repetition is great for your muscle memory, getting bored won’t do you any favors. Here, New York, NY piano teacher Nadia B. shares four ideas for how to practice scales in new ways…


It’s no doubt that learning the fundamentals of piano — like major and minor scales, arpeggios, and so on — make a huge impact on your success as a musician. However, these exercises are often avoided at the piano, out of fear that they will be boring and useless. How many times have you done all your major scales, over and over, in the same rhythmic pattern and tempo, two hands at a time, two octaves, and with the same articulation? Practicing in this way can leave little motivation to repeat the sequence every day, as it can be boring, unmusical, and stiff.

Fortunately, there are many different ways to practice that can really shake things up! Piano practice should be deliberate, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.

The following ideas will show you how to practice scales and other piano fundamentals in a way that is fun, inspiring, and useful. And once you see the door that scales and arpeggios open, you will want to “play” through them, over and over, deepening your understanding of the fundamentals and the musical expression they enhance.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to practice scales in new ways…

4 New Ways to Practice Piano Scales

Share this Image On Your Site


Take pleasure in your exploration of scales and arpeggios; as your fingers and brain become more nimble, it will feel more and more like play at the piano. Have fun!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!


Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by dajing

Tricks for Beginners to Visualize Piano Major Scales

Piano Tips: 3 Smart Tricks to Visualize Major Scales

Tricks for Beginners to Visualize Piano Major ScalesAs a beginner learning to play the piano, you might feel overwhelmed by all of the new information — major scales, minor scales, and triads, oh my! How do you remember it all? Start with major scales and check out these tips from St. Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L...

Maybe the beginning of your piano studies has gone just swimmingly. Perhaps note reading is coming easily to you. You’re a natural at technique and posture. But you’ve really hit a wall with those major scales. It can be tough to see which keys belong in that specific order. (“Where’s the black key, again?”) Have hope! There are easy ways to remember your scales. Here’s a list of tricks for beginners to visualize piano major scales.

Use colored objects

This terrific blog entry from The Teaching Studio highlights some great ways to have fun and learn a lot, too. One way is to take little colored fuzz balls that you can get at any craft or dollar store and, using a different color for every key, place the balls on the correct keys first before playing the scale. If you need help remembering at home, you can check out the free printables Jenny offers, including fun piano games and exercises.

Remember where your “neighbors” live

Pictured above is an illustration from Emily Clark Music of a keyboard and a description of a major scale. The idea here is that you can start anywhere on the piano and build your scale, key by key. For example, begin on an E flat. Every scale is made up of both whole steps and half steps (also referred to as “tones” and “semitones”), and major scales have their own order. It goes like this:

whole – whole – half – whole – whole – whole – half

This means that, beginning on E flat, you would play:

E flat – F – G – A flat – B flat – C – D – E flat

Remember, a half step is when two keys are neighbors. There’s no other key between them. A whole step is when two keys have one other key between them.

Another way to think of this is to remember that in major scales, there’s always a half step between scale degrees three and four and between seven and eight. The only neighbors are between the third and fourth keys and the seventh and eighth keys.

Highlight the keys

highlight- Tricks for Beginners to Visualize Piano Major Scales

Photo via

Over time, you’ll begin to see and “highlight” the keys of each scale, as if they’re lit up from the inside. Until then, there’s a really neat tool from that you can use to highlight the keys for you! Just enter the name of the scale that you’d like to see, and the tool will color the correct keys of that scale for you to see. It’s a great reference for those days when you’re just stumped.


One or more of these tricks for beginners to visualize piano major scales will surely help you. If you’re still having a difficult time visualizing the scales on the keyboard, then it could be that you simply aren’t a visual learner. Some people are, while others are aural learners (who learn best through sound and words), while still others are kinesthetic learners (who learn best through motion and muscle memory). Talk with your school music teacher or your piano teacher about it. He or she may be able to help you find out which kind of learner that you are. Once you know, you’ll be able to set yourself up for success by finding different ways to approach your piano studies.

Looking for a piano teacher in  your area? Start your search here!

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. 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!


Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Celeste