You might be under the impression that learning to play the piano is a near impossible task or that it only comes to those that are musically gifted. While the piano can be a very complexly beautiful instrument, learning to play your favorite songs or even how to compose new songs can be done in a reasonable amount of time. As with any fine art, layering is the key to learning how to play a musical instrument. The one thing to keep in mind throughout the process is that it should be about fun, not stress.

Step 1. Get A Basic Understanding for Reading Music

Unless you’ve played another instrument or had previous experience with understanding music, reading music, etc., learning to play the piano will be next to impossible. Don’t worry though, there are a number of ways you can go about learning the basics in a short amount of time.

Step 2. Find A (Tuned) Piano

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a well-tuned piano in your home, there are still a lot of options available to you. First off, if you do have a piano in your home, make sure it is professionally tuned before you go about learning (or you’ll be completely thrown off). If you do not have a piano, there are a few alternatives: use a digital keyboard piano, use piano software on your computer or use a virtual piano keyboard.

Digital keyboard pianos are a much preferred alternative. Learning piano on a computer will help to teach you how to play in general, but to develop muscle memory along with visual memory, you’ll need a physical digital keyboard to learn on. However, before you go out and buy an expensive piano or digital piano keyboard, you can teach yourself plenty with piano software. Some computers come with piano software included (Mac OS comes with GarageBand), otherwise you’ll have to do a bit of searching to find something decent. When all else fails, there are a number of virtual keyboards available online:

Step 3. Learn the Keys

Now that you’ve found your piano, you can start to learn which keys do what.  There are charts available both online and in books, but here’s one to get you started:

Piano Keys

The first thing you’ll notice is that the basic key notes repeat (C, D, E, F, G, A, B). Secondly you’ll notice the pattern of the black keys (two keys, then a space, then three keys, then a space, etc.). In fact, the piano keys are a repeated version of the following chart:

Basic Piano Keys

These keys represent the only twelve piano notes you need to know. The black keys — you’ll get to these once you’re a little more advanced — are the sharps (denoted by ‘#’) and flats (denoted by ‘b’). The white keys are where you’ll be spending the majority of your time as a beginner.  Any piano teacher worth their salt will teach you two things to begin with about the keys:

  1. The C-note in the middle of the keyboard is known as middle C. This key will let you know where your hands should be placed and which keys to use, depending on which octave you’re in (more on that later).
  2. As much fun as it may seem like, do not start playing with two hands. Working with one hand is hard enough and you’ll have a more difficult time learning to use them separately if you confuse yourself now. Everything from middle-C to the left is played with the left hand, and the rest is up to your right hand.

Step 4. Find Good Music

And by Good Music, we mean music that is slightly above your playing ability. Practicing this type of music will force you to improve your own skills. Unless you are some sort of prodigy, do not try to start with Bach or Beethoven; instead, try starting off with some holiday songs.

Step 5. Slowly Increase Difficulty

When you’re able to play several songs fairly well, it’s time to increase your difficulty. Choose songs that are difficult for you but not so much that it makes it impossible to play. A great place to find songs like these is YouTube. For example, a great moderate learning example is how to play Clocks by Cold Play:

This tutorial is excellent because it allows you to hear what the song really sounds like but gives you a step-by-step how-to on how to build up to the point where you can play it easily.

And actually, YouTube has a wealth of tutorials on simple songs to get you started with basic to moderate playing.

Step 6. Time To Get Serious

So once you’ve made it to the point where you can play several moderate difficulty parts to songs, you’ll want to get a bit more serious about your playing. At this point, I’d recommend reading our reviews on various learning-piano products available out there as well as looking into hiring a piano teacher (a tutor).