Playing From Key Diagrams

This page shows how to get started
 playing the keyboard by matching the notes
 on keyboard diagrams with the keys on the keyboard.

Preparation - This page is intended to help you get started playing the keyboard. It assumes that you have studied and understood much of what is explained in the previous page, How Key Diagrams Work. If you haven't studied that page, be sure to do so before going ahead with this page. You can go to that page by clicking on the link to that page above in this paragraph. Your keyboard should be prepared like the one below with the Octave Group Labels in place that you prepared while viewing the "How Key Diagrams Work" page.

This page describes some of the materials and sheet music that we have prepared to help you get started learning how to play. But this page can't teach you how to play skillfully. All we can do here is help you get started. To play with skill, you almost surely will need someone who knows how to play well that will help you. Also to play with skill, you will need a decent instrument, a love for music, a great deal of patience and determination, a great deal of time to play your instrument, and more. So, if you possibly can, find someone who can and will help you learn to play.

Diagram of a piano keyboard with octave groups colored the colors of the rainbow.


Learning to Play the Keyboard - At its most basic level, learning to play involves figuring out which keys to put your fingers on to play the notes that are on your sheet music (pitch) - and how to do that at the right time (rhythm and tempo). We begin by dealing with the pitch. We work with familiar songs to start with so that students can get the rhythm and tempo from hearing the songs rather than from the notes. Reading the rhythm, and learning to do it correctly, will come later. The rest of this page is focused on the PITCH values of each note. 

About the Notes and Staff
On the How Key Diagrams Work page you learned about patterns on the keyboard. This knowledge will help you find the keys that the notes are telling you to play. Now you will learn more about how the notes of our keyboard diagrams connect with the keys that you are to play. To start, you need to know something about how the notes on our diagrams work.

The Staff - The notes are ovals or circles placed on a musical staff. The staff is a series of vertical lines on which the notes are placed. (See examples below.) The horizontal placement of the notes determines which key you will need to play. The staff for a single octave group consists of 5 vertical lines, one for each black key. 
The plural of staff is staves. There is usually more than one staff on a page.

Direction of the Notes - The notes of music start at the top of a page and proceed in sequence down to the bottom a page. As they proceed down the page, they move to the left or right on the staff in coordination with the direction of the movements of the fingers on the keyboard (pitch).

Placement of Notes on the Staff - The notes, of course, are placed to represent the music that is to be played. The notes for the black keys are placed on (they straddle) the vertical lines of the staff. For visibility, these notes often are transparent, showing the staff line at the center of the note. The notes for the white keys are placed between these lines.

Contents of the Notes - Normally notes don't have anything written inside of them due to their small size. However, we sometimes place words, syllables, and other signs in large sized notes for instructional purposes. Also, we use color coding extensively in the notes of our keyboard diagrams to make them easy to read. In the notes of these key maps, the color coding relates to the rhythm of the piece.

             Labeled Keyboard Diagram
Names of the Notes - The notes for the white keys have the same names as the keys for which they stand: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The notes for the black keys have complicated names that we don't use for the keyboard diagrams. Instead, we use their addresses, which indicate their locations within an octave group. For the diagrams, the notes have the same addresses as we have given to the black keys: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Play the songs used in the illustrations on this page when you are able.

The First Songs to Play

          Photo of Key Diagram on the Keyboard

The first songs that our students learn to play are on key diagrams like the one above from Unit PKD-53. To help you get started playing, these diagrams are intended to be cut out and placed directly on the keyboard, with the bottom of the page behind the black keys, and just in front of the octave group label that you have already placed on the keyboard. You can see the images of the black keys at the bottom of the diagram. They are placed so that they match the black keys in the selected octave group. To obtain the songs in this format, you can download and print Unit PKD-53 from the link at the bottom of this page. To play these songs, you simply start by playing the note at the top of the diagram and then move down the page to the left and right as the notes direct. At first, you can use any finger(s) to play the song. (Play the video.)

Video shows the connection between the notes and the keys.

As you gain some skill, you should place the fingers of both hands on the keyboard, with a different finger on each adjacent key. Look at the vertical red line on the diagram. Place your fingers on the keyboard so that your thumbs are on each side of the divider crack between keys E and F - with your other fingers over the adjacent white keys. (Play the video.)

Playing with both hands - fingers over adjacent keys

    Diagram: Playing Instructions
Unit PKD-15 has more information about starting to play the keyboard. Page 11 of that unit, shown at the left, provides instructions showing how to play from the diagrams. (You can enlarge that page by double clicking on it. Return to this page with the back arrow at the top of your browser. You can download Unit PKD-15 from a link at the bottom of this page if you like.)

We provide only a limited number of songs in this format, because there is only room on these diagrams for the beginnings of songs. As soon as students have learned how to play from these diagrams, they receive diagrams in a full page format that provides complete songs, as you can see in the next diagram.

   Diagram: Mary Had a Little Lamb
This full page format from Unit PKD-54 is very similar to the shorter version of the diagram notation above. The pages are just larger and the images of the black keys are at the top of the page instead of at the bottom. These larger pages are placed in a binder which is placed on the piano's music rack for playing. You can download Unit PK-54 from the link at the bottom of this page to view or print a number of songs in this format. With the large notes is possible to fill them with all sorts of useful information. The version at the left has the text of the song in the notes. 

With color coding we can also load the notes with other useful information. The colors in these notes provide information about the rhythm of the notes. These same simple color highlights are used in many of our key diagrams and maps. The meaning of these colors is explained in our regular instructional materials available on this website. At this beginning point, you really don't need to read the rhythmic notation. You'll have you hands full learning to play the right notes (pitches) at this point. Remember, we are using familiar songs so that you can get the rhythm for most of the songs without having to read rhythm notation. 

Full page keyboard diagram - mostly black keys.

This version of Mary Had a Little Lamb is written in a different key. In music we often write songs in different keys because some singers have higher or lower voices, or just because we want the song or other piece to sound higher or lower. This song is a half step higher than the one above. It is in the key of Db Major. It would be very hard to read in traditional notation.

In our key maps and diagrams, notes on black keys seem to be just a little bit EASIER to read than notes on white keys. This happens because the notes on black keys are always on a vertical black line that identifies them clearly and easily. To read the location of a white key, you can read it only by looking at the lines for the black keys. Reading the notes for white keys is not difficult, but its not quite as direct as reading the black key notes. Notice that this version of the map has a different kind of information inside of the notes than the white key version. This version has the letter name of the white key in the note and the addresses of the black keys in the notes for the black keys. These different kinds of information that we sometimes put inside the notes doesn't change the notes. They just put a different emphasis on what you see.

             Muffin Man - Black Keys
Here is another song from PKD-54 for you to play. It is played entirely on black keys - except for the F notes. After our students learn to play fairly well from these diagrams with large notes, it is time to move on to playing the key maps where we can get a lot more music on a single page.

When you are able to play from these large note diagrams fairly easily, you will be ready to play from the key maps, and continue learning to play the keyboard from them.

The End

Actually, it's not the end at all. If you have come this far you have learned a lot about playing the keyboard! You may or may not yet be able to play as well as you think you should.

But this is just the beginning!

Learning to play the keyboard is a huge task. It normally takes years of study and practice to be able to play well. Accept what you have learned and move on with it. This website is loaded with information about playing the keyboard. And there are tons of music here. And there is no end to the music that you can find on the web. 

OK. Let's face it. Playing the keyboard is not for everyone. I'm just saying. If you want, really want to play, you can do it, but only if you're willing to put in a lot of effort. And remember what I said at the top of this page. You're going to need some help. Probably a lot of help. Find it wherever you can. Wishing you the best!

               Grampa John

John M. Honeycutt,
Jun 25, 2015, 2:08 PM
John M. Honeycutt,
Jun 25, 2015, 2:09 PM
John M. Honeycutt,
Jun 25, 2015, 2:09 PM