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A Music Basics Guide for the Beginning Musician

Hello! Welcome to the wonderful world of music. Have you always dreamed of being able to learn how to play the piano, keyboard, guitar or any other instrument? Well, your dream is just about to come true with this Free Music eCourse. This dream of yours is not something so far away that it cannot become a reality in a very short while.

Did you know that pianos in some form have been around for over 500 years? Some of the first instruments of this kind were called clavichords. They had a very light, metallic sound because the small hand-pounded 'hammers' were made of very light weight metal-like material. These hammers struck strings of varying lengths to create different tones or pitches. The next cousin to the clavichord was the harpsichord invented by Cristofori in Italy around 1450 A.D. This keyboard instrument had a mechanism in it called the plecktrum which 'plucked' the strings and produced a slightly stronger sound than its predecessor.

Whether you are playing an acoustic instrument, which is the closest relative to the history just mentioned, or an electronic keyboard, you are now participating in a centuries old musical art form.

Let's begin our musical study with a review of the main musical terms you will need to be familiar with to proceed with your music education.
BAR LINE - A vertical line which separates notes into groups
DOUBLE BAR LINE - A set of two (2) vertical lines which stand for the end of a piece of music
REPEAT SIGN - Double bar with two dots at the end of a section or piece of music which indicates that section is to be played twice.
MEASURE - The distance between two bar lines.
TREBLE CLEF - Called the G Clef in times passed, this G-shaped symbol stands for notes played with the right hand.
BASS CLEF - The reversed C-shaped symbol which stand for notes played with the left hand.
STAFF - The five lines and four spaces of both the bass and treble clefs.
QUARTER NOTE - Musical symbol with solid note head and stem which gets one count.
QUARTER REST - Musical symbol resembling a sideways W which gets one count.
HALF NOTE - Musical symbol with hollow note head and stem which gets two counts.
HALF REST - Solid half block sitting on third line of the staff which gets two counts of silence.
DOTTED HALF NOTE - Musical symbol with hollow note head, dot and stem which gets three counts.
WHOLE NOTE - Musical symbol resembling a circle on the staff which gets four counts.
WHOLE REST - Solid half block hanging from the second line on the staff which gets four counts of silence. CHORD - Two or more notes played together.
BLOCKED CHORD - Two or more notes played at the same time
BROKEN CHORD - Two or more notes from the same chord played in sequence INTERVALS - The distance between two notes on the musical staff

There are only seven (7) letter names used on the piano:


It is interesting to note here that no matter what instrument you play, whether it is piano, tuba or violin, ONLY the seven letter names above are used in the entire realm of music!

There are two very easy ways to visualize and remember the names of the white keys on your piano and keyboard. Remember, the note names on an electronic keyboard are the same as on the acoustic piano.
Since it is not possible to include a graphic in this format, simply remember that the 'CDE' note groups in always located directly underneath the two black note group. The letter name 'D' in the white key always located directly inbetween the two black key note groups. ANY TWO BLACK NOTE GROUP on the piano has the letter name 'D' as the white key located inbetween them.

Go to your keyboard NOW and start to play all of the C-D-E groups from the lowest (bottom left) to the highest (top right) on your keyboard.
Say C - D - E as you play each key.

Now we will learn about the F - G - A - B note groups. Simply located any three black note group on your piano or keyboard and realize that the F-G-A-B white keys are located directly beneath them. Directly outside of the three black note groups are 'F' on the left hand side of the three black note group and 'B' on the right hand side of the three black note group. Just fill in the outer 'F' and 'B' with G and A and you are done!

Go to your piano or keyboard NOW and find all of the F-G-A-G white keys underneath each three black note group. As above, play slowly and evenly saying the letter names as you play the F-G-A-B groups from the bottom of the piano or keyboard (low left hand end) to the top of your piano or keyboard (top right hand end).

Congratulations! You now know ALL of the white key names on the piano!


Both the Treble and Bass clefs each have five lines and four spaces. Learning the actual note names of each line and space (the spaces between each line) is very simple. Please memorize the sentences below for the Treble Clef Line and Space Notes:

Treble Clef Line Notes(starting from the bottom line and moving up)


Every Good Boy Does Fine (the first letter of each word helps you remember the order of the notes)

Treble Clef Space Notes (starting from the first space and going up


Just remember that the treble clef spaces spell the word 'FACE'.

Bass Clef Line and Space Notes are as follows:
Line Notes:

Great Big Dogs Fight Animalsb
Space Notes: ACEG

All Cars Eat Gas
Now you know all the names of the white keys on your piano or keyboard. You also learned today the acutal letter names of each line and space on both the treble and bass clefs

Both the Quarter Note and the Quarter Rest get one beat. The Quarter Note has a filled in note head and a stem. The Quarter Rest is a vertical musical symbol which resembles a 'W' turned on its side.
The Quarter note symbol stands for a note that is played for the length of one beat. In other words, play any key on your instrument right now and simply hold it down while you say 'one'. It is what we would call a short note.
The Quarter rest is a musical symbol which stands for one beat of silence.
In other words, beats of silence in music are counted just like beats of sound. The only difference between these two musical symbols is that there is complete sound for one beat during a Quarter Note and complete silence for one beat during a Quarter rest in music.


A chord is defined as two or more notes from a scale played together at the same time. Chords may be played in either blocked chord form or broken chord form. A blocked chord simply means that two or more notes are played at the same time. A broken chord is created when that blocked chord is just played one note after the other in sequence.

The first chord we will study is the C Major chord. The notes of the C Major chord are C, E and G. Try this C Major Chord Exercise by placing fingers 1, 3 and 5 of each hand down on your desk or table top right now(remember that the thumb is finger number 1, the middle finger is number 3 and proceed to the pinky finger which is finger number 5). Press down all three fingers (1,3 and 5) at the same time. You have just played the C Major BLOCKED chord. Use this same table top method right now and similarly press down each finger 1,3 and 5 in sequence (one after the other) to create a BROKEN chord.

SPECIAL TIP** Remember, a chord with stems up means the right hand is playing and a chord with stems down means the left hand is playing the chord.

An Interval is defined as the distance between two notes (Refer to Chapter 2 of this course: Musical Terms). The first interval to consider is the interval of a Second, notated as '2nd'. The second is also referred to as a 'step' in music reading because it is the distance you can travel on your keyboard or piano from one key to the very next key.
It is important to learn to read music by INTERVAL rather than by FINGER NUMBER because the fingerings will not be available on all pieces of music that you encounter. Also, learning to read music by interval enables you to be a much more well rounded pianist because you can start on any given note and read your way through any piece of music. If you concentrated too much on just C Position or Middle C Position, you would soon become less able to read notes in other areas of the staff.
Now look at the series of letter names below. This series of letters corresponds with your piano or keyboard. Keys C, D and E are in that sequence right next to each other on your keyboard. Moving from one note to the next either up or down in a sequential manner is moving by Seconds. This exercise is written is centered around the concept of the Second, or step. Place your right hand thumb (finger number 1) on a table top or on your keyboard in front of you. Your thumb will be resting on C, your second finger will be resting on D and your third finger will be resting on E. You will be playing interval or distances of a Second throughout this exercise. Be sure to practice this exercise two different ways:
1. Say the Letter Names as you play. 2. Say 'Step up' or 'Step Down' as it is written on the music.
C D E D / C D E D / E D C D / E D C D / C D E D /


The vehicle for expression in music comes through the context of dynamic markings. Since the Italians were the ones to first write marks of expression in their music as well as print the first music manuscripts on paper, all of the marks of expression or dynamics are from Italian words. Please look over the list of dynamic markings below and familiarize yourself with them. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Only those basic symbols are included here that pertain to the pieces within the Play Piano Now piano course.
Piano - Italian word for soft. symbol used in music: p
Pianissimo - Very soft; symbold used: pp
Mezzo Forte - Medium Loud; symbol used: mf
Forte - Loud; symbol used: f Fortissimo - Very Loud; symbol used: ff
Crescendo - Gradually getting louder; symbol used: <
Decrescendo - Gradually getting softer; symbol used: >
You can also learn more about the Play Piano Now piano course at:

About the Author

Jan Durrant is the author/composer of the Play Piano Now piano courses. She holds a Master's Degree in Music from the University of Texas at San Antonio in Texas. She has over 25 years experience in both public and private school music teaching. She is a member of the MTNA (Music Teachers National Association), the National Guild of Piano Teachers and the Conroe Music Teachers Association in southeast Texas.

Written by: Jan Durrant

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