How to Self Teach Piano Lessons

By Al Bondigas
Self-taught piano playing can be fun and rewarding.

The piano (or electronic keyboard) is a versatile instrument that can provide hours of pleasure, even for a beginner. Many musicians use pianos to compose their songs, and the visual nature of the instrument helps you learn musical structure. Teaching yourself piano is not difficult. Although knowing how to read music helps, it is not required.

Using a Simple Numbering System

A numbering system helpful for learners is similar to the Nashville Number System, a standard tool of session musicians. The system is built around scales and parts of chords, and it can serve as a blueprint for any song.

To start, notice that the black keys don't appear between all of the white keys on a keyboard. Instead, they're placed in clusters of two or three. The C note is played on the white key immediately to the left of each group of two black keys. Starting on the C, count eight white keys to the right. That's another C, an octave higher.

Cut an inch-wide strip of cardboard long enough to touch two-thirds of the keys. Prop it up against the backs of the piano keys. Find the lowest C on the piano near the left end of the cardboard and mark it with a "1."

Number the rest of the white keys on the cardboard from one to seven, starting over each time you reach seven. Mark off at least three octaves in this way, ensuring that the 1 always falls on the C note.

With the cardboard in the correct position behind the piano keys, use your left hand to strike the 1, 3, and 5 keys together. That's your basic C chord. Chords involving three keys are called triads. Next play the 5 and 7 keys together with the 2 from the next octave. That's the basic G chord. Your F chord will be built the same way, starting with the 4.

In an upper octave, play a right-handed melody that you're familiar with, using the cardboard as a guide. You should play only white keys for now, with most of the action centering around the 1, 3, and 5 keys.

Taking It Further

Now try playing the melody again while using the left hand for chords that accompany the melody. Start with the C; it will establish the song's home base. Tap out the beat with your foot and listen to how you sound.

With this simple system, you should be able to play a song in several keys, and your repertoire may expand at a surprising rate. Your knowledge of musical structure will also grow as you spend time at the piano.

Don't be discouraged if your first efforts don't sound professional. Self-taught piano is supposed to be fun, not a career. You'll definitely become more sophisticated as you continue to explore new chords and melodies. Before long, you won't need that cardboard strip.


Listen to as much music as you can, paying particular attention to the piano parts.

Learning to play a few songs on piano may whet your appetite to try more.

Try using guitar sheet music, which has the chords to the songs.

About the Author

Al Bondigas is an award-winning newspaperman who started writing professionally in 1985. His print credits include the "Mohave Valley Daily News" and "The Mohave County Standard." Bondigas studied journalism at San Bernardino Valley College in California.