You can sing. When you hear a song on the radio or other media, you sing along. Can you put your song on piano? You know the lyrics and the tune but it is when you learn how to play a piano, you begin to understand that there are a number of other elements involved.
This is the tune that identifies the song. If someone started humming the melody, you could identify the song. Every other feature of the song relates to the melody.
The time signature
If you listen to yourself singing, you should be able to identify a regular group of usually two or three or four beats. Most songs are composed in four beats per bar. Listen to the theme from “The Pink Panther”. As you sing it, you will begin to hear a 1,2 3,4 count for the entire length of the piece. The waltzes are famous for three beats in a bar: 1, 2, 3…..1,2,3……1,2,3….. which provides a guide for the steps in the dance. In a band or orchestra, the time signature is what keeps all the instruments playing together accurately.
This is speed of the song. How fast or slow and this is usually guided by personal preference or by Italian instructions suggested on the music sheet.
The key signature
All the notes on the piano fall into patterns. The high female voice, the soprano, will sing a song high up on the piano, the alto, lower down, the tenor would likely be a male voice and would sing in the region below middle C, and the lower male voices, baritone or bass, below the tenor. Your choice of key is a personal one. You choose a key that would make the delivery of your song most comfortable to you. Sometimes, though, the song doesn’t project as well in the key that you chose, and you might have to go a little outside your comfort zone. Choice of key is a balance between your comfort and the best sound coming from you. It is a good practice to try a song in different keys before making a final decision.
The harmony is provided by notes played at the same instant as the melody which give a context to the melody. Harmony is a complex issue but we can see it simply as related to the key in which the song is being played, and the chord chosen to be played in that instant.
How do you put all this to work when playing for yourself on piano?
The best way to learn is to start with a song you already know and learn the chords, identify the tempo and try to sing as you play, first by playing at the start of each bar (regular division) and as you progress, add ‘fill-ins’ to make the song more interesting and later create new arrangements.
How do you what notes to play?
As indicated above, every song has its own melody. You can learn the melody playing by ear, or you can be guided by a published music sheet or a piano/keyboard tutor.
There is so much to learn about the piano and musicians will tell you that they never stop learning. The key is to stick to the discipline of regular practice and make it a way of life. You will be happy in the short and long term.
Remember, if you have a song in your head, you can learn to play it on the piano. Are you willing to learn how?