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How to Play the Piano

How to Play Piano?
There are great benefits to learning piano at the Beverly Shaffer Piano Studio, located nearby in Montgomery AL.

Music is at the center of our lives and is as essential to human beings as food and water.  – Beverly Shafer

How to Learn to Play the Piano

Music is a form of communication, not just for the chosen few, but for all who want to add beauty to the world.  Every person is capable of learning to make music at the piano thereby increasing the joy in their life and in the lives of those around them.    Beverly is passionate about sharing her love of music with all her students.

Most often people of any age learn to play best when guided by a tutor like Beverly Shafer at her Montgomery Studio.  This is because the piano is complex and requires the integration of at least six different skills:  Motor Skills, Note Reading Skills, Rhythm Skills, Sight Reading  Skills, Music Theory Skills: and Aural Skills.

While learning six skills to be able to play the piano (or any keyboard) may seem daunting – with the right teacher the challenge can be enjoyable and achievable for children and adults.  Each of these six skills is taught at the keyboard, one-on-one with Beverly. Additionally, these skills are reinforced in Beverly’s Piano Studio Computer Lab.   The computer lab is also an individual learning experience in which Beverly guides the student through the exercises.

  1. Motor Skills: The word “technique” is often used to refer to motions or gestures that are helpful in developing fluency at the piano.  A great deal of learning to play the piano is focused on becoming comfortable with these movements.  For example, learning to play with a relaxed wrist is essential to playing with freedom at the piano.  Learning how to use the damper pedal effectively is also essential to playing expressively.  Skills like these can usually be picked up with greater ease under the watchful eye of a caring tutor.
  1. Note Reading Skills: Learning to read music is an intellectual skill.   In many ways it is similar to how you started reading the alphabet – a task that is always easier when guided by someone who is already a strong reader.

The ability to read music can be developed by integrating three different skills:

  • Individual note recognition
  • Intervallic reading (reading groups of notes in intervals)
  • Multi-key understanding (learning keys and positions in groups)

By using all three of the above skills concurrently, students develop a fluid approach to note reading.

How does learning to play the piano start?

Students begin learning individual note recognition by using a few Guide Notes:  Middle C, Treble G, and Bass F.  When these are easy, Low C, Bottom Line G, High C, and Top Line F are added.  Using individual note flashcards expands upon this note recognition.

In addition to individual note reading, the students learn to read by the shape and direction of the musical line:  up, down, repeat and step or skip.  Intervallic reading promotes fluency and recognition of melodic patterns.

When students’ note reading is secure, a multi-key approach is introduced.  The student learns major and minor 5-finger patters and begins to experiment with transposition.  After students learn all 12 major and minor 5-finger patterns, they are introduced to the complete major scale along with key signatures and primary chords.

  1. Rhythmic Skills: Counting the rhythm of a piece of music is also an intellectual skill.  By tapping and counting pieces before playing in their entirety students isolate and become comfortable with one of the most difficult aspects of music.  Students also learn to feel the meter, sense the forward flow of a musical phrase, and understand the need to keep going.
  1. Sight-Reading Skills: Sight-reading is an important musical skill which can be learned.  Students sight-read at each lesson using music at least one level below their current level.  Research shows that students who learn good sight-reading skills continue to enjoy playing the piano into adulthood.
  1. Music Theory Skills: The study of music theory begins with half steps and whole steps and continues throughout piano study.  These half steps and whole steps are the building blocks of everything that follows, major and minor five finger patterns, transposition, triads, major and minor scales, key signatures, chords and inversions, and arpeggios.   A basic knowledge of music theory allows a student to continue to learn music at an advanced level.  Without a basic understanding of the building blocks of musical composition, learning and performing advanced music becomes increasingly problematic.
  1. Aural Skills: Some people say that ear training is the single most important factor in developing complete musicianship.  Ear training begins at the first lesson and is a vital part of every piano lesson.  This starts with recognizing high and low sounds, sounds that move up, down, or repeat, skips and steps, major and minor sounds, culminating with melodic and rhythmic dictation.

Student-Centered Philosophy.  Selecting music that motivates practice is important, especially for the first few years of study.  Finding music that meets each student’s interests from popular, rock’n roll, classical, jazz & blues, or Broadway tunes, helps to keep the student engaged while the above skills are developed.

In addition to the aforementioned skills which are the focus of piano study, students also learn discipline, concentration, and patience which are necessary in the study of any subject and in the living of one’s whole life.

To quote from “The Art of Loving”, “I shall never be good at anything if I do not do it in a disciplined way.  Concentration, which is necessary for the mastery of any art, is rare in our culture.  Patience is necessary if you want to achieve anything.”