Friday Freebie: Level1 Fundamentals

As we begin to slowly wrap up another year of teaching, you'll find lots of testing going on in my piano studio with my students. I am often asked the question, "What books do you use?" I think many teachers have their own preferences on what works best with them. I start newbies in Bastien Primer Level. Later as a student progresses, I use Alfred's Piano Lesson Books. Here are a few things one will learn in Level 1 for the piano.

How Music Is Written

Treble and Bass Clef
Bar Line
Double Bar Line (Always used at the end of a piece.


Quarter Note = 1 count
Half Note = 2 counts
Dotted Half = 3 counts
Whole Note = 4 counts


The numbers at the beginning of a piece are called the Time Signature. This tells us how to count the piece.
Upper number tells us to give four counts to a measure.
Lower number tells us that a quarter note gets one count.

Seize the C’s

When Middle C has its stem up, right hand plays it.
When Middle C has its stem down, left hand plays it.

Music is a language and has punctuation signs that divide it into phrases or sentences. These PHRASES are marked with curved lines called slurs.

Introducing Eighth Notes

Two eighth notes equal one count. One eighth note is half as long as a quarter note.


Rests are signs of silence. They tell us how many counts our hands should remain silent.

Quarter Rest = 1 count
Half Rest = 2 counts
Whole Rest = 4 counts
The whole rest means that a certain hand is silent for a whole measure.

The Repeat Sign

Two dots before or after a double bar indicate REPEAT signs:
This means that you play the measures enclosed by repeat signs TWICE.

The Tie

The tie is a curved line placed over or under two notes of the same pitch. You play the first note only and hold it down for the total time value of  both notes.

Natural accents

In playing the piano, certain counts are louder than other counts. These loud counts are called natural accents.

In 4/4 time – always play the first count louder.
In 3/4 time – always play the first count louder.
In 2/4 time – likewise play the first count louder.

A Brief History Of The Piano

The direct predecessors of the piano are the clavichord and the harpsichord. History records their use as early as the Sixteenth century. still earlier, the effort to produce two or more tones simultaneously yielded the dulcimer, but it had no keyboard. Notice the limited manual range and the non-existent pedals of the early instruments. Cristofari (1665) and Bach (1685) were responsible for the major developments in the piano. Today the manufacturers have given us the gloriously complete concert grand.

Importance Of Review

You gain smoothness and ease by reviewing your old pieces and studies. Be sure always to devote at least 10 mins. a day to review work.

Sight Reading Hint

In finding a note, move the eye first, then the hand. Find the note visually then manually. Too many students start moving their hands without knowing where they are going. Keep the hands quiet until the note has been found visually.

The Sharp Sign

Here is the SHARP sign (#). It appears before a note. It tells you to play the first black key to the right of the note instead of the regular white key.

The Sharp Sign In The Signature

Instead of writing out every sharp in the song, most composers would put a sharp sign at the beginning of the piece. This is called the Key Signature. IT tells you to sharp  a specific note throughout the piece.

The Flat Sign

This is the FLAT sign (b). It means to play the first black key to the left of the note.

Common Time

Very often in music you will not find a numerical time signature at the beginning of a piece but will find the large symbol C. This stands for COMMON TIME (4/4 Time).


The Sharp (#), Flat (b), and Natural signs which appear in a piece (other than in the key signature) are called Accidentals. Watch out for them. Natural sign means to restore back to white key.
How To Become A Faster Note Reader

Sight-reading is a skill that can be compared to bowling or golfing. It doesn’t take a great deal of mental effort or knowledge to play these games, but it takes a prodigious amount of practice to be expert. The same analogy holds true for sight-reading. You can’t think or wish yourself into becoming a good reader-you must practice and drill constantly.

Quick note reading demands daily drill. Remember, music isn’t hard to play; it’s hard to READ. You fumble and stumble at the keyboard because you can’t find the notes quickly enough. Keep your drills alive every day. You will soon grow to become a more rapid reader. Plus, the physical element of good vision is a factor in sight-reading.

How To Play In Rhythm

Never count to your playing, but always PLAY TO YOUR COUNTING. In every piece in 3/4 time always play your first count louder: 1 2 3 1 2 3

How To Use The Damper Pedal

The main pedal in piano playing is the DAMPER PEDAL. (the one at the right). It is sometimes (wrongly) called the loud pedal. The pedal at the left is the soft pedal and the middle pedal is the sustaining pedal. Keep the heel on the floor and sole of shoe in pedal contact at all times. Pedaling should be noiseless-no clicking of the shoe or letting the pedal up with a bang.

Musical Terms

Music writing began in Italy. Therefore Italian words are used to tell us how music is played. If each country used its own language it would be very confusing. Suppose Russia described its music in Russian, and Norway defined its music in Norwegian, etc., we would have to know far too many languages. Consequently all countries have adopted Italian terms for their music. You see if we know the Italian terms we will understand how to play music of any country.
Introducing The Staccato Touch

When dots are written above or below notes, you touch the keys as if you were touching a hot flat iron. This is called STACCATO.

The Dotted Quarter Note

A dot after a note is equal to a note next lower in value. Therefore, the dot after a quarter note equals an eighth note. The dotted quarter in 4/4 time is counted as follows: 1 2 and 3 4

The Metronome

The letters M.M. at the beginning of a piece stand for Maelzel’s Metronome. The numbers on the metronome indicate ticks per minute. Thus if the metronome were set at 60, it would be ticking seconds. The metronome is used only for a moment to see what time the composer has in mind. We never depend on it entirely for our rhythm.

Watch out for new expression marks. Crescendo means to grow louder and diminuendo means to grow softer.

Watch out for the octave higher sign. 8…… It means to play eight keys higher.


An interval is the difference between two sounds. Intervals have number-names which equal the amount of letter-names they include.

There's so much more to add here but I'll stop for now. 
Take a look at these FREE sites for theory stuff:

If you are an adult who plays by ear but would like a textbook/workbook for music fundamentals, then I recommend 300pg Piano By Ear Home Study Course

 Best Regards,

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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