Lesson 2: Piano Concepts
The piano is one of the most widely used instruments in the world. Even if you have no interest in becoming a concert pianist, the concepts introduced by understanding the piano can be transferred to any other instrument you might want to play. Learning to play can be both exciting and challenging, but most of all it should be fun. Remember that you can e-mail us if you're having any problems!
Relating the Keyboard to What You Already Know
Take a minute to think how you would describe a piano keyboard to someone who had never seen one. You know that it has both white and black keys. The black keys are grouped into alternate series of two and then three with white keys in between. With this clear, we can proceed with the statement that the white keys are usually used for natural notes and the black keys are usually used with flats and sharps.
You may notice that, like the staff you already know about, the keyboard of a piano contains only twelve tones that repeat over and over again. You may also notice that all the tones have a black key between them except the between the E and F or between the B and C.
Now, let's quickly review the C major scale: C D E F G A B C, and the pattern that forms it: whole whole half whole whole whole half. Notice that the "half"s in the pattern correspond to places on the keyboard that have no black key between two white ones. That is to say, there is only a half step between an E and F or between a B and C. All the other white keys have a whole step between them.
It logically follows that if a whole step exists between two keys that the black key between them should supply the missing half step. This means that the black key directly to the right of middle C is one half step higher in pitch than the C. Also, the B directly to the left of middle C is one half step lower in pitch than the C.
Now, you should recall that a sharp indicates that a note is to be played one half step higher than written and a flat indicates for it to be played one half step lower. This implies that the black note just to the right of middle C should be C#, and it is. But what about Cb? The note a half step lower than C is B, but it is also Cb. Now you see how it is possible for a note to have more than one name. What about a Db? It is the same note as a C#, but some key signatures will simply indicate a Db instead of a C#. It is up to the musician to realize that these are both the same note.
By using both the black and white keys it is possible to form any scale following the correct pattern of half and whole steps. You just have to remember where the whole and half steps are on the keyboard. For example, what note is a whole step higher than an E? The answer is F#.
Harmony and Melody
Pianos are fairly unusual instruments in that they make it possible to play the Harmony and Melody of the same song at the same time. Usually this is accomplished by the left hand playing the harmony in the bass clef while the right hand plays the melody in the treble clef. But, how can you find what the harmony is?
The key to solving most problems of harmony usually lies in the chords that match the melody. As you have already learned, the chord made up of the first third and fifth of the scale of the key that a piece is written in is called the I chord. You also learned that the I, IV and V7 chords of a key are often used within one song.
A song's accompaniment is not limited to these three chords. In fact, outside of beginning music, you hardly ever see a piece with as common a pattern as this. However, it is very important to be familiar with these chords and their finger for use with Fake Books, and because they will show up in some form in almost every piece you ever encounter. The I, IV, and V7 chords are also very commonly seen in their root position or as broken chords.