One of the first things you will learn about when you begin to learn how to play the piano is how to read piano notes written on sheet music. Music is written on five lines, and the four spaces between the lines. This arrangement of lines is called the music staff. Piano music uses two staves (the plural of staff), which is called the grand staff. A grand staff is used because there are so many different notes that the piano can play, 88 to be exact, that two separate staves are needed in order to notate all of the high notes (written on the top staff) and all of the lower notes (written on the lower staff). There is one note written directly between the top and bottom staff, where the two halves of the keyboard “come together.” We call this note middle C, because it indicates the middle of the keyboard and the middle of the grand staff.
It is important to be able to locate middle C on a piano keyboard, and it is often one of the first things that beginning piano students are taught to do. To visually locate middle C, you first must realize how the keyboard is configured. Take a look at any piano and you will notice that the black keys are grouped together in groups of 2 or 3. These groups alternate, so that you have a group of 2 black keys, then a group of 3 black keys, then another group of 2 black keys, and so on, all the way to the end of the keyboard. Take a moment to locate these groups. Put your finger on the first black key (the one on the left) of a group of 2 black keys. Now slide your finger to the left to touch the white key directly beside it. This is one of the C keys on the piano. If you follow this process with any of the groups of 2 keys, you will find another C. The farther to the right you move, the higher the C will sound, and the farther to the left, the lower the note will sound.
The C that is located right in the middle of the keyboard, directly in front of where the performer sits on the piano bench, is middle C. Find middle C on your keyboard. On sheet music, middle C is written on a short line, called a ledger line, written directly below the bottom line of the top staff. If you start at one C and play all of the white notes in order until you reach the next C, you have just played the C major scale. The C major scale does not use any sharp or flat notes in it (represented by the black keys). There are many pieces of music that you can learn to play that center around the C major scale. If a piece of music is written in the key of C major, you can assume that it will use only, or at least mostly, the white keys, since those are the notes of the scale. Learning the major and minor scales will help you improve your skills as a musician. Practice playing the C major scale and locating the Cs on the piano. Find a piece of sheet music and practice locating all of the middle Cs written on the staff paper. On the top staff, called the treble clef staff, C is also the name of the note written on the third space from the bottom, which would be located as the C to the right of middle C on the piano keyboard. Another C is the note written using two ledger lines above the treble clef staff. On the bottom staff, called the bass clef staff, C is also written on the second space from the bottom, and again using two ledger lines beneath the bass clef staff. Practice finding all the Cs that you can on your piano sheet music. Knowing where to locate C on the piano keyboard as well as where to play them correctly on the piano will help you to locate other notes, relative to the position of the notes that you already know how to find.
Play around with your piano keyboard and see if you can make some simple melodies that are written in the key of C. Try easy children’s songs like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
After you've figured out your positioning on the piano as well as your finger positioning (the piano numbers system), you may want to look into reading piano music. From there you can move onto basic note values and building chord triads.
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