How to Play Simple Songs on a Keyboard

Piano keyboard image by joephoto from

Anyone can learn to play simple songs on the keyboard. It only requires three things: a basic knowledge of the major notes, the correct hand position, and the ability to read sheet music. Once you learn these three key concepts, you'll be playing music in no time.

Things You'll Need

  • Keyboard
  • Beginner'S Songbook

Knowing the Notes

White keys from left: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
Red Piano image by Kathy Lippard Cobb from

The piano keyboard has seven important notes for your first songs, starting from middle C. You will notice that there are groups of two and groups of three black keys.

Find the white key that is directly to the left of two black keys. This key is named C, and there are several of them on your keyboard. Now put your thumb on the C that is in the middle of your keyboard. This is middle C. See the diagram for clarification (middle C is eight keys from left).

With your index finger, play the seven white keys to the right of middle C and name them as follows: D, E, F, G, A, B. Once you hit B, put your thumb on the white key to the right. This key is C again. These eight white keys (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) are an octave. Your keyboard is made up of several octaves in various pitches.

Practice playing a C scale (all of the notes from C to C) with your right hand. Continue practicing until you can name all of the notes. Do the same with your left hand, starting with your pinky on C.

Hand Position

A hand in piano playing position.
playing piano 2 image by Anthony Maragou from

The next step is to practice the correct hand position. Bend your right hand slightly at the wrist. Now bend your fingers at the knuckle.

With your thumb on middle C, practice putting your other five fingers as follows: index finger on D, middle finger on E, fourth finger on F, pinky finger on G. Now play each note one at a time with your hand still curled in position. Continue practicing.

Do the same with your left hand, one octave lower than middle C. Begin with your pinky on C and place each finger on one of the next five keys until your thumb is on G. Continue practicing, making sure your hand remains curled.

Reading Sheet Music

sheet music image by Dianne Burridge from

Once you have practiced playing the notes using the correct hand position, it is time to learn how to read the music in front of you. Look at your music, or at the picture above. The symbol to the far left is called the G clef: this is the symbol that shows what is being played with the right hand.

The lines are called the staff, and a staff always has five lines. In between these lines are the circles that symbolize notes. Some beginner songbooks have the letters written along with the note symbol to help you. Take a moment to study the notes in your sheet music.

If your music does not already have the names of notes next to the symbols, use a pencil to write the names in now. Middle C is the note below the staff with a line through it. D is the note one step above C, below the first line of the staff. E is on the first line of the staff; F is in the space above E. G is on the line above F. A is in the space above G, and B is on the line above A. From there the notes start over with C again, all the way to B, one step at a time. However, as a beginner, you will only use the first five to seven notes in the right hand at this time.

Practice playing the notes of your music until you are confident that you know how the song goes. Your first song should not be more than a page long, and should use only the right hand.

Rhythm in Sheet Music

music book. manuscript. music score image by L. Shat from

Now that you know the note names, you are ready to learn the symbols for rhythm. The numbers next to the G (or treble) clef are called the time signature. Measures are the sections of staff that are separated by vertical lines. In beginner music, the time signature should be 4 over 4. This means that there are four equal beats per measure, and that a quarter note equals one beat. Check to make sure your sheet music has a 4/4 time signature. Then, practice clapping out four equal beats with your hands.

Quarter notes (one beat) are solid black and have one tail, leading straight up from the note. Half notes (two beats, or the length of two quarter notes) look like a white circle with a tail. Whole notes (four beats) look like one big circle without a tail.

Your sheet music should only have these three types of notes. If it has other symbols, or uses sharps and flats, it is not beginner music. Take a moment to look for these types of notes in your sheet music.

girl writing image by enens from

Using a pencil, write out how many beats each note gets. For example, if you have four quarter notes in a measure, write 1, 2, 3, 4 (one number under each note). If the measure has one half note and two quarter notes, write 1, 2 under the half note and 3 and 4 under each quarter note. This will make it easier for you to play later.

Practice clapping four equal beats with your hands again: 1, 2, 3, 4. Now look at your sheet music and think about how many beats each note gets. Clap the beat again, and say the name of the note for each beat. For example, if the first measure is four quarter notes (C, D, E, F) then you will say the letter names while clapping your hands.

girl playing piano image by NiDerLander from

Now put your right hand into position. Play the notes of the song again, but using the correct number of beats for each note. Tap your foot or use a metronome to help yourself keep the beat. Continue practicing, one measure at a time. Congratulations: you're playing a song on the keyboard!


  • Good beginner sheet music can be found at any local music store or at various stores online. Recommended titles include: * The Complete Absolute Beginners Keyboard Course: This comes with CDs and a DVD so you can hear the music and see the lesson. A very good idea if you are teaching yourself.

    • Teach Yourself to Play Piano: A Quick and Easy Introduction for Beginners

    • Keyboard Musician for the Adult Beginner