So many piano keys, only ten fingers

One of the mysteries of getting around the piano is how to use only ten fingers to play all those tunes. On the full length piano there 88 keys and someone just starting to play piano could not be expected to be fluent in performance.

So what does it take?

The answer is attention to fingering. You start out by learning how to use those ten fingers over ten keys, and with lots of practice, you extend the rules to include more and more keys.

It requires the correct posture while sitting before the piano, sitting on a stool or chair of the right height, and positioning the fingers so that the fingertips can touch and depress the notes fully. The wrists must be free of tension, since you are going to have to rotate them, and elbows must be slightly away from the body.

Mastering the movement up and down the keyboard requires practice of scales, arpeggios, chords. The piano consists of repeated patterns in octaves.

Fingering on the piano

Learning to play is not only an exercise for the fingers, but also an exercise for the brain. What you are doing is thinking what key to play and directing the fingers to actually play it. Over time this activity of directing fingers causes you to develop a skill that allows you to express the music you want to hear.

Most people say it is harder than you think, but if you love music and really want to play, doesn’t it deserve your time and effort ?

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18 Comments

  1. Simon

    One of my biggest regrets is packing piano lessons in as a kid, unfortunately sport got in the way. To become a fluent player requires practice, like most things in life, similar to a language I suppose, although you’re talking with your fingers.

    I have heard that playing whilst simultaneously reading music uses two sides of the brain, the reason many say it becomes a more natural skill to pick-up and accomplish when you are younger, do you agree?

    I concur with your assessment regarding the time and effort to learn or learn again is worth the effort if you love music meantime keyboards are an inexpensive way to get started, there’s a thought.
    Are you an accomplished piano player?
    Simon.

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Simon. I am an accomplished pianist. I started lessons at age 9. When I am not performing, I teach piano to adults and children. If parents encourage them, children who like music will stick to a program. It is amazing how many adults regret that they did not stick to a music program when they were younger. So many people wish they could play piano. As adults they find it easier to call in “Sorry, I can’t come, I have a meeting”, because they don’t feel like coming to class. However, if they love it enough to stick to the program, and practice, they could learn in two years what children would learn in six years. I would like adults to experience the joy and fulfillment of expressing the music in them, the joy that I have found.. It is one of the few things that you can do until any age. Thank you for your comments. Best wishes ! 

      Reply
  2. Niels

    Hi. Thank you for this great post. Good information for anyone who is thinking about getting started on the piano.

    I’ve been playing and teaching piano for more than 30 years. Here’s my “add on” advice to the newcomer:

    You should find an exercise or a tune that’s just a bit over your level – meaning, you can play it but it’s a bit difficult.
    Then you should make sure to practise it nice an slow every day for like a week. When the week has passed you will realise that your skills have improved – you can now play this small piece with ease.

    This is a great experience – the feeling of improvement and accomplisment. This is the feeling that will make you wanna keep practising – and improving.

    Try it – you will love it.

    This is just my bit of advice. I don’t know if you agree, Joy?

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Niels, I agree with you 100{5c0aaf5263b339ccf5b24d13581f84d049ba6187c72d6090199f56636d6d7c8f}. I notice that my adult piano students sometimes want to keep playing what they already know, and sometimes resist something a little more challenging. Well my strategy is to choose something they would love to be able to play, and take it in short phrases, nice and slow. When they see the progress, they have made, they are encouraged to try the next challenge. Thanks for your valuable comments

      Reply
  3. Nate

    My mom owned a piano, too bad it was out of tune. It’s hard, multi-tasking with every one of your fingers. It’s surprising how many people are giving away free pianos, it’s funny because those things are just so damn expensive brand-new. It’s because of how big and heavy they are to move, you need a lot of help and good sized pick up just to move it. Once it’s on one side of your house, it kind of stays there haha. The piano is a beautiful instrument and one day I’ll learn and play all my favorite songs, I’m not a nerd, but I really love the music of Legend of Zelda, simply beautiful melodies.

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Well Nate, maybe one day you will learn to use those fingers and play all that music you love. It comes with practice.Thanks for your comments. Best wishes.

      Reply
  4. Daniel

    I think that your topic is very interesting and helpful. I like the music and I play a piano like a hobby but I would like to learn more advanced stuff when it comes to playing a piano. It is a great way to release stress but also to make happy a people around us. Definitely everyone should give it a try.

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Daniel,

      You can always enrol in a music program and as long as you stay motivated, you will find yourself acquiring new skills. Listening to music that you like is also helpful. Go for it !!! Thanks for your comments

      Reply
  5. Karin Nauber

    Thank you for the explanation on fingers and how to use them. I am raising my granddaughter. She is almost six and is very interested in learning to play the piano. Do you think she is about the right age to start lessons? I have heard of kids much younger than her playing, but just want to make sure it is not overwhelming for her. What are your thoughts? We have a full-size electric keyboard that she will be learning on. I had attempted to learn how to play, but I was an adult and kind of thick-headed! I would constantly and consistently play the notes from right to left! I don’t know why. My brain just read them all backwards! I have always loved listening to piano music and hope that my granddaughter will enjoy mastering the skill!

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Karin, 6 is the right age to start. At that age most kids understand simple sequences, can identify the letters of the alphabet, and can tell the differences in the pitch of notes. Apart from the fact that music has to do with sound and hearing, it also is a study of patterns. Thank you for your comments. Best wishes !!!

      Reply
  6. julienne murekatete

    Thank you for sharing with us this great review.I am very happy to find this post because my son was asking me to send him to study how to play piano but I was not convinced that a little kid could play piano.

    It is a good idea to let him go learn what he wants otherwise he would blame me for not letting him learn how to play piano.

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Yes Julienne, when children ask to learn piano, they should be enrolled in a program. That kind of desire is always deep and if they start early they will do well. Thank you for your comments

      Reply
  7. Solomon

    I have been playing Jazz piano for as long as I can remember, it’s an instrument that requires lots of dedication and loads of practice. I think if someone really develops an interest in the piano. They should put a lot of time and practicing to it because you only get better over time.. Starting small and then working your way up over the years. Thanks for this amazing article.

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Yes Solomon. You are right. Learning piano is a lot of work. Hours and hours of practice and dedication to staying on a program. Like you say, you will get better over time. Thanks for your comments

      Reply
  8. Henry

    Hi! Thank you very much for this post. Your title caught my attention and yes, I agree, so many piano keys and only ten fingers. 

    I couldn’t take piano lessons as a kid. I took some guitar lessons and can strum the guitar with quite a few accords. But I have always wanted to learn to play the piano. I’m in my early 30´s. Is there a place online where you could point me out to get started? Do you believe I still have a chance? 

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Henry. I am setting up my site to teach piano online and persons have left their email contact so I can keep in touch with them when the teaching actually begins. You may do the same. Believe me, you will not regret it. Dream come true. Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  9. Kenny Tang

    This is a very interesting and informative post. I have often wondered what type of techniques piano players have to learn first. I agree that posture is very important. This will help eliminate any tension or strain that the player might feel. Your explanation of how to use your fingers on a piano is excellent. Practicing does help the brain develop muscle memory, after some time I can imagine that one can get their fingerings in the proper placement. I will show this to my brother. He said he wanted to learn how to play piano. 

    Reply
    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Kenny, being able to use those 10 fingers across 88 keys comes with practice. You start with five notes on each hand and extend the exercises until you manage the whole keyboard. Thank you for your comments. Best wishes to you and your brother.

      Reply

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