Regardless of your level and objectives, today we’re asking the question: how does one play the piano?

Ok, it’s a bit vast we know. So we’ll break it down into four pieces of advice. In order to play the piano well, you’ll need to have the proper posture, and know how to play slowly, but at the right tempo. Lastly, how can you play like Mozart if you have small hands? Read on to discover the answers to these questions and more!

Begin with proper posture

When you play the piano you’ll need to use your entire body. So it’s important to adopt (and memorize) the correct positions and posture when you start to learn how to play piano, so that it becomes like second nature.

First, position yourself in the middle of the piano, comfortably seated on your chair or stool. Use the key of G in the middle of the keyboard as a benchmark. Remember that will alter slightly depending on what piece you're playing. To play piano songs that call for high notes, you’ll position yourself slightly towards the left side of the keyboard, and in the opposite side for music with a lot of low notes. Where is that middle C again?

A young pianist
Learning proper posture is key to becoming a true pianist.

Next, you’ll position your lower arms by adjusting the height of your seat. To be well placed, your elbows should be at the same height of the keyboard. Or slightly under the keyboard if you have short arms. The lower arms should not be perfectly perpendicular to the keyboard.

This arm position will allow you to move your fingers on the keyboard faster and easier, for a maximum of flexibility in fingering. Generally speaking, pianists aim to have good body position in order to make piano playing more supple and fluid. These are all things that your piano teacher will instruct you on. Check out an online piano video to see how the professionals look.

What type of seat is best for playing piano? A stool, bench, or chair?

This really comes down to your personal choice. The renowned pianist Glenn Gould played on chairs, which obviously served him well! The downside is that you can’t adjust their height. If you choose to sit on a chair, select one that corresponds to your body and the height of your piano keyboard.

The benefit of the piano bench, in addition to the possibility of modifying its height, is that its width facilitates side movements of the piano player. This is why the bench is generally the most popular type of seating used by pianists.

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How do you play the piano and sing at the same time?
Standing up while playing is just something for the great Elton John, not for beginners!

After your arms, the next thing to check as you learn to play piano is your back! The back’s position must be perfect so that you don’t cause any lumbar pains from playing. Above all else, piano playing should be a pleasure! If the piano is causing back pains, you’ve overlooked this goal.

When you play the piano, the back should be straight but not too rigid. And this rule is not only applicable to the piano. In a seated position, the back should always be straight, and never hunched over the keyboard: this is the worst position for playing the piano.

After you’ve mastered the position of the lower arms and back, you’ll need to think about your hands! Even if the entire body is in use when you play the piano, the hand plays the most important role.

To play the notes perfectly and reach the keys, your fingers must be curved and arched. Your palm should be slightly higher than the fingers, so that they “dive” into the notes (except the thumb which should be almost completely flat). This position will allow you to reduce tenseness and gain in speed while playing piano. The power you’ll need to touch the keys should be stemming from the fingers and not the wrist or arms – easier said than done!

This is also what allows for the curved position of the hand. And remember to keep your feet flat on the floor, to increase your stability and confidence. Playing on the tip of your feet is not a good idea, even when you are beginning your instruction and don’t yet know how to play piano.

While we wholeheartedly stand by all of this advice, it’s important to note that every person has a unique physical makeup. With time, your positions might differ slightly from the accepted rules, as outlined above, and more in keeping with your individual playing style and physique.

Discover the best ways of playing your piano scales too…

Ease your way into playing

When you start to learn piano, it’s important begin by playing slowly. This will allow you to warm up your fingers before playing (in the context of a piano course for example). It will also be very helpful when you learn to play a scale, chord progression, or piano song.

Certain pianists want to play faster than the music, or play the piece at the speed required by the sheet music notations without being at the level to do so correctly. These are not the right approaches!

Increase your execution speed gradually but begin by playing slowly. You must succeed at playing the piece perfectly before being able to play fast. You can’t jump from Mary had a Little Lamb to the most complex arpeggio. Get a metronome to pace your playing!

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How much time do I need to learn how to play the piano?
Begin by playing slowly!

In general, playing the piano slowly will allow you to:

  • Memorize what you're playing easier. Your brain must concentrate on every detail in the sheet music, to absorb and remember them all. Soon you’ll be able to identify and pass quickly from minor scales to major scales.
  • To make technical progress quicker, because playing slowly allows you not only to memorize music easier but also to memorize finger movements that you’ll find in other songs.
  • Be attentive to what you’re playing, to piano chords, tempo, rhythm, etc. As such you’ll be assured that what you are playing is correct, and that you’re not making mistakes in rhythm or in reading music.
  • Better understand the nuances of the piece and “feel” what you are playing.
  • To anticipate the upcoming measures instead of running after the music that you’re playing. By playing slowly, your brain will work faster than your fingers.

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Gradually improve your technique

If you are playing the piano, chances are you want to get better. That’s the goal of most pianists, whether they are absolute beginners or more experienced musicians. But making progress in piano playing could mean different things.

First, it’s the ability to read sheet music easily. By decoding the notes, you’ll acquire a knowledge of solfege and music theory. You’ll see, soon you’ll be reading more complex music and sight reading faster.

Making piano playing progress also means becoming more flexible and faster.

Your hand movements and fingering will become more and more supple. You’ll play chord progressions (with the left hand) and note progressions (right hand) faster, without creating tenseness and clenched fingers. And your playing will become better articulated and more expressive.

In order to use your fullest artistic potential, you must reach a good technical level. Technique serves the artistic, creative and performance sides.

Getting a piano instructor and taking piano lessons will help you advance must quicker than if you are self-taught. Piano classes are especially useful if you are stumbling over a piece of music or blocked from learning in any way. There are so many benefits to a piano lesson! Studying piano tutorials and videos on the Internet will also be fun and helpful, but beware of free piano classes and certain online lessons advertised online.

You’ll make great progress if you are disciplined and practice the piano regularly. Don’t force progress, because you risk skipping steps and making mistakes. There are phases in piano instruction that just can’t be rushed through.

How to play the piano with small hands

A young pianist at work
Even small fingers can reach the black keys

Some people believe that the piano isn’t for them because of their small hands. Is it possible to play the piano with short fingers? Our answer is yes.

In truth, there are many pianists who don’t have particularly big hands – “piano hands” as we say – who play those sharps and quarter notes with a lot of fluidity and ease.

Sure, certain music composers are known for their large hands. But the hand length has no bearing on quality of playing and piano technique.

This is notably the case with Liszt, who, according to legend, could play the eleventh interval with just one hand! Some small-handed people might have difficulty playing some music by Liszt, as it was conceived for those with Liszt-sized hands!

Generally speaking, classical music from the Romantic Period (nineteenth century) used a lot of intervals and chords with sevenths and ninths. Therefore, much of the “Romantic” repertoire requires large hands. We can’t deny it, but perhaps with a bit of creative improvisation on your piano notes you can overcome it!

But remember that 95% of piano music can be played with modestly sized and even small hands. What’s more, it’s even preferable to have small hands when playing songs that use chromatic movements. Just ask your music teacher!

Each hand configuration has its benefits and disadvantages, and hand size has a limited effect on piano instruction. If you have small hands and you want to learn to play the piano, go for it!

Whether you play classical piano or jazz piano (or anything!), you now have everything you need to attack those black keys and play those tunes. Your beginner piano skills will fade away, and you’ll learn to play by ear and read music like Mozart!

Great piano player classical
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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.