How to Play Piano

Course No. 7794
Professor Pamela D. Pike, PhD
Louisiana State University
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Course No. 7794
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What Will You Learn?

  • Sit down at the piano from Lesson 1 to familiarize yourself with the instrument.
  • Develop an in-depth sense of music theory, from rhythm to scales to sight-reading techniques.
  • Learn how to play some of the most beloved and recognized tunes from the repertoire.
  • Build a strong foundation for a lifetime of further practice with the piano.

Course Overview

Music is a universal language, and the piano is the ideal instrument to bridge the gap from listener to player. From folk melodies and holiday tunes to challenging classical forms or jazzy improvisation, the piano is also one of the most versatile instruments you can learn, allowing both melodic lead and harmonic accompaniment. Yet, too many people who want to play don’t know where to begin—or believe playing requires too much investment of time and tedious practice—so they miss out on the joys that playing even a simple melody can bring.

It’s a myth that in order to play the piano, would-be students require years of private instruction along with hours of tedious exercises. While it’s true that mastery of the piano is a lifelong process, anyone can learn to play a recognizable tune in a matter of minutes—and with the right guidance and a little encouragement, those first simple notes can put you on the path to one of life’s richest experiences.

How to Play Piano is your opportunity to pick up the marvelous skill of playing the piano. Taught by acclaimed pianist Professor Pamela D. Pike of Louisiana State University, these 36 accessible lessons give you the building blocks you need to go from an interested novice to an expressive and talented player, whether you have a grand piano or a simple electronic keyboard to work with.

Blending music theory and history with hands-on examples and step-by-step instruction, Professor Pike takes you on a journey from learning how to sit at the piano in the first place to inverting chords, arpeggios, sight-reading, and much more. The secret to this course is that Professor Pike invites you to learn by playing. You will be at the piano from minute one—and, in fact, you will learn how to play a melody from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy by the end of the first lesson.

Among other things, you will:

  • Learn basic scales and chords, and how to adapt them;
  • Walk through simple, easy-to-play practice pieces, ranging from popular standards to holiday staples;
  • Gain insight into the basic structure of music, how to build a harmony, and how to improvise;
  • Hone your ability to play “by ear” and sight-read music notation; and
  • Explore a range of different styles, which are all accessible and suited for the piano, from classical masterpieces to jazz, folk, blues, and even rock ’n’ roll.

 

One of the best things about this course is that it is entirely self-guided. Professor Pike not only takes you through the basic foundations and advanced techniques of piano playing, she also teaches you how to practice and gives you assignments to work on between each lesson. After 36 lessons, you will come away from How to Play Piano armed with a tremendous skill set—as well as the confidence and know-how to continue your journey for years to come.

Take a Step-by-Step Approach to Your Practice
Like any new skill, learning to play the piano will ask you to step outside your comfort zone and embrace becoming a novice. Fortunately, you won’t feel like a novice for long thanks to Professor Pike’s able guidance. From the very start of these lessons, you will be seated at the piano, ready to practice the basic finger patterns of C major. Building on previous lessons with each new piece of information, you will discover the ins and outs of:

  • Major and minor scales and arpeggios;
  • Chords, chord progressions, and inversions;
  • Rhythm patterns and tempo;
  • Notation and sight-reading;
  • Harmonization;
  • Syncopation;
  • Articulation and artistic expression;
  • Musical forms; and more.

 

Along the way, Professor Pike offers numerous examples to bring these concepts to life. For instance, one common primary chord progression is the I-IV-V-I pattern (tonic, subdominant, dominant, and return to the tonic). After showing you this pattern in one lesson, she revisits it in the next lesson, showing how this progression is used in the basic 12-bar blues.

As a veteran teacher, Professor Pike knows learning these new skills is not always easy—and she anticipates potential challenges. After playing around with the primary chord progression, for example, she pauses to note a few common pitfalls: Were your right-hand notes steady and even? Did your left hand play precisely with the right hand? How is the balance between your right-hand melody and your left-hand accompaniment?

Professor Pike offers practice tips such as these in every lesson. Overhead camera angles and clear on-screen graphics demonstrate what she is performing to make it easy to follow. At the end of each lesson, Professor Pike closes with a list of recommended exercises to work on. This blueprint will help you embed the new concepts between lessons, so you always have “the next step” to work on.

Survey the History and Theory of Piano Music

While How to Play Piano is a practical, hands-on course, you will also gain an immense knowledge of music theory and history. Indeed, playing an instrument is arguably the best way to study theory, because you’ll see and hear ideas in action. As you progress through this course, Professor Pike surveys the major musical periods of piano music, spotlighting what makes each period unique, including an in-depth look at the:

Baroque Era (1600-1725): “Piano” music from this era was written for instruments such as harpsichords and clavichords, but it translates well to the modern piano. From fugues to canons, survey some of the important pre-Classical forms.

Classical Period (1725-1800): The piano as an instrument came into its own in this era, allowing for exciting nuances of artistic expression. Explore one of the period’s most important forms: the sonata-allegro.

Romantic Era (1800-1910): Artistic expression took a giant leap forward in the era of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, and Schumann. Enhance your repertoire with several Romantic masterworks.

Modern (20th and 21st centuries): “Modern” music encompasses a great deal, from programmatic pieces to computer-generated sounds and percussive techniques. Review several trends from the past century.

Following this survey of music history, you will have a toolkit of approaches to playing the piano, from the rigors of the Baroque to the expressiveness of the Romantic to the experimental sounds of the past century. You’ll also have a host of new pieces in your repertoire to practice and perfect. From the Romantic influence of Chopin to Debussy’s impressionism, you will be introduced to such piano masterpieces as:

  • Bach’s Minuet in G Minor
  • Mozart’s theme from Sonata in C
  • Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Minuet in G, and Moonlight Sonata
  • Brahms’s Lullaby
  • Liszt’s Liebestraum

 

You’ll come away with a solid repertoire to impress your friends and direction to continue your practice, including a variety of pieces custom-written for this course.

A Fun Approach to Complex Mastery

How to Play Piano is a physical course. You’ll be using your ears to listen, your eyes to read, and your body to play. You’ll gain confidence with each lesson, learning to sight-read a little more naturally, play “by ear,” and develop the muscle memory to move your fingers to the right keys at the right time. Professor Pike’s step-by-step approach makes learning to play the piano simple—and fun!

Contrary to the notion that piano lessons and practice are long, tedious, and exacting, you will look forward to sitting down for each new lesson with Professor Pike. She starts you playing recognizable, challenging music early on, so you will see significant leaps in your ability with each passing day.

And, therein, lies the real heart of this course. While each lesson builds on the previous (you always start with a warm-up as a refresher), Professor Pike goes into great depth. This course mirrors a year-long college practicum in learning to play the piano, even including complexities such as transposition or chord inversions, which some teachers may tend to shy away from in early lessons but that Professor Pike lays out simply and elegantly.

As a result, you develop some amazing tools to take your piano playing and artistic expression to new heights. Mastering the piano may be a life’s pursuit, but How to Play Piano gives you the theory and skills to make piano playing an integral part of your life—and, like learning a new language, you will love the way your new ability will change your perspective and enhance your life.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Basic Piano Rhythm and Fingering
    Let's start by playing some music! From minute one of this course, you will be at the piano, fingering keys and playing tunes. In this opening lesson, you'll familiarize yourself with the piano, perform a few basic exercises to warm up, and explore some introductory rhythm patterns. By the end of the lesson, you'll know how to play the theme from Beethoven's Ode to Joy. x
  • 2
    Pitch and Off-Staff Notation
    After reviewing the introductory finger patterns you learned in the first lesson, delve into the concepts of pitch and meter. Find out about the concept of measures and different types of notes. Then explore the C major five-finger pattern and play it in action with your first etude. x
  • 3
    Tonic and Dominant Harmony
    The piano is a brilliant instrument because it can be used for both melody and harmony, the lead tune and the accompaniment. In this introduction to harmony, you'll explore the tonic and dominant notes of a scale, and you'll revisit Ode to Joy to better understand these concepts in action. x
  • 4
    Intervals and Basic Notation
    “Tempo” refers to speed in music, and it can be measured with a metronome. Continue working on the interplay of harmony and melody. When you add time to the equation, you can explore “intervals,” or pitches in a scale. You’ve learned enough at this point to study basic notation—the first step toward musical mastery. x
  • 5
    Major Chords and Simple Accompaniment
    Begin to familiarize yourself with the landmark pitches on the staff. By practicing various five-finger patterns (including C major, D major, E major, and A major), you will soon be able to match a tune to a specific tempo. This lesson also introduces the concept of “chords,” a triad of notes that allow for richer accompaniment. x
  • 6
    Fourths, Accidentals, and Relaxation
    Round out your study of the major five-finger patterns, and how “accidentals” (changing a pitch by half a step) work. Jazz around with “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and then learn about the interval of the fourth. Add “Aura Lee”—the folk song Elvis used for “Love Me Tender”—to your repertoire. x
  • 7
    Primary Chords
    Delve more deeply into the concept of chords and see how they can offer a richer harmony than single notes or two-note harmonic intervals. Examine one of the most popular chord progressions: I-IV-V-I (tonic to subdominant to dominant to tonic), one of the most common patterns in Western music. x
  • 8
    Transposition at the Piano
    Transposition—moving a melody from one key to another—is an important skill often under-used in traditional piano lessons for beginners. It provides an opportunity to get to know the different musical keys and can help you jazz around with an old piece of repertoire. Practice transposition with a few melodies, including “Woodland Jaunt.” x
  • 9
    Chord Inversions
    This lesson will enrich your musical life by building the technical foundation upon which piano music is based. Inverted chords (moving the lowest note of a triad up an octave) is a complex musical detail that will open your ears for future lessons. Learn to recognize how inversions look on the staff and the correct fingerings to play them. x
  • 10
    Chord Progressions and Arpeggios
    Here, build on the last lesson about chord inversions and take a deeper look at the dominant chord. Try your hand at transposing a new chord progression into various keys, and then practice some C major cross-hand arpeggios. The move may be tricky at first, but Professor Pike gives you plenty of time to practice. x
  • 11
    Accompaniment Patterns and Sight-Reading
    Find out about a practice technique called “blocking,” which will help you recognize chord patterns more easily—a major step toward sight-reading. Practice three types of accompaniment patterns: the broken-chord pattern, the waltz (3/4 time) pattern, and the Alberti bass pattern. x
  • 12
    Harmonization and Damper Pedal
    In this lesson, you’ll discover the final five-finger pattern—G flat—rounding out your knowledge of key signatures. You’ll continue working to harmonize melodies with the accompaniment patterns you learned in Lesson 11, and you will begin a new technique—using the damper pedal. x
  • 13
    Minor Finger Patterns and Chords
    Now that you are growing comfortable with the major key signatures, shift your attention to the minor finger patterns and chords. You’ll learn several new pieces (“Skip to My Lou” and a minor étude), and you’ll continue practicing your efforts at sight-reading. You will also discover an important new skill: how to harmonize a lead line. x
  • 14
    Articulation: Legato and Staccato
    Playing the piano is as much art as science, so here you will consider several techniques to boost the artistry of your playing. The way you articulate or play notes (also known as staccato and legato) will add personality to your playing. Practice with two new pieces: Gurlitt's At School and Diabelli's Waltz. x
  • 15
    One-Octave Major Scales and Major Intervals
    So far, you’ve been practicing five-finger scales, but in Western music, a complete scale is an octave, or eight notes. Expand your abilities to play full eight-note scales, and practice with C major, G major and D major. In addition to working on your existing repertoire, you’ll add the jazzy “Minor Romp” and “A Turkish Tune” to the mix. x
  • 16
    Dotted Rhythms and Isolated Repetition
    Hone the new musical skills you learned in Lesson 15. After reviewing scales and learning to harmonize a minor melody, you’ll experiment with a new rhythm pattern. Dig into “A Turkish Tune” to isolate problem spots, and then try your hand at a theme from Beethoven’s Minuet in G. x
  • 17
    Secondary Chords and More Dotted Rhythms
    Learning to play the piano is a complex, challenging process, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re hitting a plateau. In addition to expanding your knowledge of theory—including secondary chords—use this lesson as a time to review what you know and assess what needs work. x
  • 18
    Sixteenth Notes and More Secondary Chords
    Secondary chords are those that must go to the primary chord for resolution. Deepen your understanding of secondary chords by improvising with the minor second chord, and then playing around with the third and sixth chords. Deepen your abilities with Beethoven’s Minuet in G and the Harp Étude. x
  • 19
    Compound Meter and Technique
    After reviewing your sight-reading skills to date, going over the Beethoven Minuet again, and revisiting the secondary chord progressions, Professor Pike shows you two new time signatures: 2/4 time and 3/8 time. She also shows you some new music: the peppy “Cheerful Tune” and the “Rocking Étude” to bring compound meter to life. x
  • 20
    Parallel Major and Minor Keys
    Reflect on the relationship between parallel major and minor keys. For example, D major and D minor are not relative keys (like C major and A minor), but they do have an intriguing relationship. In this exploration, you will refine your technique for harmonizing melodies and learn the “Bell Melody” and “Elephant Stroll.” x
  • 21
    Three Forms of the Minor Scale and Syncopation
    Over the past few lessons, you have moved from very basic off-staff rhythms and pitches to much more complicated rhythmic patterns. Today’s lesson takes your knowledge of the minor keys to a whole new level as you examine the natural, harmonic, and melodic forms of the minor scale. Also, witness “syncopation” in action in Swing Low. x
  • 22
    Artistic Expression and More Minor Keys
    Revisit the expressive quality of music and how you can use the techniques you are learning to better convey expression. Professor Pike offers a few tips for where amateurs tend to get distracted with anticipation. Reflect on how musical dynamics are related to the musical line, form, and harmonic progression. x
  • 23
    The Classical Period and Fortepianos
    Learning to play the piano is about more than acquiring, perfecting, and practicing techniques. Understanding the time periods of music history help inform your understanding of practice. Here, start with the Classical period and learn how the piano developed as an instrument. Play Mozart's theme from the Sonata in C. x
  • 24
    Seventh Chords and Sonata Form
    Continue your study of the Classical period with a look at one of the most important forms in piano music: the sonata-allegro. See why the seventh chords are so important for classical music, and then survey the life and music of Haydn. Practice Mozart's Sonata in C and Haydn's Dance in D Major. x
  • 25
    Sight-Reading and Technique
    It’s time. You’ve learned enough about music theory and notation that you are ready to tackle sight-reading head-on. Here, you will be introduced to several new sight-reading pieces as well as a technical étude. You’ll also continue your study of the Dance in D Major and the Sonata in C. x
  • 26
    The Romantic Period and Seventh-Chord Arpeggios
    Shift your attention from the Classical period to the Romantic era, roughly 1800 to 1910. After surveying some of the major historical and intellectual developments of the period, you'll begin work on seventh-chord arpeggios. You'll also learn rules for beginning pieces at the appropriate tempo. x
  • 27
    Extended Arpeggios and Pianist as Artist
    Continue your exploration of piano technique as it developed in the Romantic era. After some warm-up work on scales and extended arpeggios, you will find out what makes Chopin's style so interesting, and what made Liszt such a virtuoso. Conclude with a lullaby from Brahms. x
  • 28
    More Romantic Repertoire
    In this lesson, you will refine much of your existing repertoire. You'll then try your hand at Liszt's Liebestraum. While this piece can be quite challenging for students, Professor Pike has created a special arrangement designed for your current level of ability. Work on adding musical expression to these Romantic-era pieces. x
  • 29
    Sonata Form Revisited
    By now, you have learned enough music from the masters that you are participating in a musical tradition. Revisit the sonata form and consider the modified “mini sonatina” form. Practice with “Brahms’s Lullaby”, Gurlitt’s Waltz in C, Liszt’s Liebestraum, and a theme from Mozart’s Sonata in C. x
  • 30
    The Baroque Era and Harpsichords
    Artistic discipline is defined by having the persistence to continue learning difficult music over an extended period of time. This lesson gives you time to practice what you've learned before traveling back in time to the Baroque era, before the modern piano as we know it was invented. Survey the instruments and style of the period. x
  • 31
    Baroque Repertoire
    After warming up with a waltz, you’ll learn “Rameau’s Minuet,” a piece widely anthologized for music students. Then, go back to the Baroque to learn about Bach’s fugues and Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D. This lesson gives you a chance to refine your skills in harmonization. x
  • 32
    Deliberate Practice and Learning Music
    Through much of this course, you have worked on some challenging masterpieces, many of which require difficult hand shifts and much practice. Here, Professor Pike shares a few strategies for “deliberate practice,” a systematic way to help you through the challenges. Learn a new harmonization example in the key of E minor. x
  • 33
    The 20th Century and Modern Music
    Music in the 20th and 21st centuries comes in many different styles. Here, you will survey a few common trends and find out about some of the more highly regarded composers of the past century, including programmatic music of Jean Sibelius and Béla Bartók, as well as computer-generated sounds and non-traditional piano techniques. x
  • 34
    Chorale-Style Repertoire
    It's good to practice music from different eras to ensure your musical diet is well-balanced. Here, survey chorale-style piano music across the ages. You'll enjoy the hymn-like harmonies in Schumann's Chorale Opus 68 no. 4 as well as the Ode to Schumann. Then, turn to another, more challenging piece by Schumann. x
  • 35
    Impressionism and the Una Corda Pedal
    Like its counterparts in art and literature, impressionism is a powerful musical movement that conveys a vague aural picture through interesting chords and progressions. Claude Debussy is the master of impressionism, and you will review his approach—and see how una corda pedal can help you mirror his sound. x
  • 36
    Triplets and Continuing Piano Study
    Professor Pike concludes with a final rhythmic pattern—triplets. After playing a Hungarian dance, you will try your hand at Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a fitting coda for a course that opened with the Ode to Joy. Reflect on what you’ve learned and discover how to continue your study of the piano after this course. x

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  • Download 36 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Finger Patterns
  • Practice Tips
  • Practice Assignments

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Your professor

Pamela D. Pike

About Your Professor

Pamela D. Pike, PhD
Louisiana State University
Pamela D. Pike is the Aloysia Landry Barineau Professor of Piano Pedagogy at Louisiana State University (LSU), where she coordinates the group piano and piano pedagogy programs. She earned a Bachelor of Music with honors in Piano Performance from The University of Western Ontario, a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy and Music History from Southern Illinois University, and a PhD in Music Education and Piano Pedagogy from the...
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Reviews

How to Play Piano is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 13.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from way too complicated for beginners I don't yet have a piano but I am playing it to make sure the DVDs don't have any errors. I am 1/2 way thru and conclude that each lesson would take over a week of practice and the course itself a year.
Date published: 2018-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A new approach I've taken kindergarten piano lessons 3 times in the last 50 years, so I have some experience with learning. I'm impressed by this professor's approach to learning the instrument. She's getting a lot more information across in the early lessons than I ever learned in my other classes.
Date published: 2018-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How to play the Piano I bought this course several weeks ago. I have been playing at the piano ever since. I love the course. The professor explains musical concepts in a way that make perfect sense to me. I am not new to music but I am new to the piano. The course has strengthened my knowledge of musical concepts that were not clear in the past. It also progresses in a way that is very doable and rewarding. I play every day!
Date published: 2018-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play along exercises very helpful in learning prop It motivates me to practice and continue my piano training
Date published: 2018-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Instruction This is one of the best courses that I have ordered from "The Great Courses." The instructor is excellent and the pace is just right for a beginner. The course allows one to proceed at one's own pace, which fits in well with a busy schedule.
Date published: 2018-10-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Way too simplistic I am sorry I bought this, it's way too simplistic. I expect to get a little out of it, but even on my own picking up piano after decades away from the keyboard I am way past anything in this course.
Date published: 2018-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Having not played the piano in more years than I can remember, I selected this course as a re-introduction. Having completed the first two lessons, I've found it to be an excellent course which would probably benefit even those who have never played or taken lessons before.
Date published: 2018-10-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from How to Play the Piano I'm extremely disappointed in this course. It was released with LOTS of editorial flaws. Example: Chapter 3, the notation in Ode to Joy is incorrect in measure 4 pg. 12. Also, when playing the C major 5 finger exercise the instructor indicated to play quarter notes but in reality she is playing eighth notes with the accompaniment track and it is played WAY too fast. Yes, she does play slowly in the examples, but then she switches to a tempo that is WAY to fast for the beginning piano player to follow. Then the accompaniment tracks to practice with at the end of the chapter are not clear. Again, they are WAY to fast and the "count in" is difficult to follow. Also, in Chapter 3 there is an improvisation exercise that the instructor says is in the work book but I could not find it. I had to write out the exercise manually. Then when she plays it, again it is played WAY too fast for the beginning student. It is a GREAT idea but??? The Great Courses should pull this course and go back to the editing room and do some proofing before marketing. The idea for the course if GREAT. It is too bad it was released too soon. This is just my opinion. Mk
Date published: 2018-10-06
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