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Antonio Padula Answers Frequently Asked Questions About the Piano

Antonio Padula teaches piano and voice lessons in Kirkland, Quebec. He loves to share his knowledge and passion for music and hopes to inspire the same in others.

Antonio Padula of Kirkland, Quebec: Piano Instructor

How easy is it to learn the piano?

If you want to learn to play like Murray Perahia or Herbie Hancock, it’s not going to be easy. On the other hand, learning your way around the piano enough to have fun and play some simple tunes, or perhaps accompany a song, is not difficult. It’s a matter of deciding what level you want to play at and setting your priorities.

Because the piano is fully chromatic, you can play in any key. However, keys with more sharps and flats and more challenging to play in, using more of the black keys on the keyboard. If you are content to play mainly in ‘easy’ keys like C major, A minor, F major and G major, you can play some compelling music without great technical difficulty.

Practicing ‘smart’ can help build the areas of piano technique that you need. You may decide you want to play mainly chords for accompaniment. Devote your practice to building up chords in different keys and finding arpeggio patterns that you can use to add texture and effect to the music. You may find that sitting down to improvise on a three-chord motif gets you further than trying to play a Bach minuet. Decide on your targets and practice accordingly, and you’ll get further, more quickly.

The piano is a very versatile instrument and can be used in many different kinds of music. You might want to play jazz or blues, classical, or contemporary music. Many pianists play more than one type of music. The good news is that whatever style you learn, the proper piano technique can easily be transferred from one genre to another.

Besides being relatively easy to learn, the piano is a great foundation instrument for anyone who wants to learn music, since it plays both melody and chords. A purely melodic instrument like the oboe doesn’t give the kind of knowledge of harmony that you’ll get from playing the piano. Also, because the piano is learned from a full score and not from tablature, learning other instruments and learning musical theory will be much more comfortable than if, for example, you had learned guitar chords from tabs.

How many keys on a grand piano?

A grand piano generally has 88 keys, 52 of which are white and 36 of which are black. The white keys give the notes of the C major scale, while the black keys give the chromatic notes, that is, the sharps and flats. 88 keys give the piano a range of seven full octaves plus a minor third, from A in the bass to C at the top. Some older pianos have a slightly smaller range with 85 keys.

How many keys are on a full-size piano?

A full-size piano should have at least 85, but usually 88 keys, giving a range of over seven octaves. However, beginners won’t use the full range of the piano. Most music up to a good amateur standard only uses the middle range of the instrument, which is why many electronic keyboards are quite a bit shorter. 76 notes would be more than enough for most beginners.

How many keys on a standard piano?

Standard pianos, whether grand or upright, have basically the same size keyboard with 88 notes. The difference between grand and upright pianos is basically the way the strings are arranged. The grand piano has its strings arranged parallel to the floor, while a complicated arrangement of the levers or ‘action’ that plays the strings allows the upright piano to fit the strings perpendicular to the floor, saving on space. The more complicated action depends on springs, which can wear out over time, but it doesn’t affect the sound – and you still get the same number of keys.

How to get used to a new keyboard?

Different piano keyboards have slightly different actions. One might feel heavier than other, demanding more pressure to get the same sound. The keys may come back into position more quickly, or the keyboard could feel a little sluggish compared to others. Playing a new piano or playing one you’re not used to can feel strange.

Fortunately, some exercises can help get used to a new keyboard. Playing scales helps to get a feeling for the way a keyboard responds. Play slowly to find the best legato (smooth playing) and then more quickly to assess the responsiveness of the keyboard. Playing scales in a crescendo and diminuendo pattern can also help you get a feel for the pressure that’s required to get different levels of dynamics. Remember to play several different scales, to make sure all the black keys, as well as the white keys, are being assessed.

It’s also good to play relatively easy pieces that you know well, using ‘muscle memory’ so that you can pay attention to the new keyboard rather than having to think hard about the music you’re playing. Don’t try to learn difficult, new, or challenging music on a new keyboard.

Conclusion

The piano is a versatile instrument and one on which it is easy to acquire some basic skills, while it also offers a real challenge for advanced musicians. It’s also a great instrument for learning basic musicianship; almost all conductors and composers start off playing the piano, whatever other instruments they might be able to play.

About the author, Antonio PadulaAntonio Padula is a classically trained pianist and vocal instructor. After 15 years touring with several prestigious symphonies, he settled down in 2008 to establish a musical community in Kirkland, Quebec. Antonio Padula is widely recognized as a compassionate teacher who has launched students in opera, orchestral, and choral careers all around North America. In his free time, he enjoys woodworking.

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