black little clef

Alas  … there are NO magical tricks to learning to play the piano in a few weeks or months. No matter what TV hucksters claim, no matter which particular learning method you choose, it will be some time before you can sit down and tickle those ivories confidently.

But there are a few basics.  Number one is … LEARN TO READ THE NOTES.  There is no way around this.  You can’t read Steinbeck unless you learn the alphabet first, string the letters into a few simple words and start deciphering a complete sentence.  Then and only then, can you begin to read the easiest primers.  It will take years of learning correct spellings and building vocabulary before you can tackle The Grapes of Wrath. 

Learning to play an instrument is no different.   We begin with the alphabet … which is the notes.  We learn the connection between the written note and its position on our instrument.  Then we begin to string together simple phrases.  In time we learn to recognize and play more complex combinations of notes and phrases.  We learn the intricacies of the key signatures and complex rhythms.  And then we can enjoy playing some of the finest music ever created.  It is one of life’s great highs.

People ask about the chord method  … or playing by ear.  Both are possible but both are very limiting. The chord method gives familiarity with a few basic chords which can be pounded out noisily which initially deludes the student into believing he’s making music.   But the limitations are obvious.  After a while a few chords become boring.

And “playing by ear” also has limitations outside the arena of improvisation.  I knew an illiterate man from a village outside New Delhi who couldn’t read a word and signed his name with a thumb print.  He was wonderfully articulate and could chant hymns and lengthy fragments of the Bhagavid Gita without missing a word.   But he’d never be able to read a newspaper or a book.

Here in this collection of pieces, I have blended the simplicity of a few pleasing chords with simple melody to give the student the pleasure of richer sound and the feeling of making music without yet having the ability to play the more difficult music.  I’ve cheated a bit by using that “chord” method as a base around which the melody is woven.

But I’m not giving you a shortcut to learning the notes  … there isn’t one.  However I am offering a pleasant way to learn them through actually playing music.  While a student is playing a piece, he’s learning the notes, he’s acquiring dexterity and above all, he’s enjoying the experience.

For this collection of pieces, two tips will make learning easier.   The first is to always use the correct fingering.  From the first note you play, make sure the finger is correct.  You are imprinting “body memory” which is one of the least acknowledged and most important element in learning to play the piano.   A fingering may be altered for small hands, but for the most part any music which is printed with fingering has been vetted by a very careful editor.  Almost 99% of those fingerings will work for almost 99% of pianists regardless of hand size or experience.   I have taken care to include fingerings for most of these pieces.   And it is one of the most laborious and tedious of processes.  So please use them!   ( Ahem)

For a more detailed account of the importance of fingering,  you can visit my other site where I recount the tale of an eminent professor publicly teaching me this basic lesson.


The second tip … particularly important for this series of student pieces … is to be  aware of repeated patterns.   I have deliberately incorporated many repeated patterns to make the study of the pieces faster and easier.  Locating them before you begin practicing each piece will speed you ahead.

muic LH pattern

Here you can see that there are four E minor root broken triads and two second inversion A minor triads.   But your student isn’t going to need this technical jargon.  Just show him the four E triads and then the two which change the B to a C.   That’s all.   Only two chord patterns to worry about in the left hand.  Easy.

Many of these pieces will introduce no more than three or four different chords, sometimes in only one or two positions as well.  (Actually more advanced students will be delighted to learn that when they analyze a Mozart or Haydn sonata, there are really only very few chord options.  But inversions and multi-note chords  … plus genius … creates these masterpieces).

So when the student begins to study one of these pieces, make sure he’s aware of the fingering and the patterns.  This will facilitate the whole learning process and is a great tool for even the most advanced work he may later encounter.


Download and enjoy.

black little clef

Nikki Ty-Tomkins … The Melody Muse

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