So, I decided my life needed a little more piano so I picked up a MIDI keyboard and started learning some of the basics. The very first thing I'm doing is learning the scales (starting with major) and chords (starting with no inversion).

I have some background in guitar and know that there are many things that one should be paying attention to while practicing scales, like finger tension, fingering, finger position within the fret, relaxing fingers not being used in a notes and their position, etc.

In piano, for now I'm strongly prioritizing getting the pattern in my head and muscle memory, but as I practice I notice there are some things I might be correcting, but don't know if now is the correct time to do it, as thinking about it often distracts me and gets me to fail the scale in some way. Things like the pinky fingers extending and being tense, note intensity, curvature of the hand, position of fingers not being used, and other things I'm surely missing.

I'm worried about making some negative patterns stronger with every practice, but don't know if now that I've just started (2 weeks) is the correct time to worry about it.

As a complete beginner, what are my priorities when practicing scales? What should I be paying attention to? As I progressively improve, what things should I be adding to the "pay attention and correct" list? In which order?

Getting a teacher is out of the question, it's impossible for me at the moment. I know "get a teacher" is a good advice, but it is sadly one I can't follow. Instead of asking this to a teacher, I'm asking this to you guys.

4 Answers 4


As a complete beginner, I would recommend that you take at least a couple of lessons from a good teacher. I self-taught on guitar and bass but I had bad technique and ended up injuring my hands as a result, something that never happened to me when I learned piano from a teacher.

If you can't get a teacher then here's a site that may help you avoid some of the problems that students run into: http://www.pianofundamentals.com

For myself, I found that the best way to play and stay engaged was to make all of my scale exercises into melodies and all my chord exercises into chord progressions for songs.

To play while working on technique:

  • Play as slowly as it takes to play perfectly with full attention on your technique and the notes. If you keep making mistakes play even slower. Use a metronome and only increase the tempo when you can play perfectly. This will save time, believe me.
  • "Mend the fractures". When you break a bone, the healed fracture will be stronger than the surrounding bone. The same is true for your mistakes. When you make a mistake, repeat the passage again and again and again until you can play it perfectly before moving on.
  • Concentrating on everything at once is very stressful for a beginner. Each time through the exercise concentrate on one thing but each time through concentrate on a different thing. Then start combining things. For example, "This time I'm going to make sure that my fingers are perfectly placed. This time I'm going to concentrate on the softest I can play a note. This time I'm going to concentrate on my posture." When each thing is good, then practice combining them.
  • If you don't have a teacher, put your smartphone on a tripod and record yourself playing. First hands, then overall posture. Review the video and look for ergonomic problems. As a rule of thumb, you want to see everything in straight lines and right angles, especially fingers, arms, and spine.

Good luck!

  • "As a complete beginner, I would recommend that you take at least a couple of lessons from a good teacher." Getting a teacher is out of the question. It's not possible for me right now. For at least a year I will be doing this on my own and I don't have a choice about it. That's why I need to know this, I'm asking you guys instead of a teacher. :) Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 23:38
  • " I self-taught on guitar and bass but I had bad technique and ended up injuring my hands as a result, something that never happened to me when I learned piano from a teacher." It would be very useful to know which things to do to avoid injuries, then! It would be awesome if someone could include advice about how to avoid injuries in piano practice in an answer to this question. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 23:42
  • I've addressed your comments in my answer.
    – empty
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 0:01
  • 1
    +1 for mentioning getting a teacher regardless of what OP said about it. I injured myself too because I hadn't one. Now that I take lessons I realize that my teacher sees things I don't even feel in terms of tension and hand posture. There's no way I would be able to do this by myself. Why don't you take this year to do some intense ear training or sight reading, OP?
    – user10960
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 1:31
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    I agree. The issue I had with the original answer is that the only think on it was "get a teacher". Every question here and other SE could be answered like that. How do I do X thing? A: get a teacher. The job of the SE is to act like the teacher, so the "get a teacher" answers in SE sites tend to grind my gears. Here I see how it's important to mention the usefulness of a teacher, but I think there is also so much more to say about the subject than just "get a teacher". Ok, I got someone that will prevent my injuries, it's important, now answer the actual question. That's how I see it. Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 3:16

To make a good start, correctly, one should have an instrument that emulates a proper piano - touch sensitive, with a balanced action. A lot of keyboards, whilst looking like pianos, with the black and white bits, will play nothing like them The response is just very different. So, if one wants to get it right, that's paramount.

Scales (and chords and arpeggios) are the standard starting point, so one may as well use them. Playing positions for hands will vary as much as people do: one will play with fingertips pushing down the keys, another one will use pads. Watch good players - both methods can be made to work. I prefer knuckles up, bent fingers, but I've only played for 50 years so far, still might find a better way.At least, with scales, or running passages, with wrists and knuckles high, the thumb can pass under the hand ready for the next position.

Vary the way they are played - legato, staccato, piano, forte,slowly, fast, with combinations of these one will have a plethora of different modes of playing.

With arpeggios, use a couple of ideas - play only one octave up and down i.e. C-E-G-C-G-E-C. Play C-E-G-E-G-C-G-C-E-C up, then down - a broken chord. Play two octaves.

When one is good at, in particular, Cmaj, Emaj and Eb maj , use the same start note, play contrary. Same swap over points and fingering will make those easy and fun.

Since the OP quoted scales and chords this is as far as the answer goes now.

  • Are there other advantages in weighted keys, other than "feeling more like a real piano"? Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 9:08
  • It's probably that there's more disadvantage in learning with 'organ' type keys, as they tend to be pretty well switches, rather than a progressive action as one gets with a weighted key.So the way they're played feels quite different. You want to get it right from the start, so use the right tool.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 9:38
  • But why one is "right" and the other "wrong" if the only difference is the feel? Do "organ" type keys don't have velocity sensitivity? Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 9:43
  • Yes, they often do, but,in a different 'feel' way, rather like having a real teacher, you won't know the difference in feel until you try it for yourself. I can't explain in a way you would understand over this site.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 12:23
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    Better or worse don't come into it.It's obviously the preference of most piano players, over an organ feel, otherwise they'd be playing any old keyboard.Right or wrong don't come into it.You asked specifically about piano playing,then stated you had a MIDI keyboard. You wanted to make sure you started with a good technique, which won't manifest itself if you learn on a keyboard which maybe doesn't have that feel.You can't learn to ride a bike by practising on a tricycle.If all you want to do is find your way round a set of keys, anything will do.You specified piano,so my answer reflected this.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 14:08

I know people who managed to learn a lot by themselves, without a teacher and on a MIDI keyboard. So good luck :-)

(I will be using the piano numbering scheme for fingers, I think guitarists count them differently):

  1. From the beginning aim for even loudness. 4th and 5th fingers will be a problem (to soft), 2th finger and thumb might tend to be too loud.

  2. The second important thing is articulation - the control of the time between releasing one finger and hitting another. You will see that getting it right is quite easy for thumb and 2th finger, but 4th and 5th tend to slur together (5th will hit before )

To practice points 1 and 2 - record yourself playing and listen to the recordings. Since you will be using a MIDI keyboard, it might be a good idea to record MIDI recording in a DAW (like Cubase), then you can actually see the loudness, timing, overlaps etc. of your playing (in the piano roll editor).

  1. You want to use the same part of each of your fingers to hit keys - in the beginning, learn to use the tip of each finger, just by the fingernail (in case of the thumb it will be a bit to the side). This will be simple for fingers 1-3, but 4th and 5th will tend to hit closer to the first joint. Fight this!

There are many teachers in existence who lack skills a "good" teacher should have and I don't know any teachers who don't consider themselves "good". Therefore I take issue with a blanket response of get a good teacher. I feel there are other ways to learn besides formal instruction. Children become very proficient on their digital devices just by playing with them in an unorganized uninstructed manner. There are also many accomplished musicians who began with no formal training, but had access to an instrument they could tinker and play with. If the interest is there, formal training is only one of many ways to learn to play. Book study can give a lot of pointers, and so can experimentation, mistakes might be made in the process of learning, but that is just part of learning. There will always be the possibility of injury in anything you decide to do, but if you make a habit of being careful in your endeavors that possibility is greatly reduced. The same idea applies to learning an instrument. Just use common sense. You didn't say if you were a sight reader or not, but it occurred to me that learning scales and chords and learning sight reading can pretty much go hand in hand and if you're interested in learning sight reading you can find workbooks that can get you started. Just understand that there will be a lot of work involved if you don't enjoy what you are doing, but if you do enjoy it, it becomes play, so it makes good sense to do your learning in ways you can enjoy. I wish you the best of luck.

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