Piano for Beginners, Lesson 2 || Starting to Read Music


This is the second in my new series of piano
lessons for absolute beginners. The series is probably going to run to a total of thirty
or so tutorials, and in it we’ll be learning how to play the piano from written sheet music.
If you’re an absolute beginner on the piano, this is the series of tutorials that you need. Now, in the first tutorial – and there’s
a link to it below this video if you haven’t seen it yet – we learned the names of all
the white notes on the piano keyboard, and I’m now assuming that I can hit any note
and you can tell me what it is – B – or I could say “find me an F!” and you could
find me one of the Fs on the piano keyboard. If you’re still not quite there yet, or
if you know there’s a bit of a delay, if you’re still having to think about it, then
spend some more time at the piano playing the game that we covered in that first lesson,
and that should soon get you up to speed. OK, in this lesson we’re going to start
learning about written music – which is really important stuff if you’re a beginner.
Now, just before we look at some music, there’s one thing that we need to be able to do, and
that’s to find the note middle C – you’ll see why in a few minutes. OK, middle C, as
the name suggests, is the C that’s closest to the middle of the piano keyboard. On a
full size piano, it will be the fourth C up from the bottom of the keyboard. 1 – I know
I’m out of shot down there, but 1, 2, 3, 4 – middle C. So just for a minute or two
practise finding middle C, because it’s a really important note and it’s going to
be our kind of anchor our point of reference on the piano keyboard for the rest of this
lesson. OK, so now let’s look at some written music.
I’m going to be kind of bombarding you with information in this lesson, so you might want
to watch it a couple of times. Be sure, also, to download the accompanying PDF – and again
there’s a link below the video – because in there, as well as a couple of practice
exercises, I’ve included a bunch of reminders about the stuff that we’re going to cover.
So if you’re thinking “ooh my word this is a lot of information here”, download
the PDF because it’s summarized in there. OK, so here we have my amazing hi-tech whiteboard,
and on it I’ve drawn a single stave, OK, sometimes called a staff – you can use either
word – which as you can see just consists of five horizontal lines running in parallel.
Now on a piece of sheet music they would usually run across the page from the left margin to
the right. And that’s because we read music, just like we read English or French or German
or Spanish or whatever, from left to right. Now, here’s the key concept. Each line and
space on the stave represents a note on the piano keyboard. But, hold on, you might say
– there’s a problem. As you can see we’ve only got five lines and four spaces, a total
of nine notes. But there are 88 notes on the piano keyboard. So how does that work? Well, the first clue to which notes are represented
comes from this wiggly thing on the left, which is what we call a clef. Specifically
it’s a treble clef, OK? Now “clef” is just the French word for “key” but we’re
not looking at the same concept as musical key here, which you might have heard of, so
just to avoid confusion we’re going to stick to calling it a clef, OK? Now, there are several
types of clef, but this, as I say, is a treble clef. In the absence of any other information,
that tells us that the lowest line of the stave represents the E above middle C. OK,
let’s just find that – there we go, E above middle C, there’s our middle C, there’s
our E. So that line is E. The next space up, right above, literally, you know, right above
the E line represents F. Then next line up represents G – I’m going to write these
down in a second, don’t worry – then the next space is A. As you can see we’re climbing
up the notes. Yeah, and can you see what’s happening? The next line is B, so can you
guess what the next space will be, here, yeah? C – we’re gradually going up the piano
keyboard. The succession of lines and spaces represents the white notes going upwards from
E. The very topmost line is this F here, so that’s the F above the C above middle C. Let’s just write those in. OK so we’ve
got E, G, B, D and F on the lines, and we’ve got F, A, C and E in the spaces. Now if we
draw a note on the middle line, there we go, that means “play a B!” OK because the
middle line is the B line. If we draw a note in the next space down, that means “play
an A!” because that’s the space that represents an A. How long and loud we play it for and
stuff like that we’ll cover later, but that’s the basic message, yeah OK? Play an F! Play
an E! Play the next E up the keyboard, OK? The stems and things, you know the sticks
attached to the dots we’ll talk about later, they give us useful information as well, but
for now it’s all about placing the notes in the stave and relating them to the white
notes on the piano keyboard. Now if you now look at that, going from that
E to that F, from here to here we’ve already covered a pretty reasonable expanse of the
piano keyboard. Obviously we haven’t accounted for the black notes yet – you know, we’ll
deal with those in another lesson, before very long – but we’ve got from our E to
our F. And that’s a distance of just over an octave – OK, octave is a useful term,
I’ll just talk about that. The word octave describes the shortest distance on the keyboard
between two notes of the same name, and it covers 8 notes. So the run up from middle
C to the C above – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 – that’s an octave, OK? We’re going
to be using that word quite a lot. Now obviously, the thing to do now is to learn
which note goes where in the stave. We’ve got some other stuff to go over first, but
before we do look at that let me tell you about a couple of useful mnemonics, reminders,
for learning those lines and spaces. The lines E, G, B, D and F you can remember with Every
Green Bus Drives Fast, yeah? Every Green Bus Drives Fast. That’s the very first thing
I learned in my first ever music lesson on the recorder at Tower Road School in Boston,
Lincolnshire, when I was six, OK? Every Green Bus Drives Fast. The spaces F, A, C, E are
just “face” – in other words, the thing on the front of your head. So, Every Green
Bus Drives Fast – E, G, B, D, F – F, A, C, E. Remember that those two Es and those
two Fs aren’t the same notes, they’re an octave apart. So the bottom line is that
E; the highest space is that E; the lowest space is that F, and the top line is that
F. Just before we set to with memorising the
lines and spaces on the stave, I just want to cover something else, which is a question
you’re probably asking yourself – how do we represent the notes that fall outside
that range of E to F? Well it depends how close they are. If they are quite a long way
up from there or they’re quite a long way down, yeah, then there are other ways of doing
that that we’ll cover in later tutorials. But if they’re pretty close, say, this G
or this D immediately above middle C, it’s easy. Let me show you how we do it. Imagine we want to notate D first, right above
middle C – OK, here it is. We know the E is on this line, here. So D, is the next note
down, and it should go in the space between the E line and the line after that. But there
don’t seem to be any more sort of lines and spaces. The key point is actually, there
are – but most of the time they’re just not written in. We notate the D here, in this
space between the E and an imaginary line that runs beneath it. Same principle with
this G up here, above the F on the top line. We place it in the space above the F, immediately
below the next line up, which is imaginary. And we don’t write that line in. So right away we’ve expanded the range that
our stave covers by two notes. OK so now we can go from D to G. We’re you know, expanding
the ground that we’re covering. But what about middle C itself, OK yeah, wouldn’t
that be on the imaginary line below D? What do we do when we want to notate that? Easy
– we all we do is draw in a tiny bit of the imaginary line, OK, and put the note on
that. That bit of line is what we call a ledger line. It’s the same up here – if we want
to go to the A above this G, we draw in a little bit of the line, we draw in the ledger
line. And we put it just there. And the beautiful thing is that we can keep going and going,
because there are more imaginary lines and spaces above and below the ones we’ve used.
So this note is a B, OK, and this note two ledger lines up is a C. We can do the same
at the bottom – this note is a B, OK, in the space between the C ledger line and the
next ledger line down, which we’re not drawing in – and this note is an A, and we can go
down here to G, yeah? So now we’ve massively expanded the space that we can cover on our
stave, all the way from this G below middle C to this C two octaves above middle C. We’re
covering a seriously big chunk of the piano keyboard now. As in lesson one, what I’ve done is develop
a kind of game you can play, again with five levels to help you memorise this stuff, so
that it becomes really natural and instinctive. To play it you need to download and maybe
print off the PDF that comes with this lesson – as I said you’ll find the link in the
description right underneath the video. On the first page of the PDF is a summary of
the information we’ve just covered, OK? It’s a fully labelled stave with all the
lines and spaces marked up so you that can find the notes just as you’re beginning
to learn things. On the second page you will find a graphic that looks like this, a collection
of more or less random notes, OK – and that’s what we’re going to be using for our game. OK, level one is where we’re just going
to put into practice the stuff we’ve learned in the tutorial so far. All I want you to
do is go through the page of notes and in your own time find each one, using any finger
of your right hand. Take your time and work through it several times until you’re not
having to think too hard about where the notes are. If you have to, refer to the diagram
on the first page of the PDF where you’ve got the labelled stave if you need to find
out where the notes are. So if we just look at the first four notes here we can see we
have G, B, the D in the octave above middle C, and the D above middle C. Every time you
hit a note, say it’s name. G, B, D, D. As I said, go through the whole page and make
sure you can play all the notes and that you’re sure about them. Keep going through it until
you’re confident. When you’re pretty confident with level
one, you can move on to level two. It’s exactly the same as level one, but now we’re
going to be paying attention to these little numbers above the notes. You may have already
guessed what they are – they tell you which finger of your right hand to play the note
with – 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. You’ll remember we covered finger numbering in the first lesson.
So through the whole thing again, but this time use the right finger for each note. So
those first four notes become G with your thumb, B with your third finger, the higher
D with your fifth and D above middle C with your thumb. So G with thumb, B with your third,
D with fifth and D with thumb. Again, work through it until you’re really, really confident. For level three we’re going to look further
down the second page of the PDF where you’ll find this stave, and something a little bit
more challenging – we’ve got multiple notes at the same time. Now obviously when
we play the piano we don’t just hit one note at once – often we hit several at the
same time, yeah, and we need a way of reflecting that in the sheet music. You can see how it’s
done if you look at the stave – the notes are grouped together in the same vertical
space. So you know if you refer to your PDF you’ll see that the very first group of
notes in the same vertical space at the start of that stave are C and E. So that means we
play them together. Again, what I want you to do is go through
the notes on the sheet and play them. Start off with any two fingers you want, just get
the notes right at first, but after a while use the fingers written in above the notes.
The lower finger number always refers to the lower note and the upper finger number to
the upper note. So the first four groups are middle C and E played with thumb and third,
D and A played with thumb and fifth, G and C played with second and fifth and F and A
played with second and fourth. Keep on bashing through until you’re pretty
confident, yeah, that’s a pretty short little section. But it might still take a while and
it might be difficult at first. Remember that’s good – if you face the difficulty and grind
on through it you’re really building the mental muscles that’ll make things easier
when we start playing tunes in the next lesson. Level four brings us back to our page of single
notes. This time we’re basically going to repeat level three, playing the individual
notes with the marked finger. But as you play each note I want you to hum it or sing it
to yourself, like this – hmmmmm – or G. Now, if you’re a guy you’re going to be
actually singing the note an octave lower, but don’t worry too much about that, just
go for the note that sounds right – you know, you’ll know if it’s the right not.
Now if you’re not a confident singer, if you don’t like singing, it doesn’t matter
– you don’t need to make a load of noise – you know, hum it under your breath if
you like – the important point is to physically produce the note. Why do we bother doing that? Actually that’s
really, really, really important. One of the problems we face as pianists is that our instrument
makes the note for us – we don’t have to put any thought into the note we’re producing.
Now lots of other instruments, like the violin and the trombone, and the voice if you’re
a singer, you know the people performing really have to put an effort into tuning the note
and choosing the right note and producing the right sound. And that produces what we
call much better audiation skills, yeah – it means you can kind of hear what’s coming.
On the piano it can become very easy just to sit down with a sheet of music and mechanically
reproduce it just by pressing the right note at the right time. And it’s really important
that we develop our aural skills, our ear skills, because that will, down the line,
make us into much quicker and more confident readers of music. So it might seem a bit crazy
for now, but we’re going to keep doing these little bits of singing and humming because
they’re really important. So level four, go through the page of single notes – it’s
another chance to practise the single notes with the fingers – and each time you hit
one of the notes instead of naming it, sing it, even if it’s just really quietly. Level five is the boss level. Now most music
has a beat, an underlying pulse that all its rhythms are based around. Beat is one of the
most instinctive of human musical senses, so I probably don’t need to explain it too
much. What I want you to do here is set yourself
a steady beat, counting in groups of four, like this. One two three four one two three
four. What we’re going to do is play through both sheets, the single notes and the double
ones, playing one note or group of notes for each beat, with the marked fingers, like this.
One two three four one two three four one two three four one two three four. Now that’s going to be hard, and I’m going
to say now don’t knock yourself out if you can’t perfect it, or even if you can’t
do it very well or at all, but do have a go because it’s a great way of challenging
yourself, and you know keeping yourself challenged is the way you learn. If you can do that reasonably
securely, it might take a lot of practice, then you are doing very well indeed. So that’s it, you’ve actually started
reading music. In the next tutorial we’ll use the stuff we’ve learned today to start
playing a tune. Alhough you might have noticed as you were working through the game that
I actually cheekily snuck in a little bit of a tune already into the exercise there.
But in the next tutorial, as I say, we’ll look at one in detail and start learning about
things like note lengths. In the meantime, I want you to practise really hard – every
single day, but as I said in lesson one, not necessarily for very long – little and often
is best, twenty minutes, thirty minutes absolute max. But little and often; keep it regular.
And if it seems like hard work, if you’re thinking “oh my word, this is so difficult,
I’m so confused, aaargggghhhh this is hard” that’s GOOD. That’s your brain laying
down the new circuitry, laying down the new connections it needs to turn you into a pianist.
So embrace the difficulty. That’s always the message with piano practice: embrace the
difficulty. Remember also that if you know nothing more
than the notes on the keyboard I have other tutorials on stuff like improvisation that
you can have fun with, and which might help you kind of develop your skills and your knowledge
as we move on – check out the list of suggestions again I’ve put underneath this video. I just want also to mention my Patreon crowdfunding
campaign – this piano lessons for beginners series, like all my tutorials, is completely
free of charge, and crowdfunding is one of the ways I support the channel, along with
stuff like sales of my books, which I’ll talk to you guys about a little more when
you’re kind of up to speed with your music reading. Anyway, if you’d like to support
what I do to the tune of you know, just two or three dollars a month, that would be fantastic
– just head over to www.patreon.com/billhilton to find out more. I would be really grateful. OK, I’m going to publish the third piano
lesson in this beginners’ series in the first couple of weeks of January 2017. In
the meantime, practise hard, don’t forget to like and share this video and subscribe
to my channel by clicking the button at the bottom right of this video screen. I’ll
see you soon!