Piano Basics: Learn Notes, Scales & Chords | Elijah Fox-Peck | Skillshare

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Piano Basics: Learn Notes, Scales & Chords

teacher avatar Elijah Fox-Peck, Pianist, Songwriter, Producer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Getting Started


    • 3.

      Intro to Piano


    • 4.

      Middle C


    • 5.



    • 6.



    • 7.

      Sharps and Flats


    • 8.

      The Chromatic Scale


    • 9.

      Major Chords


    • 10.

      Minor Chords


    • 11.

      The Circle of 5ths


    • 12.

      Your Chord Progression


    • 13.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Discover the joy of playing piano in this beginner-friendly class — part of the Complete Piano Learning Path that will take you from novice to intermediate player! 

Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer Elijah Fox doesn’t believe in the old school. A pianist who began taking lessons at eight years old, Elijah quickly realized that he didn’t care for run-of-the-mill piano lessons, where some notes are “right” and others are “wrong.” Instead, he forged his own path, one that emphasized improvisation, curiosity, and composition. Now a professional musician who’s worked with artists like Tate McCrae, Pink Sweat$, and Masego, Elijah fell in love with piano. In this class, he’ll give you the introduction, inspiration, and techniques you need to do the same! 

Hands-on lessons cover key beginner concepts like:

  • The history and mechanics of the piano
  • How to identify (and practice) notes, scales, and chords 
  • Essential musical theory tools you’ll use again and again, like the chromatic scale and circle of fifths

Plus, Elijah shares his favorite tips and tricks developed over his years as a session pianist, producer, and music teacher. Whether you’re looking for a new hobby, rekindling an old one, or just curious about what it takes to make music, this introductory overview is the perfect place to start!

This class was created with the total beginner in mind – if you’re new to piano, you’re in the right place. It’s also a great choice for more experienced pianists looking to revisit the basics, change up their style, or fall in love with music all over again. Since learning music takes time, this class is designed to complement your own self-guided practice or lessons. All you’ll need is a keyboard or piano (ideally one with a sustain pedal).

This is the first class in Elijah’s five-part Complete Piano Learning Path. To continue building your skills in the next class, click here.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Elijah Fox-Peck

Pianist, Songwriter, Producer


Elijah Fox-Peck is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer who grew up in Durham, NC and graduated with a bachelors degree from Oberlin Conservatory in 2017 where he majored in jazz studies with a focus in piano performance.

Elijah began playing piano at age 9 and by 13, was touring with the NCCU Jazz Ensemble as a guest soloist and recording professionally with top jazz musicians in the area. He was nominated the North Carolina All-State jazz pianist his freshman through senior years of high school and at age 15 received a full scholarship to the Berklee School of Music 5-week summer program. He has been teaching for 8 years and is currently teaching of studio of 21 students through Keys to Success in Brooklyn Heights, ranked one of the 15 best music schools in NYC.  ... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Many people think of learning piano is playing simply the right or wrong notes. But the truth is, it's much more than that. Hi, I'm Alicia Fox, pianists, producer and songwriter. And I aim to inspire other people to find joy by playing the piano, it to have an outlet to express their emotions. I've been playing piano and composing your original music for 18 years. And during that time, I've been able to collaborate with some of my favorite artists, such as MS. Sago palm is Denzel curry in school boy Q. In today's class, we're gonna be looking at some of the fundamental elements of music theory and piano technique, such as the C major scale, in learning how to identify major and minor chords and introducing our first progression. I wanted to offer this class to inspire others to write their own original music and find joy you're playing the piano. In this learning path, I'll introduce five classes. It will take you from a complete beginner to someone who's able to improvise, compose, in play their favorite songs. Join me in this beginner piano tutorials. 2. Getting Started: The first steps to learning piano or learning how to identify the names of the keys and how they combine to form cords. I remember when I was learning piano, I got so excited because I realized that with just a couple of chords, you can already play thousands of your favorite songs. Although this class will be very Music Theory and technique heavy, It's important to absorb these foundational elements so that we can improvise, compose, and arrange our favorite songs later. My goal with this class is not to tell you what you should or shouldn't play, but instead to give you possibilities to inspire creativity when you're composing, playing music, or arranging your favorite songs at the piano. Thank you for watching this class and welcome to the rest of the material. So let's get started. 3. Intro to Piano: The first piano was invented in Italy, around 1,700, and the oldest piano we know today is on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and was built in 17, 20. There's two main types of pianos, grand pianos, like the one I have here, which is much larger, and upright pianos. The main difference between these types of pianos is for grand pianos, the strings are strung horizontally, and it upright pianos, the strings are strong vertically. You may also have a keyboard. Keyboards were first invented during the 1960s and grew with the popularity of synthesisers in the 1970s or 80s across the board on all of these types of pianos or keyboards, the key bed is going to be the same and all of the notes and concepts will be universal. When you press a key on the piano, a hammer inside strikes a corresponding string, which is attached to a bridge, and then a soundboard which vibrates to produce the sound we hear on that note, there are 88 keys on the piano, and all of these have their own corresponding hammers and strings. On most pianos, there are three petals, the sustain pedal, the soft pedal, and the sostenuto pedal. In this class, we're only going to be dealing with the sustain pedal, which is the farthest pedal to the right. If you have a keyboard, you can purchase an additional sustained pedal, then you can plug into the back. This sustained pedal works to sustain the notes longer than they would normally be able to. So that when you play a chord, the notes are sustained throughout space. Without the sustain pedal, it would sound like this. In the sound fades away. This sustained pedal is an essential part of the piano, and learning how to use it will help you have greater control over the instrument, whether you're playing on an upright grand piano or a keyboard, all of the topics we'll cover will be the same and you can transition from one instrument to the other seamlessly. 4. Middle C: In this lesson, we're going to begin by learning how to identify the names of the notes on the keyboard or piano. Whether you have a keyboard or piano, I want you to look at the black keys and you'll notice that they're in groupings of 3.2. We're going to turn towards the middle of the piano and look at the grouping of two black keys. Below. The black key on the left is a white key. This is referred to as C, and can be thought of as the home-base on the piano for this exercise, what I want you to do is identify all of the C's on the piano. So look for the groupings of two black keys and then play the white key right to the left of the lower black key. If you have a piano, you'll have 88 keys. And if you have a keyboard, you may have ADHD or you may have less. Either way, I want you to try to find all of the C's on the piano and begin by playing those. You'll notice as we play farther to the right on the piano, the notes get higher in pitch. And as we play farther to the left on the piano, they get lower in pitch. These are all considered c notes and move across different octaves. A term I'll explain in the next lesson. Now, take some time to find all of the seas on your piano and get familiar to identifying them. Now that you've identified all the C's on the piano, I'd like to return again to middle C, which is below the two black keys. And we're gonna play this with our thumb. So for this exercise, we're going to be using all five fingers of our right hand. And we're going to be playing upwards from C. So like the alphabet, the keys on the piano go up from a and they stop at G and then repeat again from a. So we'll be starting on C and we'll be going up with our thumb, C, D, E, F, and G, before returning back down to C. So for this, you want to have your hand relaxed and your palms facing down and your wrist slightly above the piano. So once again, we're starting with our thumb on C. We're going up to D, E, F, and then G. And as you play each note in your mind so that you can begin to connect it with the note on the keyboard. And then we'll return back from G down to C. So now I'd like you to take your right hand and try this exercise for yourself, starting with your thumb on C and moving up to G before returning back home. In our next lesson, we'll be expanding upon the see-through G5 fingers scale to learn the seven notes of the C major scale. 5. Right-Hand: In this lesson, we'll be expanding on the last lesson to learn how to play the C major scale with our right hand. A scale is a collection of notes in any given key. There are 12 distinct keys on the keyboard. And for this one will be learning the C major scale. You can think of a scale as options for composition for songs in that key or when creating your own melodies. Let's remember what we learned from the see-through G5 fingers scale and start with our thumb again on C. So for this, there's gonna be a fingering where we'll end up having to cross our thumb under the first steps of this scale or to play the first three nodes see-through E. So we'll start by playing C, D, and then E on the piano. The next step, we cross our thumb under and move up to F, and then continue up the scale playing G, a, B. And finally up to see the crossing part of this is the trickiest part. Let's look at that once more. We start on C, go up to E, and then our thumb slides under to the right of the E. And we continue up all the way to see before going back down. And then crossing over with our third or middle finger back to E and continuing down to C. So fingerings on piano are often used to make, are playing more fluid and smooth. In this case, we cross under with our thumb on F to allow our hand to continue up the scale with ease. And then move back down to where we started on C. Once again, let's go over all the notes of the C-Major Scale and I'll say them once out loud. So we're starting with our thumb on C, playing D, playing E, crossing our thumb under to F, playing G, playing a, playing B. And finally ending on C, an octave higher before heading back down. B, a, G, F, crossing back with our third finger, back to D, and then back to C. So now I'd like you to try the C major scale with your right hand. And then we're gonna do a fun improvisation exercise using the notes from this scale. Once you've tried that scale, we'll jump back in. As I said before, you can think of any of the notes of a scale as options for melodies when you're composing or improvising for this next exercise, I want you to get more comfortable with the C major scale. So with your right hand, you can play any of the notes from the C major scale, which happened to be all of the white keys on the piano while I play some chords to accompany your improvisation. So remember, there are no wrong or right notes with this. As long as you're playing notes from the C major scale, I'm now going to play some chords, and I'd like you to try improvising using that same fingering that I just showed you from the C major scale. Here we go. Excellent. So you might have realized that as you were playing, you might have been able to predict how the scale was gonna sound as you replay. If you've ever taken a vocal class, you'll recognize this scale as the same scale, DO RE, MI, FA, SO LA TI DO. So our goal is improvisers is to be able to predict how what we're going to play is going to sound so that anything we hear in our head, we can then play throughout our hands. If you want to continue practicing, you can download the excerpt from the class resources section. In our next lesson, we're gonna be looking at how to play the C major scale with our left hand and both hands combined. I hope you'll join me. 6. Left-Hand: In this lesson, we're gonna be expanding on what we learned in the previous lesson and looking at the C major scale, but playing the fingering with our left hand and then combining both hands together to start, I'd like to go over how the fingering relates to both hands. With our hands, we can think of our thumbs as one going out to 234.5 for this next exercise, Let's take our left hand and we'll start with our pinky on the C below middle C right here. For this exercise, we'll start by playing all the way up to the thumb with c, d, e, f, and g. And then we'll crossover with three, or our middle finger to a, then play B with our second finger, and then finish on C with our thumb. Now we'll go back down playing C, B, a, then crossing under with our thumb to G, F, E, D, and finally C. Let's look at this one more time. We're starting with our pinky on C, playing up 2345, then crossing with 321 before returning back down to 23, crossing under with our thumb, and then playing all the way back down to our pink. Now, I'd like you to try this fingering with your left hand before we move on to both hands together. Now that you've got the left hand fingering for the C major scale. Let's try both hands together. For this, we'll take our right hand and we'll start with our thumb on middle C, and our left hand with our pinky on the C below middle C. This is very tricky fingering to do both hands together because the hands are crossing at different times. It's important to take it slowly and be very patient with yourself. We'll start with both hands on C. Then we'll go up to D, to E. Then our right hand will cross under with our thumb to F. Then we'll play G. Then our left hand will crossover with our middle finger to a, will play B. Then we'll play C before coming back down B than a. Then our left hand, our left thumb will cross under two G. Then we'll play F. Then our right-hand will crossover with our middle finger to E before playing D, and then finally C. Now that we've learned how to play the C major scale in both our right and our left hands. In the next lesson, we're going to look at how to identify the names of the black keys and the sharps and flats. I'll see you there. 7. Sharps and Flats: Now that we've learned all of the white keys that comprise the C major scale. Let's learn how to identify the sharps and flats that make up the five distinct black keys on the piano. For this next segment, I'd like to return again to middle C. The black key to the right of this is referred to as C-Sharp, because it's to the right of C. Sharps are displayed by a hashtag or pound sign. So this would be C-Sharp. The next key would be D-sharp because it's to the right of d. And then we would have F-sharp, G-sharp, A-sharp. The tricky part about identifying black keys is they're all referred to by two names, both sharps and flats. C-sharp would also be called D flat because it's to the left of D. This next key would also be called E-flat because it's to the left of E, Then we will have G flat, a flat, and B flat. It depends on what key signature The song is in to see whether they'll be referred to as a sharp or a flat. And I'll talk more about that later in the next lesson, we'll be looking at the chromatic scale, which includes all of the 12 distinct notes on the piano. Join me there. 8. The Chromatic Scale: Now that you've learned how to identify all the sharps and flats, I'd like to introduce the chromatic scale, which includes all of the notes on the piano. The chromatic scale is very important because it deals with half-steps or semi-tones that helped construct the musical alphabet that we know. For this exercise, we'd like to start with our thumb on C Before moving our second finger to C-sharp than our thumb crosses under two D. Before moving our second finger to D-sharp, we cross under again to e. Then we play F with our second finger. Before playing F sharp. Then we cross under two g. Let me play G-sharp with our second finger, B cross a, and then play a sharp with our second finger before playing B. And then finally C, before heading back down to be a sharp, a, G-sharp, G. Third finger on F-sharp, second finger and thumb on IE. Second finger on D-sharp, thumb on D, second finger on C-sharp. Before returning home to see. Practicing the chromatic scale is very important for increasing dexterity on the piano and moving fluidly between keys. Now that you've learned the fingering, this scale, I'd like you to try playing it from c to c, the following Octave. Once again, that fingering was 121, 212-312-1212. The chromatic scale is comprised completely of semitones or half-steps on the piano, which is gonna be very important for the next lesson of constructing major and minor chords. I hope you'll join me there in a major way. 9. Major Chords: Now that we've learned how to identify all of the names of the notes of the piano, we're gonna look at a major chord. A chord is a collection of notes played at the same time. For these chords, we're going to have three notes playing at the same time. And I'd like to start with the C major chord. The first step when finding a major chord is to play the root note, which is the name of the court. So in this case, for a C major chord, the root would be C. We'll start with our thumb on C. The next step to finding a major chord is to go up four half-steps or notes from the chromatic scale. So we'll start by moving up four half-steps from C, 1234, and we'll land on E. The next step is to move up three half steps from there. So we'll play like this, 123. And then we'll find the first notes of the C major chord, C, E, and G. You can tell this chord has a characteristically happy or are jubilant sound. Next, let's look at another example for this. Let's start and find an F major chord. So we'll start with the root node F. Then we'll count up four half-steps, not counting F. So 1234, and then three from there, 123. So we'll find the notes for this quarter, F, a, and C. And it still has that characteristically happy sound. So we know this is a major chord. For the next chord, let's try to find a G major chord. So for this, we'll start with the root note G. And then we'll count up four half steps, 1234, and then three-half steps, 123, giving us the notes G, B, and D, which create a G major chord. For these chords, I'm playing them with my thumb, my third, and then my fifth finger. So, so far, to summarize, we've learned the chords C Major, F major, and G major. In the next lesson, we're gonna be looking at how to construct minor chords, which are often thought of having a sadder sound. If you're feeling sad, Don't stop now, I'd love for you to join me in the next lesson. 10. Minor Chords: Now that we've learned how to construct major chords, we're going to look at another popular type of chord, the minor chord. These are similar to major chords, but there's one key difference when finding them from the root. You then count up three half steps and then four instead of the major chord, which was the root plus four plus three. To look at this, Let's start at C and try to identify a C minor chord, like the major chord, we start by finding the root which is C, and then count up three half steps, 123, and then four half steps, 1234. So the notes for the C minor chord would be C, E flat, and G. Instead of the C major chord, which was C, E, and G. You might notice this is very similar to the C major chord, but the difference is, instead of having C, E and G are middle note moves down one for the minor chord, giving us C, E flat, and G. You can also tell that the minor chords have a more sad or sort of haunting, bittersweet sound instead of the major chord, which were much happier or positive. Let's identify a couple of other minor chords. Next, let's try to find D minor. So for this, we'll start with D. Then we'll count up three half steps, 123, then four half steps, 1234, giving us D, F and a. For this chord. We can tell it has the same sound as the C minor, which is a bit sadder. Let's do another chord. Let's find F minor. So for this, we'll start with F. Then we'll count up three half steps, 123, and then four half steps from there, 1234, giving us F minor. Let's do one more color just to submit this concept. So let's try to find a miner will start with a, we'll count up three half steps, 123, and then we'll count up four half steps. 1234. A minor, as you can see, is all white keys, and so was D minor. But some of the minor chords, c minor and F minor, have one black key in the middle. So when learning chords, you almost want them to become as familiar as colors, where as soon as you see the symbol of a chord, you know exactly what the shape is on piano. This will take a lot of practice, but it's always important as you're playing a chord to be telling yourself this is d minor in getting used to that shape, lining up with that chord. Now that I've demonstrated these chords, I'd like you to get familiar with them by practicing this C, D, and F minor chords and segmenting them into your chord vocabulary. Now that we've learned how to construct both major and minor chords, join me in the next lesson as we tackle circle of fifths. 11. The Circle of 5ths: In this lesson, we're gonna be looking at the circle of fifths, which is a diagram that helps us determine key signatures and shows us which flats or sharps are in a given key. So I'd like to go back to C major, which is a scale we've already learned in it's all white keys. It doesn't have any flats or sharps. So we can think of this as a home-base when looking at the circle of fifths, as we go up a fifth, which we could count up five from c12345, we'll get to g. In G major, there's one sharp, which is F sharp. So we can try playing this scale on the piano as well. It's the same fingering is C major, so we'll start with our thumb on G, will go up to a, B, then cross under 2cde, and then we'll have F sharp, the one black key and this key. Then we'll play G before returning back down and crossing over our third finger on B. As we go up a fifth from G, we would get to D major, which would now have two sharps, F-sharp and C-sharp. We can also try this scale, which is the same fingering as C and G major. So we'll start with our thumb on D, will play E. But now we've got F sharp, one of the two black using this key, play F-sharp, cross under the g, then play a, then B, then C sharp, and D again, before returning down. In crossing back on F-sharp. As we go up a fifth from D will get to a major which has three sharps. As you continue in this way, you constantly add a sharp as we go up a fifth from a, we get to E major, which has four sharps up a fifth from there would bring us to be major, which has five sharps, and then F sharp, which has six sharps. The crazy thing about the circle of fifths is it's perfectly symmetrical. So as we go the other way, we add on one flat as we go down a fifth from C. So C is the home-base, right? There's no flats or sharps. As we go down a fifth from C, we would land on F, which has one flat or B flat. As we go down a fifth from there, we will get to B-flat, which has two flats. As we keep going down that way, we add on another flat. Any melody can be played on the piano in any of the 12 keys. And to become a versatile pianist, it's important to switch things into different keys so that you get the maximum mileage when composing or writing music. Practicing all the major scales is very important because it helps you get familiar with different keys and see what options you have when you're composing or improvising. In the class resources, I've attached a fingering chart for all 12 major scales. And I would highly recommend getting familiar with all of them and the different fingerings so you can move fluidly across the piano. It'd be more versatile pianos. Before we move on to the next section, which is our first sample progression, I'd like you to try this C, G, and D major scales, all of which have the same fingering but have different notes included in them. The C major scale is all white keys with no flats or sharps. The G major scale includes F sharp and the D major scale has F-sharp and C-sharp. I'm looking forward to seeing you in the next lesson, our first sample progression. 12. Your Chord Progression: To wrap up this class, I'm excited to introduce our first chord progression. A chord progression is a selection of chords that could be thought of as a roadmap for the song. Throughout the later classes, we're gonna be learning ways to expand on a chord progression. But a chord progression is basically the foundation that then all the expansions of arpeggios and different techniques can be taken from the first chord progression we're going to start with is going to come from the key of C major, which we've already discovered a lot of the chords from. So, to start with this, Let's first go over our options for chords. So we're going to start with the chord C major. Then we're gonna move up to D minor. Then we'll move up again to E minor, moving all the notes again to F-major, then up again to G major, and then up finally to a minor. So these can be thought of as our options for composing a chord progression. The first progression I'm going to use is going to be C major, E minor, a minor, and then F major. So first we'll start with C major, then we'll move to E minor. Then we'll move up to a minor, and then we'll move down to F major. And a good way to play chords like this is you can always orient yourself. So your thumb, which is playing the root note. And in this case, all of the chords are using white keys, so it's the same shape, moving through, moving across the piano. So once again, we'll start with C. Then we'll move up to E. Then we'll move up to a. And then we'll go down to F. So this is a four chord progression that then could continue or develop over the song. So now I'm going to add in my left hand, which is just going to play the same root notes or the lowest note of the chord in octave lower. So it'll play C, then E, then a, and then F. Now what I'm going to try is a simple variation where I'm going to play each chord four times before moving to the next one. So it'd be like this. If you'd like to try improvising over this chord progression, you can use any of the notes from the C major scale, which once again was with our right hand. And you can play any of those notes and try improvising over this chord progression. So that's just a short example of a chord progression and a simple variation. So that progression was C major, E minor, a minor, and then F major. So now for an assignment, I'd like you to create your own chord progression, choosing between the cords of C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, or a minor in any order you choose. And you can do a three to five chord progression. Upload your original progression to the project gallery in others can share feedback and you can check out what other people came up with. I can't wait to hear which courses you choose. 13. Final Thoughts: Congratulations, you've made it to the end of our first-class and now is where the practicing begins. Although we covered a lot of concepts, it's really important to practice these daily so that you'll become more familiar with the terms and the world of music that we've introduced. To recap, we first learned how to name all of the notes of the piano, the white keys and the black keys. Then we learned the C major scale, which is the collection of notes in the key of C. We learned that in our right hand and our left hand. And then we moved on to learn how to construct a major chord, which was the root plus four half-steps, and then three-half steps and minor chords, which was the root, and then three-half steps and then four half-steps. And then we learned how to find out which nodes are in a given key using the circle of fifths. Finally, we finished off with creating our own sample progression. Given the options combined which we uploaded to the project gallery. In the next class, we're going to expand upon a lot of these concepts and learn how to take a simple chord progression and bring it to life. This is where stuff gets really exciting and I look forward to seeing you there in our next class. And so then practice on.