2

Piano as a
nd

Instrument

A Beginner’s Guide


Ben Yates

Copyright © 2005-2006 by Ben Yates

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Ben Yates unless such copying is expressly permitted by federal copyright law. Address inquiries to Ben Yates at 10 Ridgeway, Ann Arbor MI 48104.

All brand and product names mentioned in this manual are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders, including the following:

Microsoft® Office Word Sound Forge® ACID® Fruityloops® Yamaha®

Table of Contents
Introduction.................................................................................................................1 Pop, Rock, and Music Theory .......................................................................1 The Learning Curve..........................................................................................2 Equipment...........................................................................................................2 Formatting Guide..............................................................................................3 Audio Content....................................................................................................3 Learning Piano ............................................................................................................4 First Steps ............................................................................................................4 Making Friends with your Piano..........................................................4 Having Good Technique.......................................................................5 Getting your Bearings: Finding C........................................................6 C Major ................................................................................................................7 F Major.................................................................................................................8 Relative Names ..................................................................................................8 Voicings................................................................................................................9 Rearranging Notes ...................................................................................9 Adding Bass.............................................................................................11 G Major..............................................................................................................12 “If I had $1000000”........................................................................................13 A Minor..............................................................................................................15 Tapping Your Fingers....................................................................................16 “When I Come Around” ..............................................................................17 “If I had $1000000” Revisited .....................................................................18 D Minor .............................................................................................................19

...........................................................................................................................................“Evil Ways”.....................................................21 Moving Fifths and Roots by a Full Step .........................................................................................20 Chord Transformations............................................................26 Conclusion.............................................23 Moving Fifths and Roots by a Half Step.................................................32 ...................................................................................26 “Wonderwall”..............23 “Praise You”....................................................................25 “When I Come Around” Revisited..........................................

but unless you’re particularly talented. a computer looping samples through an open window. with access to some sort of a keyboard or piano. and Music Theor y Piano as a Second Instrument is meant for someone interested in rock or pop music. you needed years of formal training. And if you wanted respect. it’s not something you’ll complete in single 1 . You should know most of these terms before going in:       Note Chord Scale Octave Half Step Whole Step This manual can be used by both experienced and inexperienced players. Thankfully. You can hardly walk down a city block without running across a guitar player improvising on front steps. this is 2006. Pop. technical virtuosity was valued over musical understanding and composing ability. or fraternity brothers tossing improvised hip hop back and forth. Rock.Introduction One of the tragedies of the 19th century is that piano playing became separate from composing: starting with Liszt.

The Learning Curve After you get comfortable with a section’s topics and exercises. it’s almost impossible to play with feeling. If you have a synthesizer or keyboard. you’ll probably be more interested in playing on your own time. Yamaha is known for its realistic hammer action. The manual is designed with this attitude shift in mind: its first sections are relatively simple. don’t worry about being technically correct. and as a push to learn new ways of playing. its later sections both more complex and applicable to a wider range of possible playing. 2 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . As you improve. Equipment It’s best to have a real piano. make sure that it at least has touch sensitivity: that pushing keys harder creates louder sounds. but pianos are expensive.late night session – nor is it comprehensive. you should spend some time (anything from minutes to weeks. A better keyboard should have hammer action – a simulation of the hammers in a real piano. Use it as a guide. experiment. depending on your interest and playing level) fooling around – have fun. and less interested in instruction as anything but a means to your own ends. Without touch sensitivity. and (depending on your experience with other instruments) quick to learn.

and songs described in the text. Alright. Audio Content The easiest way to learn music is by hearing it. Have fun. and lyrics falling on chord transitions. Unfamiliar terms are also italicized. Chords in body text look like this: C Lyrics are monospaced. chords. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 3 . Chords in song text. This manual is therefore accompanied by audio tracks demonstrating the notes. are monospaced and bolded. let’s dive in. M ajor.      Musical notes are italicized. you’ll encounter text formatted in different ways.Formatting Guide As you read the manual.

Making Friends with your Piano The piano keyboard can appear overwhelming at first glance. a note will stop. but playing tones on piano is in fact more straightforward than on many other instruments: each key corresponds to exactly one note. First Steps A New Instrument Learning a second language is harder than learning a first. do so now.   Pressing every white key consecutively creates a cheerful-sounding scale.Learning Piano This tutorial will guide you from basic knowledge to intermediate playing. if you want to become proficient and creative. there are concepts you should get under your fingers before playing music on piano. but for instruments. and frequently in the future. Nevertheless. If not. the pitch of the tones increases. unstructured playing is essential. Instruction can only take you so far. You’ve probably played around on a piano before. experimenting with sounds. In your first few minutes playing around. the reverse is true. unless the rightmost pedal is depressed. When you release a key. you’ll notice a few things:   As you move from left to right. Pressing every black key consecutively creates a pentatonic scale (which sounds “Asian” or “bluesy”) 4 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT .

P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 5 . By contrast. The keyboard layout is periodic: the pattern of black and white keys repeats many times. Adjacent keys played simultaneously sound dissonant.)  Keep your wrists straight and relaxed to avoid developing carpel tunnel syndrome. Nevertheless. pressing the keys should not bend your fingers and hands backward. Having Good Technique One advantage of piano is that it’s easy to produce clear-sounding notes: simply press the key. there are physical details a piano player should know:  Press keys with the tips of your fingers.  If you cannot comfortably play with a straight back and straight wrists. but avoid using your fingernails . Pressing every other key often creates a pleasing chord or arpeggio. cleanly plucking a guitar’s strings takes practice. As with typing. adjust the height of your seat.    Pressing every key consecutively creates a chromatic scale. and so does producing smooth tone on a violin. trim them. (If you have long fingernails.

which is not uniform and thus can be used as a reference. Starting at one of the C notes.you’ve played a C Major scale 6 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . In this diagram.Getting your Bearings: Finding C It can be difficult to know which note is which: the keys are unlabeled and identical. push each white key consecutively until you reach the next C -. (Figure 1) • Figure 1: The note C On the piano keyboard. C is the white key immediately left of each cluster of two black keys. You’ll learn to identify each note based on the pattern of black and white keys. The first step in this process is to locate the note C. keys other than C are gray or black.

Play the chord by pressing all three keys at once. You can use whichever fingers you like. and little finger for this chord. The author uses index finger. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 7 . depending on what’s most comfortable. ring finger.C Major Chord This is a C Major chord (Figure 2) • Figure 2: C M a j o r Notes in the C Ma jo r chord are shown in white.

for instance) is fundamentally similar. Relative Names More Precise Language We could call each note by its letter name. • Figure 3: F M a j o r The F Major chord is shown in white. Major Practice moving from C to F Major and back again. it makes sense to use a relative naming system rather than an absolute one. 8 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . but because each chord of the same type (Major.F Major Chord Now move the top two notes up and play a chord again: this is F (Figure 3) Major.

More specifically. changing from C Major to F Major is sometimes called "moving to the fourth". The third of a chord is the third note in that  The fifth of C scale. Major is E. The root of C Major is C. the fifth note in the C Major  "Eighths" are not referred to—they are just considered roots played an octave higher. For example.  The third of C chord's scale. Every relative name except "root" can also refer to the distance between a note and the root. Voicings Filling Out the Sound Every sound is similar to many other sounds. F could be said to be a fourth. it is also found in most rock and pop songs. These (Figures 4-6) are all C Major: P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 9 . above C. Chords can be thought of in terms of relative distances as well. Rearranging Notes The notes in a chord can be played in any order. Moving to the fourth and back is the most common type of chord transition in folk music. Thus. every chord can be played in countless ways. Major is G—unsurprisingly. The root of a chord is the note that corresponds to the chord's name.

• Figure 4: A C M a j o r chord starting on E • Figure 5: A C M a j o r chord starting on G 10 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT .

an octave or two below the other notes. can add depth to the chord's sound. this time playing a Major chords and a low F under the F chords. If you play F the C Major Major starting with F rather than C. Major. See what voicings you can find for F between various voicings of C Major and experiment with moving M ajor. you'll see its similarity to chord. Practice moving between C low C under the C Major Major and F Major again.• Figure 6: A C M a j o r chord containing two C notes These permutations of a single chord are called voicings. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 11 . and F Adding Bass Playing a chord's root with your left hand.

of G (Figure 7) • Figure 7: G M a j o r This G M a j o r chord is made up of B. and G. You'll find that then move to C Major and back. which is not played. respectively. then move both the root and third of the chord (C Major. it will sound M ajor. the third and the fifth. and F is the fourth of C. is marked for convenience.) Practice moving between C if you start on G Major. (C. 12 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . and G Major. D. Major.G Major Chord Play a C M ajor chord. similar to the transition between C Major and F This is because C is the fourth of G. F M ajor. and E) down one note: they become B and D.

more precisely. including the 1990 Canadian hit “If I had $1000000”. F M ajor Major. Words falling near a chord transition are bolded. Most of the song is a repeating loop: C to C 1) Major.“If I h a d $ 10 0 0 0 0 0 ” Putting it Together The three chords you've learned (or. rock. the melody begins on G. Countless songs use only these transitions. You may want to find voicings that minimize hand movement between chords. G M ajor. F Major. Practice this loop until you’re comfortable with it. the three relative transitions) form the basis of much pop. these words often fall slightly before the chord is played. Note that in the recording. and folk. C G If I had a million F dollars (if I had a million C dollars) G I’d buy you a F house (I would buy you a C house) G If I had a million F dollars (if I had a million C G F for your house (a nice Chesterfield or an dollars) I’d buy you furniture P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 13 . learn how it goes by listening to the recording. In the following aid:   Major chords are abbreviated with their letter names. then back is held for twice as long as the other chords. In this version of the song. 2) If you don’t already know the melody.

Major. and chordally: the final chord of the loop is G M ajor instead of C Major. 14 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . wouldn’t be that F hard). there’s a spoken interlude. G C At the end of the chorus. Before the chorus.. C Major. there’s a variation. . lyrically. G Major . The chorus itself is another loop: F F G If I had a million C dollars (We’d build a tree fort in our F yard) G If I had a million C dollars (You could help me. melodically.C Ottoman) G And if I had a million F dollars (if I had a million C dollars) G I’d buy you a F K-car. the first chord loop continues underneath it. C G And if I had a million F dollars I’d buy your G love Following the G Major chord. ..

A Minor Chord Play C Major. Although you can play almost all of the song now.) P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 15 .We’ll revisit “If I had $1000000” later. Practice moving between A A Minor M inor and the other chords you’ve learned. (Transitions of this type are often found in Pop-Punk. The -F Major transition is especially striking. and move the fifth (G) up. or reflective. cool. which you’ll notice sounds sad. the final chorus contains a chord you haven’t learned yet: A Minor. • Figure 8: A M i n o r A Minor C M ajor is the relative minor of C Major : its scale uses the same notes as the scale simply by pressing all the scale. C and E become the third and fifth. This is A Minor (Figure 8). You can play an A Minor white keys between two As.

When you’re learning the rhythms yourself. Classical music requires a mastery of this decoupling. 16 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . you can tap your fingers anywhere. not just where a piano is. don’t worry about pitch. the high-pitched taps are made with the right hand and the low-pitched ones with the left. but our requirements are less stringent. Of course. learning how to tap out simplified drumset beats will help your piano playing. In this recording.Ta p p i n g Yo u r F i n ge rs Getting Rhythm Kids often try to scratch their heads and rub their stomachs simultaneously. but make sure your left and right hands are playing the beats they’re assigned. in part because you won’t be playing melodic lines. Because so much music is structured around a drumset backing. Piano players face a similar task: decoupling the left and right hands so that each can play its own pattern.

G Major. the Quarry Men (shortly to become the Beatles) were down on their luck. but it still has some emotional depth. In the aid below.“When I Come Around” ‘The Rhythm’s in the Guitars’ In 1959.' stand there. We were playing here and there. and the left hand plays the chord roots in rhythmic counterpoint. and we were all guitarists . 'Where's the drums. smile a lot. Almost the whole song is one chord loop: C Major Major. go to college. A M inor. bluff it out. “When I Come Around” is one of the simplest of many simple Green Day songs. and we'd make them very rhythmic to prove our point. But much rock music (thanks partly to the Beatles’ wide influence) has strong. –Paul McCartney. The right hand plays the chord one beat later. guitar-rooted rhythms that we can easily replicate on piano. the chord letters are marked where the root is played (A Minor is denoted A-. These rhythms are especially strong in pop-punk. Now apply the finger-tapping pattern: the right hand plays the chords. then?' To cover this eventually we would say.) P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 17 . The Beatles Anthology Like Paul McCartney. There was not a lot you could say to that. we only have one type of instrument available. 'The rhythm's in the guitars. and after a while everyone else had dwindled away to get jobs. and the person booking us would ask. whatever. at one time there were only three of us in the band. Listen to the original recording. around Liverpool. Play the loop until you’re familiar with it. John and me. In fact. We would show up for gigs just with three guitars.George. F (and back to C M a j o r ). as exemplified by Green Day.

“If I h a d $ 10 0 0 0 0 0 ” Re v i s i t e d The Ending Now that you know A $1000000”.. We’ll revisit the song later..C G A- F Well I heard you crying loud C G All the way across Atown. you can play the final chorus of “If I had G C I’d be rich 18 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . F G If I had a million AdoG oF oG oF llars Minor. F You can play all of “When I Come Around” except for the chorus.

then move every note up one step. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 19 . This is D Minor.D Minor Chord Play a C M ajor chord. (Figure 9) • Figure 9: D M i n o r D M inor is the relative minor of F Major.

Listen to the original recording. When Santana released the single in 1969. practice a few minutes each day. instead. The following aid is included for convenience. but only listening to the recording can give you a good feel for the rhythms. 20 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . Now try playing the piano chords -. (The melody starts on A. D M inor is denoted D-.a simple alternation between D and G M ajor. The scratch-your-head-and-rub-your-stomach challenge has returned. American audiences were struck with the unfamiliar sound of the transition between these chords and the song reached number 9 on the Billboard charts. playing very slowly at first. and there is no solution except time and repetition. until you can sing and play at the same time.) Don’t worry about being able to do this immediately. Today the transition sounds familiar. Minor Add rhythmic counterpoint with your left hand. You can use a variation on the rhythmic pattern from “When I Come Around”. Now the hardest part -.add the melody and lyrics. You can continue through the tutorial even if you haven’t been able to play and sing “Evil Ways” at the same time. but the song is still exciting if played well.“Evi l Wa ys ” Complex Rhythms. Simple Chords “Evil ways” has only two chords: D Minor and G M ajor.

Moving Thirds by a Half Step J. and vice versa. When you know chord transformations well. liked to end his songs with a variation on this transformation. . return here repeatedly as your playing progresses. More recently. Don’t worry if you don’t remember all of them immediately. S. instead. . Chord Transformations Taking Apart the Harmonic Clockworks There are several simple note changes that will let you turn a major chord into a minor chord. Bach. the first major composer to use chords. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 21 . the Beatles used it to create original sounds.(no chord) You got to change your evil Dways G Dbaby G D- G D- G before I stop loving you you got to Dchange G D- G baby. This section introduces many complex ideas. it’s easier to learn new songs and to create your own music.

This is D M ajor. black key). but to E-flat (a Minor. Likewise. then move E down by a half-step -. you can turn a minor chord into a major chord by raising the third. to F-sharp (a black key).not to D. (Figure 11) 22 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . then move F up by a half step. Moving the third of major chord down by a half-step will always transform the major chord into a similarly-named minor chord. Play D Minor.Play C Major. This is C (Figure 10) • Figure 10: C M i n o r The note E-flat is outlined in white.

Moving Fifths and Roots by a Full Step This transformation has been widely used for several hundred years.• Figure 11: D M a j o r The note F-sharp is outlined in white. then move the root down a half-step. This M inor. moving a minor chord’s root down a full step creates a relative major chord. Moving Fifths and Roots by a Half Step This transformation is frequently used in 1990s electronica. to E (a white key). Play F is A P I A NO A S A M ajor. Play C Major. then move the G upward: this. as you know. Try this now by playing D Minor then F Major. Likewise. Moving a major chord’s fifth upward will always transform the major chord into its relative minor. is A Minor. Experiment with these new chords until you are familiar with them. SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 23 . The fifth becomes the minor chord’s root.

This is B . 24 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT .f l a t M a j o r The note B-flat is outlined in white. Minor.F l a t Major. Play a D black key). then move the A to B-flat (a • Figure 12: B .You can also turn a minor chord into a major chord by moving the minor chord’s fifth up a half-step.

B-f lat Major (denoted Bb). A piano rendition ignores the electronic sound textures. a song by Fatboy Slim.) The chord loop is C Major. and is therefore easy to play.“P rai s e Yo u ” An Opportunity for Keyboard Players “Praise You”. juxtaposes a largely pentatonic melody with major chords. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 25 . not harmonic. its greatest complexity is textural.a synthesizer or sequencer -you can have a lot of fun tweaking the sounds in this song. Listen to the recording to understand the rhythms. F Major. Electronic musicians share with rappers a keen ear for phonetics. Like most electronic music. Bb We’ve come a long long F way C together Bb Through the hard times F C and the good Bb I’ve got to F celebrate you C baby Bb I’ve got to praise you F like I C should Notice how Fatboy Slim chooses the types of consonant and vowel sounds that fall on chord changes. (If you have a high-quality keyboard -.

Most of the song uses suspended harmonic patterns that only later resolve to definite major or minor chords. it is still one of the iTunes Music Store’s hundred most downloaded songs. “Wonderwall”’s power derives in part from its ambiguity. Just as the lyrics never move beyond general statements and the concept of a Wonderwall is never explained. 26 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . This aid begins with the last line of the verse. C G Anot F right Major. An enduring Britpop hit. you can play the short chorus from “When I .you can’t go forcing something if it’s just D F No time to search the world around D G ‘cause you know where I’ll be found when I come a- C -round G A- F “ Wo n der wall ” Beyond Standard Chords “Wonderwall” was Oasis’s only top ten single in the United States. the harmonics themselves are ambiguous.“When I Come Around” Revisited Playing the Chorus Now that you know D Come Around”...

The main loop consists of several such unorthodox chords. and another D. A. 1) D. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 27 . Subsequent chords reveal it to be a variation of D M i n o r . C. C. D (Left hand plays D) • Figure 13: “Wonderwall” chord 1 The first chord in “Wonderwall” consists of D. numbered below (Figures 13-16). The left hand is added on the second verse. A.

and G. C. and D. 3) C. D. 28 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . A. G (Left hand plays C) • Figure 15: “Wonderwall” chord 3 The third chord in "Wonderwall" consists of C. It is a variation of C Ma jo r. D (Left hand plays F) • Figure 14: “Wonderwall” chord 2 The second chord in "Wonderwall" consists of F. A. D. C.2) F. It is a variation of F Majo r.

C. refer to the list above. Miniaturizations of the 4 chords are provided for convenience.4) G. C. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 29 . D (Left hand plays G) • Figure 16: “Wonderwall” chord 4 The fourth chord in "Wonderwall" consists of G. In the following aid. ambiguous chords are denoted with numbers. A. It is a variation of G majo r. A. and D.

At the end of the second verse. there’s a variation leading into the chorus: 1 I don’t believe 2 that anybody 3 feels the way I 4 do about you 30 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . .1 2 3 4 1 Today is 2 gonna be the day that they’re 3 gonna throw it back to 4 you. .

P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 31 . .Bb now C 1 and Bb all the roads we C have to walk are Dwinding and Bb all the lights that C light the way are Dblinding Bb there are many C things that I would F like to Asay to Dyou but I don’t know 4 how because Bb maybe D- F you’re gonna be the one that Bb saves me D- F and after Bb all D- F you’re my wonder- Bb wall D- F 1 1 Backbeat the 2 word is on the street. .

Get a book of scales and exercises. This will come with practice. you need to learn how to read music. your technique. keep listening for chord changes on recordings – with practice. and experiment as much as possible. One of the disadvantages of practicing chords again and again is that simple music loses its novelty. practice. Find a relaxed setting where you can play without an audience present. And finally. pay particular attention to the way each note and chord transition makes you feel.  If you want to play classical pieces. (You might also notice that some of the music is formulaic.) Buy a book of chord references.  If you want to learn more pop and rock songs. Buy a book about it or take a class. until you’re more confident. in smaller pieces. and rhythms (and. practice.  If you want to write your own music. tones. This is doubly true if you want to play in a group. Return to the parts you’ve had trouble with and play through them more slowly. textures). Practice. you might begin noticing the many directions your piano playing can take. you’ll need to disassociate your right and left hands more completely. 32 P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT . rephrase your ideas and emotions into the language of chords. and learn as many of the major and minor chords as you can. Figure out how to play all of the songs in this manual in their original keys. you’ll be able to figure out the songs out more easily.Conclusion The first time you read this section. Conversely. You should also develop your “chops”. if you have a synthesizer or sampler. then gradually increase the playing speed. Eventually. you probably won’t be comfortable with every topic and exercise in this book.

S. Also buy a physical book about some of your software. Even if you’ve developed your own techniques. Acid. Learn the unfamiliar chords (don’t worry about the sharp and flat fifths and ninths at first). and it combines technical simplicity with Bach’s typical brilliance.  If you want to play jazz. Depending on your taste in jazz and the your skill at singing while playing. Listen closely to recordings you like and learn the “licks” – eventually. If you’re interested in Bebop and improvisation. and Sound Forge).A good classical piece to start on is J. and a computer with lots of memory and storage space. and bundles the CDs with sheet music). Bach wrote this piece for his daughter. learn and practice scales. Bach’s “Minuet in G” (sometimes called “Minuet 3”). you’ll develop a memorized collection that you synthesize and can put to use in your own solos. sold at most music shops -and find the songs you know (or buy or download songs you don’t know).a technically illegal compendium of hundreds of jazz standards. You may also want to buy a Jamie Aebersold collection (Aebersold records Jazz standards without melodic lines or solos. there are most likely simpler and more powerful ways of doing things that you won’t discover on your own. and sing the melodic lines. P I A NO A S A SE CO ND I N ST RU ME NT 33 . who was learning piano. you might want to buy a “Real Book” -.  If you want to produce beats. be prepared for a long haul – jazz is difficult. so you can improvise over the recordings while they play. get yourself copies of whatever your favorite software is (one possible suite is Fruity Loops.

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