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Your First Lesson

Want to learn how to play the piano? You’ve come to the right place!

With 88 keys, a rich history, and many associated celebrities, the piano can be an intimidating instrument. But it’s also an accessible one. Anyone can learn the piano and have hours of fun on it.

In this lesson, we’ll familiarize you with the keyboard, teach you the five-finger scale, and get you playing your first chords and chord progression. By the end of this lesson, you’ll have the necessary skills to learn your first song.

If this sounds like a lot, don’t worry! This is a beginner-friendly lesson that assumes you’ve never touched a piano. Feel free to pause and rewind the video if you need to.

What you’ll learn in this lesson:

    1. Piano posture
    2. How to navigate the keyboard and find Middle C
    3. The musical alphabet
    4. How to play the five-finger scale
    5. How to play with both hands at the same time
    6. Your first chords
    7. Your first chord progression
    8. Finally, your first song!

This article will also dive deeper into the video’s core concepts and link you to relevant resources for further learning. Let’s get started!

Piano Posture

Good habits start from day one. Before you start playing, always stretch, warm up, and check your posture.

Sit down on your bench facing the middle of the piano. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor, your shoulders are relaxed, and your arms are gently bent at the elbow.

When you place your hands on the keyboard, relax your wrists. Don’t tense your fingers—keep them loose so that they’re slightly bent, not straight.

Remember these posture tips:

    • Don’t sit hunched over
    • Warm up with a few stretches before each practice session
    • Pay especially close attention to your wrists, forearms, and shoulders


Don’t let your wrists droop! Keep them lifted up, but not too tense.

Good posture is essential for enjoying your time at the piano. If you’re comfortable, you’ll be more motivated to practice, and you’ll play with better technique too.

Find Middle C

The piano keyboard may look dizzying with its vast array of keys (88, to be exact). But once you understand the patterns that make it work, it’s actually quite simple.

Take a look at your keyboard. Notice the black keys—see how there are sets of two and sets of three? We’ll use these sets of twos and threes to find Middle C.

Middle C is the first note you’ll learn on the piano. It’s smack dab in the middle of the keyboard, usually where the brand name of the piano is. Find a set of two black keys in the middle and play the white key on the very left: this is Middle C!

Remember where Middle C is. You’ll use it to orient yourself around the rest of the keyboard.

Middle C🔥🎹 HOT TIP! This is what Middle C looks like in musical notation. We won’t be covering musical notation in this lesson, but we have tons of free sight reading lessons if you want to master reading music. For now, you can recognize Middle C by the single line that cuts through it. Like a marshmallow on a stick!

The Musical Alphabet

Now for your first theory lesson! In music, we name notes after the alphabet. The white key after C is D, the one after is E, and so on. The musical alphabet stops at G, however, so instead of a note called H we just repeat from C again.

Therefore, after Middle C, the notes are:

D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D…etc.

This pattern repeats for the entire keyboard.

Quiz yourself!

See if you can find a B. Next, find a lower B. Then, find another B that was higher than the first one.

Test yourself with another note. A good one to try is F, because F sits at the very left side of a set of three black keys.

Once you’re comfortable with how the musical alphabet works up and down the keyboard, let’s move on to five-finger scales!

🔥🎹 HOT TIP! By now, you’re probably wondering what all those black keys are called. The black keys are half-steps between the white notes. They’re called sharps or flats and they’re symbolized by a musical “hashtag” (#) for sharps and a little b (♭) for flats.

Play The Five-Finger Scale

The five-finger scale is very basic, but it’ll introduce you to a finger movement that is fundamental to piano-playing.

The Right Hand

Let’s go back to Middle C. Place your right thumb on Middle C. In piano, we call this finger 1.

Next, place your index finger on the next white key, D. This is finger 2. Place your remaining fingers on the other white keys. This means finger 3 goes on E, finger 4 goes on F, and finger 5 (pinky) goes on G.

Try playing these notes in order (1-2-3-4-5). Then, play it in reverse (5-4-3-2-1). Congratulations, you’ve just played your first C major five-finger scale!

If this feels weird at first, that’s totally normal and okay. It’s a new movement, so it’ll take time to get used to. Your fingers may want to stick together, especially fingers 3 and 4. To improve, challenge yourself to play all five notes as evenly and articulated as you can.

Play the right-hand five-finger scale a few times. Once you get the hang of it, move on to the left hand.

The Left Hand

Find the C below Middle C, and place your left pinky (finger 5) on it. Then follow up with the rest of your left-hand fingers.

Again, play these notes up and down a few times until it feels more familiar.

🔥🎹 HOT TIP! How do pianists play more than five notes in a row without running out of fingers?! This happens quite often, especially with scales. Pianists use techniques like tucking under and crossing over to quickly play long, unbroken streams of notes. This is why practicing scales is so important for pianists who want to play faster.

Play with Both Hands at the Same Time

Now comes the fun part: playing with both hands at the same time!

Play the five-finger scale up with both hands. The fingering will look like this:

Right hand: 1-2-3-4-5 (C-D-E-F-G)
Left hand: 5-4-3-2-1 (C-D-E-F-G)

Now play the five-finger scale down with both hands. The fingering will look like this:

Right hand: 5-4-3-2-1 (G-F-E-D-C)
Left hand: 1-2-3-4-5 (G-F-E-D-C)

Hand independence is something you’ll continually work on as a pianist. Even advanced pianists have challenges with hand independence, so if playing piano with both hands feels odd, that’s natural and it will get better with practice.

📝💡TAKE NOTE! Rhythm exercises are a fantastic way to practice hand independence. Remember: if your brain is struggling to deal with two hands doing separate things, it means you’re learning!

Your First Chords

Chords are the building blocks of music. Chords are used in many Western music traditions, including pop, jazz, and church songs. Once you know a handful of chords, you can play a basic version of almost any pop song.

Now, there’s a lot of theory behind chords and chord progressions, but to make things simple in this lesson, we’ll learn four basic chords in their root position and how to move between them. The basic chords we’ll learn are: C Major, G Major, A Minor, and F Major.

We’ll learn these chords in root position, which means they’ll all take a similar chord-shape. The chords will look like this:

C Major in Root Position

Let’s walk through how to play C Major in root position.

On your right hand, place finger 1 (thumb) on C and finger 5 (pinky) on G. Play these notes together. They are the outer “shell” of the C Major root position chord. Once this feels comfortable, try playing E with finger 3 (your middle finger).

Try the same thing on your left hand. Place your left-hand finger 5 on C and finger 1 on G to form the chord shell. Then, play E with finger 3.

The same fingering applies to the other root position G Major, F Major, and A Minor chords. If you need help, feel free to rewind the video a few times and watch Lisa play these chords.

📝💡TAKE NOTE! In Western music, we have major chords and minor chords. The symbolized difference between them is that major chords sound “happy” and minor chords sound “sad.” The shorthand for major chords is usually just the letter (“C” for C major chord) while a lowercase “m” denotes a minor chord (“Am”).

Chords are the building blocks of music. Understanding how they work will take you to the next level of playing, improvising, and connecting chords with riffs and fills. Check out our free Chord Hacks resource
if you want to dive deeper into chords.

Your First Chord Progression

A chord progression is a sequence of chords. Musicians often play chord progressions (on pianos, guitars, and what-have-you) underneath a melody. This harmonizes and accompanies the tune.

The chord progression we’ll teach you today forms the basis of many, many pop songs. (Watch Lisa sing “Let It Be” by The Beatles and ”Somebody You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi to see this in action.)

The Chord Progression:
C Major > G Major > A Minor > F Major

Once your right hand feels comfy moving between the chords, pair it with your left hand by playing the same note as your right thumb as a bass line.

Tips!

Moving between chords will feel slow at first, but it’s just a matter of practice. Practice finding notes quickly on the keyboard, and look ahead to your next chord while you’re playing your current chord.

Adding a rhythm also helps. Try playing a C Major chord for four steady beats, counting 1-2-3-4. Then, around beats 3 or 4, start looking for G Major, your next chord.

You can also break things down. Practice moving between C Major and G Major a few times, then between G Major and A Minor, and so on.

And remember, relax your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders. Don’t tense up!

📝💡TAKE NOTE! The theory behind chord progressions is pretty fascinating. Did you know that practically all pop songs trace their lineage to the chord progression in Pachelbel’s Canon in D?

Your First Song!

Whew. You’ve learned a lot in this lesson, including how to:

    • Sit comfortably at the piano
    • Orient yourself with Middle C and find any note
    • Play the five-finger scale
    • Play basic chords and a popular chord progression

We’ve given you a lot of information, so make sure you take some time to practice and let it all sink in.

But once you’re familiar with the concepts introduced in this lesson, it’s time to play your first song!

We have loads of song tutorials on Pianote. You can try our four easiest songs for beginners first:

🔥🎹 HOT TIP! These days, you can find the chord chart to practically any pop song on the Internet. Most websites are geared towards guitar players, but pianists can use guitar chord charts too. If you like pop music, learn how to read chord charts and lead sheets.

A Note On Practicing

Playing the piano can feel awkward at first, perhaps even frustrating. But this is totally normal because your body and brain are learning new skills most people don’t use in everyday life.

If you have questions, drop us a comment in the YouTube comment section. Better yet, join the learning community at Pianote and connect with other piano students and our instructors.

Having a community is helpful because you can solve problems together and learn from each other’s mistakes. For example, make sure you’re not making one of these common mistakes:

Finally, make sure you dedicate time to practicing these exercises. The piano isn’t designed to be mastered in a day. Having a practice routine helps, but most importantly, have fun! Challenge yourself bit by bit. Choose songs that sound good to you.

Ready To Get Started?

Start learning piano for free with our videos. We also have tons of free resources on our blog including song tutorials, theory lessons, and tips on technique. Have fun exploring and playing!


Charmaine Li

Charmaine Li is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and classically trained pianist with previous experience teaching piano and music theory. She loves thinking and writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience.

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