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Piano and Music Theory Part 01

Posted on 13th April 2012  ·  comments
Ever thought about brushing up on your keyboard skills? perhaps you are interested in learning more about music theory?

You often hear people say that learning how to play a musical instrument is a great help when practicing the art of music production and I think it is safe to say that the majority of us have spent countless hours playing around on our keyboards and at some stage have considered taking piano and/or music theory lessons. In my own mind I am certain that this path leads to hundreds if not thousands of new musical ideas that we can explore and enjoy...

What I would like to do in this mini post (and in a series of posts following this) is to start to look at piano playing technique alongside basic music theory. Expect to read about chords, notation, fingering, reading music, scales and everything in between (in no particular order).

Before we begin I would like to say that by no means am I a Piano Virtuoso (visit our friend who is) however I do know a little about playing the piano and music theory. I hope that in time my 'music theory mini-posts' will help you in some way as you progress in your music making.


A good place to start when learning the piano is to learn the 'correct' fingering. The standard convention is to number the fingers 1-5 outwards from the thumb on both hands. Next you need to 'hover' one of your hands over the keyboard so that the thumb (1) is just above the C key. You will find that if you chose your right hand the fingers from the thumb outwards will naturally hover over C, D, E, F and G (if not make slight adjustments). This is called the '5 finger position' and is used as a reference point for your hands to jump back too during practice (extremely useful). Try the same with your left hand hovering over the keyboard (with your thumb over C) and you will find that your fingers from the thumb outwards will naturally hover over C, B, A, G and F. The '5 finger position' and finger numbering are used to cultivate good playing technique as you practice.


A scale is simply a succession (ladder) of notes that are played one after another following a tonal pattern. To explain this let's look at the common C Major scale.

The C Major scale is simply all of the white notes on the keyboard starting from C, cycling through D, E, F, G, A, B and C (1 octave above). Remembering our fingering rule we can start to practice (with both hands separately at first) playing all of the notes in the C Major scale starting with the thumb (1), moving out to the little finger (5). The aim here is to play each note smoothly up and then back down the scale while keeping the pulse of the music (beat). The problem is that our fingers run out at G so we need to 'cross under' the thumb (1) onto the F key, once you have played the E key with the middle finger (3). This sets you up so that the rest of your fingers can complete the run upwards to the top of the scale.

Once you arrive at the C key (1 octave above) you need to run back down the scale and cross your middle finger (3) 'over' to the E key once your thumb (1) has played F. Once you have crossed over your middle finger (3) to E you remaining fingers will be in the correct position to complete the scale (listen below).

When you start out, practice both hands separately, then both hands together in similar motion (the same direction up and down) and contrary motion (hands moving outwards away from each other).

I hope this makes sense for now, In future posts I want to include audio and video examples which I am sure will make things easier to understand!

Next Time... more scales and exercises to improve playing technique.

Written by Steve Heath of Wave Alchemy

Want to read more? check out Piano and Music Theory Part 02.

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