If a child starts to play the piano at six (at or about the beginning of Grade 1) with a teacher, reading sheet music from the first lesson, at what point can one reasonably expect the pupil/teacher to move on to G or F? When is it reasonable to expect D and B♭ to be played (and read)? At what point can a parent expect that the teacher will introduce reading the relative minor keys?

I have the impression that this depends on the style of piano teacher one hires. A teacher adopting a classical repertoire will introduce a variety of keys sooner, whereas a teacher using a folklore or popular repertoire will remain for years in C-major. Can you clarify?


This is a simple statistics question. Music teachers will typically not design courses from scratch. They will normally pick a first book in a series, and the series will dictate what is introduced when.

Each book series comes in a sequence: Book 1, Book 2, ... to Book 10, say.

A motivated student might finish each "book" in considerably less than a year. A less motivated student might take a bit more than a year.

Is there an established pattern for when key signatures are introduced? Is there a "typically we see ..." rate for introducing new keys?

  • 1
    There's a common misconception that you haven't expressed, but just to clarify: sometimes people talk of some keys as harder or easier than others. This is true only in the broadest kind of generalization. One could write challenging material in C and easy material in Gb. Also, the very most beginning pieces rarely use the entire scale. Students are often introduced to a single tetrachord, to lie under the fingers of one hand, or even to fewer notes in the first pieces. So you could have a piece "in G" that doesn't even use the F#. Overall, key is not a good metric of difficulty or progress. Commented May 16, 2023 at 16:39
  • You might also want to clarify: There have been some answers already that assume you're asking about a progression of music theory study, while it seems to me you're asking solely about playing in certain keys. Again, I see no reason why such a progression should exist; minor is not inherently more difficult than major, and one could start a curriculum with a D minor tetrachord (though I doubt many do). Commented May 16, 2023 at 16:42
  • What does this have to do with cadences? Commented May 17, 2023 at 13:24

3 Answers 3


The general expectation is that a piano student would encounter accidentals in their first year.

As pointed out, the answer will vary widely according to both the teacher and the student. However, here is a survey of where various method books introduce sharps and flats. Note that while these methods might generally be viewed as "classical" training, modern methods near always include songs of various styles, genres, and origins.

In no particular order ...

  • Béla Bartók, Mikrokosmos, Book 1
  • Willard A. Palmer et al., Alfred's Basic Piano Library, Book 1A
  • Helen Marlais, Helen Marlais' Succeeding at the Piano, Grade 1
  • Dennis Alexander et al., Alfred's Premier Piano Course, Book 1B
  • Shinichi Suzuki, Suzuki Piano Method, Book 1
  • Nancy and Randall Faber, Piano Adventures, Level 1
  • Frances Clark et al., The Music Tree, Part 1

And for standardized exam expectations:

  • ABRSM, Initial Grade
  • RCM, Preparatory A
  • Great.. Do students then typically encounter 2 sharps and 2 flats in their second year, 3 in the third, and so on? That seems steep. Does the RCM even cover all 24 keys by the end of Book 12?
    – Sam7919
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 3:45
  • 2
    @Sam I'm most familiar with the ABRSM exam requirements. They have 8 levels, and students are expected to know all major and minor scales through six sharps or six flats at level 5.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 4:03

Your assertion that the type of instruction received will influence when the concept of keys being introduced is somewhat correct, however there are more important factors regarding where a child will be in their knowledge of theory. What will most affect what the child learns is a combination of their aptitude and their interest, not necessarily whether the instructor uses classical methods. A child who is not particularly inclined towards music may take far longer, as would one who sits through their lessons wishing they were elsewhere and aren't particularly devoted. This is true of teaching most anything to young children. Also keep in mind that "forcing" a child to learn if they lack any interest or are chronically frustrated with an inability to progress would hamper their ability to learn anything, much less key signature. This can lead to them finding the instrument distasteful.

In my own experience, and watching my five younger siblings, the concept of key may be introduced as early as three months in. (By the end of the first curriculum, but this obviously varies) Often, children will play pieces in more than just C before this, but not know what keys are.

I personally have only taught individuals as young as 8, with the exception of my youngest sister, so my expertise past what I have already mentioned is limited. I will say though, from those I taught key signature and playing in many keys is typical by six months.

I wouldn't be concerned with how much a child learns, unless you plan for them to become a professional musician. Every kid is unique and with their own skillset. While I understand wanting to make sure a child is receiving the most they can from their instructor, I personally don't think a parent should form expectations as to when they learn what.

Here is an articles on the topic from an instructor who specializes in teaching children:


From what I've heard from professional instructors and seen online, the "when" isn't exactly a focus. Building a strong foundation for the child to grasp more and abstract concepts is.

  • 7
    "I wouldn't be concerned with how much a child learns, unless you plan for them to become a professional musician." -- My bias is that if a child is going to be a musician (of any kind), you'll have a hard time keeping them away from the instrument. If the child is not going to be a musician, you'll have a hard time getting them to play or practice at all. All we can do is offer a positive experience and some learning; the rest is up to the student. Commented May 15, 2023 at 23:13
  • You're making several fine points, but could you address the question? I clarified it.
    – Sam7919
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 3:08

The path through isn't 'start with key C, then move to G and F(one sharp/flat, then two' etc. Although a lot of material does actually use that as its m.o.

I've had children playing scales in all sorts of keys in their first lesson - understanding the TTSTTTS steps that make up scales.

Read the syllabi from ABRSM and Trinity to see what gets introduced where, but be aware that your 'book per year' is wildly inaccurate. And a good teacher will use a heck of a lot more than one series of books.

ABRSM doesn't even reflect the keys of scales played at a certain grade with the pieces played for performance at those same grades!

So, I feel the question is skewed somewhat, as the concept is invalid, and no two children will learn at the same pace.

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