Play Piano In 15 Minutes

I love those misleading ads one sees all over the internet, but for any of you strummers out there with even just a rudimentary music theory knowledge, it is a very easy step to transfer basic theory concepts to the piano, and with many benefits. If you can get yourself in front of a piano (or keyboard), this little micro-course will get you up and running and playing a load of songs in just a few minutes!

The white notes on the piano are the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C and the black notes are the sharps and flats. Remember that E to F and B to C are just a semitone apart, so they are the ones that are without a sharp between them. You’ll notice that the sharps are grouped in 2’s and 3’s - well B and C are located to the left of the groups of 2. If we only use the white notes, we are playing in the key of C Major, which is all we’ll be working in today. 

One of the cool things about theory applied to piano is that it’s a lot more obvious than guitar. Basic triad chords, for example, are R, 3rd and 5th, and this on piano is play a note (root), miss a note (2), play a note (3rd), miss a note (4), play a note (5th)! It’s right there in front of you! There are many fingering options but to start, use your right hand, thumb on the root, middle finger on the 3rd and pinky on the 5th. This will help you to ‘miss’ the notes that would have been under your index and ring fingers. (note that I’m avoiding finger numbers here because they’re different from guitar!).

So start that triad shape with your thumb on the note C, do the play a note, miss a note, play a note miss a note thing and you have C Major Chord. Keep the same shape but move it all up one note so the thumb is on the D and you have a D minor chord. This follows the diatonic chord sequence for the key of C which is: C Major, D Minor, E Minor, F Major, G Major, A minor, B diminished and then back to C. We number this chords using Roman numerals for convenience, capitals for Major chords and lower case for minor chords so C (I), Dm (ii), Em (iii), F (IV), G (V), Am (vi) and Bdim (vii) – don’t worry too much about the vii chord for now, it’s not used often!

The rhythm pattern I recommend you start with is playing a root note of the chord (just the one-note) in the left hand, somewhere to the left of where you plan to play the chord. Then the triad with the right hand, do that all twice and you have the bass root on 1 and 3 and the chord on beats 2 and 4.

A chord pattern that works for gazillions of songs is the ol’ I V vi IV (1, 5, 6, 4) so doing each of those for a bar and you got yourself the ability to play hundreds (really!) of songs at parties and show off your new awesome piano skills. Some (simplified) songs you might like to sing over this would be: I’m Yours (Jason Mraz), Let It Be (The Beatles), When I Come Around (Green Day), Wherever You Will Go (The Calling).

If you fancy trying something a bit more old school, try using the I, vi, ii, V (1, 6, 2, 5) chord sequence which is the foundation of many more songs like I Got Rhythm (George Gershwin) or The Rainbow Connection (Muppets). 

The so-called “50’s progression” is used in lots of songs too I, vi, IV, V (1, 6, 4, 5) like Stand By Me (Ben E. King) or All I Have To Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers).

The above songs examples are simplified, and I had to leave bits out, but the idea here is just to get you started and give you some food for thought. Next month we’ll explore how you can use these ideas to help your guitar playing and get a little more creative, but for now, tinkle those ivories and have some fun!

Food For Thought