Now is probably a good moment to fit in some of those esoteric explanations. It also fits well with understanding sheet music. And it’s a good time to throw out all the erroneous “busy, busy, make work” so loved by school teachers.
I’ll start with a relabelled keyboard, using the internationally agreed alphabetic labels, and a (hugely simplified) picture of musical staves.
You can, hopefully, see why the chords you have learned have the names they do, ie
- chord C began on note C
- chord F began on note F
- chord G began on note G
This will be true of all the other chords you will learn.
For some strange historical quirk, each group of keys begins with “C”, rather than “A”. That’s just how life works, sometimes.
Each group of 5 horizontal lines is called a “staff”. There are two staves. The squirly things at the beginning of the staves are called “clefs”. The one on the upper clef is called the “treble” clef (aka “G” clef because it coils itself around the “G” line on the staff). That on the lower clef is called the “bass” clef (aka “F” clef because it coils itself around the “F” line on the staff).
None of this is of any real significance. What matters is that the upper staff is played with your right hand, and the lower staff is played with your left hand. So it will be advisable to sit where you can plonk both your thumbs comfortably on middle C.
I have marked all the “C” notes on the staves, along with their group number (which 99.9% of teachers omit!!!).
You can, hopefully, see why “Middle C” is so important, and how it gets its name.
You’ve probably had people tell you that “Middle C is in the middle of the keyboard”, or it’s “where the keyhole is”. Both statements are duff.
Count the keys on your keyboard and work out where the middle is. I guarantee it won’t be “Middle C”, or even a “C” (it’ll probably be the “F” or the “G”).
Middle C is Middle C, whether you play it on piano, guitar, trumpet, or any other instrument. You won’t find “the keyhole” on a guitar or a trumpet, no matter how hard you look.
Middle C is actually the C in the middle of the musical scale, between the treble staff and the bass staff. Pedantically, it is C4.
What is also important is that only white keys are shown on the sheet music, therefore only the 7-note “C D E F G A B” sequence is seen.
Another misleading teaching that we’ve all been fed is FACE and EGBDF (with all the attendant variations of interpretation). Both of these are “partial” sequences, highly context specific.
A more useful, and more generic, sequence is to know where all the “C”s live (as I’ve marked on the staves), then understand the flow of lines and spaces from one “C” to the next “C”.
At this point you know more about playing the piano, and more about music, than someone who has been spent several years being taught by traditional methods. And it took you what? An hour? Two? The solution was simple – start in the right place, leave out the guff.
Sure you have a load of gaps, but you have all the stepping stones that get you back and forth across the river, from one bank to the next. You have a complete bridge across the canyon, even though the slats are a bit spaced out.
It will be infinitely easier to fill in the gaps because every gap is small, and each has a start and an end point.
On the next page I’ll demonstrate how fast you can fill those gaps. Right now let’s get some tunes under our belt. I’m guessing we all know a simple nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. Here is my simplified musical notation system. Hopefully it’s pretty self explanatory. Notice that the “C” above the “An-y” has a dot above it. That’s my shorthand for it being the next “C” above middle C. I put the dot below the “C” if it’s the next “C” below middle “C”. I could just as easily use C5, or Ch or some other convenient demarcation.
I use the “voice” part to control the pacing of my hands. I play the top line of notes with my right hand and the chords with my left hand. Give it a go. Feel free to experiment with other chords (there are some very good alternatives), and with “inverting” the chords so you don’t have to move your left hand so far. Also try “voicing” the chord as we discussed earlier. And see how it sounds if you play the chords an octave lower, or the notes an octave higher, or both.
What I suggest you do now is find a piece of music that you enjoy, and that gives you pleasure, and write it out like I’ve done above. I’m doing exactly that, right now, with “Let It Go” (from Disney’s “Frozen”).
Begin with the Words, using ruled paper, writing on every 4th line. Space the words out comfortably.
Once you’ve done that, do the right hand lines, fitting the timing of the notes to the timing of the words as you would sing them. Use “C – B”, or “1 – 7”, whichever you prefer.
Finally, add in the left hand, as and when you can make the chords fit. As a tip, use chords that match the note (eg use chord C where you play note C), but don’t get hung up on it. Try out some different chords, just to see what fits. Be prepared to leave gaps where you cannot identify a good fit, that’ll come naturally later.
Then just play it over and over. Once or twice a week (more often if it suits you) and see just how “pretty” you can make it.