How to Play Piano

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Different approach I am on lesson 18 and having so much fun! Prof. Pike's approach is so different than lessons I took many years ago. Imagine starting to play using the black keys! I especially appreciate her discussion of chords and triads. Very helpful.
Date published: 2020-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very different approach to learning piano. I have purchased and gone through several digital piano learning courses and most follow either a traditional scales and note study, or a chord and notation process. This course was different from the first lesson. I haven't completed it as yet, but it is changing my mind about my ability to finally learn to use the piano as more than a piece of furniture where I display the grandkids photos.
Date published: 2020-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from When I retired, I decided to study the piano which I had not done since grade school and high school. How to Play Piano was exactly the course I was looking for.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging in a good way This course is just what I needed after disappointing experiences with other courses. The best features for me have been the variety of exercises in each lesson, the ultra-clear explanations of Dr. Pike, and the endless but surmountable challenges that make me feel like I’m making progress. Lessons are so jam-packed there’s no question of running through them cursorily. I don’t think I’ve finished a single lesson without going through it at least three times, with lots of practice in between using the helpful course workbook.
Date published: 2020-09-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good For Novices Only This is a good course for persons who are new playing any musical instrument, and who want to learn both how to play piano and how to read music. On the other hand, I play several wind instruments and read music quite well already, so I found much of the course to be too elementary to be useful. If TGC and Professor Pike were to offer a piano course for persons who already can read music, I'd buy it right away.
Date published: 2020-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I'm Learning I took lessons many years ago, as an adult. I was never very good. I find I am learning things from this course. I'm not sure I would be following as well, if I had no experience. I've looked at the course on line, as well as by DVD. In both cases, it would be nice to have the practice pieces in one location that could easily be accessed, so you could play along with her. She often says, when you practice feel free to play along with her, but it isn't easy to access those areas.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Piano I've completed 19 out of 36 classes over 8 months, probably spending 1.5 hours a week practicing specifically for this course, another 3 hours a week on Alfred Piano, and 3 hours a week on learning skill level appropriate songs. It was fast moving at the beginning, then became slower (challenging in the middle). Now I am able to accomplish each of the exercises quicker again. Overall, I highly recommend this for an adult beginner to learn with no experience. I've used it as a supplement to the Alfred Adult Beginner Level 1 (which is why the course is taking a while for me) and I think it complements this well, especially since there is so much of a focus on theory on here, which I've really enjoyed. I like how each week really builds on each other, and like real lessons, the instructor has on the lesson plan to practice scales, which is a good coordination exercise at the beginning, and then makes chord building so much easier when you get to that part. I love the workbook too. After about 8 classes I called up the Great Courses and had ordered a printed copy, which makes it so much easier to work on my own vs having my tablet on the computer -- especially watching the videos. Some (very minor) areas for improvement 1) The black background with white notes in the videos is very challenging to play along to. Now I just have the workbook side by side on my piano and ignore the video sheet music. 2) It would be helpful to have the minutes printed in the workbook of when that specific piece is covered so you can quickly go back to reference it. There's been a few times where I've needed to go back to watch it to see if I'm doing it right and the order of the music is different from the order you play, so it at times was an inconvenience to click around and find it. I resolved that by writing in the times myself when the topic was being covered. 3) I would have liked have had a repertoire section at the middle, and end with longer songs you should be able to accomplish if you followed the course. Looking ahead, I think it could be unsatisfying to finish the course, and all you know if a lot of 20 second pieces. I likely will start using a piano teacher once I finish the course. I would love to see more of these learn to play instruments in this format on TGC!
Date published: 2020-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional course, FANTASTIC teacher. Loved this -- did the whole course and it gave me the gift of piano. The teacher is truly amazing. I'd recommend this course to anyone- --- as long as they correct the numerous mistakes in the PDF course materials (and there are many). Good thing I had theory before starting this or it would have confused me, because the lazy errors someone did here are unexcusable. But Prof. Pike should be commended for her really great teaching skills -- I felt like she was right beside me, guiding my hands. I am very thankful to her. But honestly, Great Courses staff -- fix that PDF.
Date published: 2020-08-31
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How to Play Piano
Course Trailer
Basic Piano Rhythm and Fingering
1: Basic Piano Rhythm and Fingering

Let’s start by playing some music! From minute one of this course, you will be at the piano, fingering keys and playing tunes. In this opening lesson, you’ll familiarize yourself with the piano, perform a few basic exercises to warm up, and explore some introductory rhythm patterns. By the end of the lesson, you’ll know how to play the theme from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

34 min
Pitch and Off-Staff Notation
2: Pitch and Off-Staff Notation

After reviewing the introductory finger patterns you learned in the first lesson, delve into the concepts of pitch and meter. Find out about the concept of measures and different types of notes. Then explore the C major five-finger pattern and play it in action with your first étude.

31 min
Tonic and Dominant Harmony
3: Tonic and Dominant Harmony

The piano is a brilliant instrument because it can be used for both melody and harmony, the lead tune and the accompaniment. In this introduction to harmony, you’ll explore the tonic and dominant notes of a scale, and you’ll revisit Ode to Joy to better understand these concepts in action.

31 min
Intervals and Basic Notation
4: Intervals and Basic Notation

“Tempo” refers to speed in music, and it can be measured with a metronome. Continue working on the interplay of harmony and melody. When you add time to the equation, you can explore “intervals,” or pitches in a scale. You’ve learned enough at this point to study basic notation—the first step toward musical mastery.

30 min
Major Chords and Simple Accompaniment
5: Major Chords and Simple Accompaniment

Begin to familiarize yourself with the landmark pitches on the staff. By practicing various five-finger patterns (including C major, D major, E major, and A major), you will soon be able to match a tune to a specific tempo. This lesson also introduces the concept of “chords,” a triad of notes that allow for richer accompaniment.

30 min
Fourths, Accidentals, and Relaxation
6: Fourths, Accidentals, and Relaxation

Round out your study of the major five-finger patterns, and how “accidentals” (changing a pitch by half a step) work. Jazz around with “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and then learn about the interval of the fourth. Add “Aura Lee”—the folk song Elvis used for “Love Me Tender”—to your repertoire.

31 min
Primary Chords
7: Primary Chords

Delve more deeply into the concept of chords and see how they can offer a richer harmony than single notes or two-note harmonic intervals. Examine one of the most popular chord progressions: I-IV-V-I (tonic to subdominant to dominant to tonic), one of the most common patterns in Western music.

33 min
Transposition at the Piano
8: Transposition at the Piano

Transposition—moving a melody from one key to another—is an important skill often under-used in traditional piano lessons for beginners. It provides an opportunity to get to know the different musical keys and can help you jazz around with an old piece of repertoire. Practice transposition with a few melodies, including “Woodland Jaunt.”

29 min
Chord Inversions
9: Chord Inversions

This lesson will enrich your musical life by building the technical foundation upon which piano music is based. Inverted chords (moving the lowest note of a triad up an octave) is a complex musical detail that will open your ears for future lessons. Learn to recognize how inversions look on the staff and the correct fingerings to play them.

33 min
Chord Progressions and Arpeggios
10: Chord Progressions and Arpeggios

Here, build on the last lesson about chord inversions and take a deeper look at the dominant chord. Try your hand at transposing a new chord progression into various keys, and then practice some C major cross-hand arpeggios. The move may be tricky at first, but Professor Pike gives you plenty of time to practice.

31 min
Accompaniment Patterns and Sight-Reading
11: Accompaniment Patterns and Sight-Reading

Find out about a practice technique called “blocking,” which will help you recognize chord patterns more easily—a major step toward sight-reading. Practice three types of accompaniment patterns: the broken-chord pattern, the waltz (3/4 time) pattern, and the Alberti bass pattern.

27 min
Harmonization and Damper Pedal
12: Harmonization and Damper Pedal

In this lesson, you’ll discover the final five-finger pattern—G flat—rounding out your knowledge of key signatures. You’ll continue working to harmonize melodies with the accompaniment patterns you learned in Lesson 11, and you will begin a new technique—using the damper pedal.

33 min
Minor Finger Patterns and Chords
13: Minor Finger Patterns and Chords

Now that you are growing comfortable with the major key signatures, shift your attention to the minor finger patterns and chords. You’ll learn several new pieces (“Skip to My Lou” and a minor étude), and you’ll continue practicing your efforts at sight-reading. You will also discover an important new skill: how to harmonize a lead line.

29 min
Articulation: Legato and Staccato
14: Articulation: Legato and Staccato

Playing the piano is as much art as science, so here you will consider several techniques to boost the artistry of your playing. The way you articulate or play notes (also known as staccato and legato) will add personality to your playing. Practice with two new pieces: Gurlitt’s At School and Diabelli’s Waltz.

29 min
One-Octave Major Scales and Major Intervals
15: One-Octave Major Scales and Major Intervals

So far, you’ve been practicing five-finger scales, but in Western music, a complete scale is an octave, or eight notes. Expand your abilities to play full eight-note scales, and practice with C major, G major and D major. In addition to working on your existing repertoire, you’ll add the jazzy “Minor Romp” and “A Turkish Tune” to the mix.

33 min
Dotted Rhythms and Isolated Repetition
16: Dotted Rhythms and Isolated Repetition

Hone the new musical skills you learned in Lesson 15. After reviewing scales and learning to harmonize a minor melody, you’ll experiment with a new rhythm pattern. Dig into “A Turkish Tune” to isolate problem spots, and then try your hand at a theme from Beethoven’s Minuet in G.

27 min
Secondary Chords and More Dotted Rhythms
17: Secondary Chords and More Dotted Rhythms

Learning to play the piano is a complex, challenging process, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re hitting a plateau. In addition to expanding your knowledge of theory—including secondary chords—use this lesson as a time to review what you know and assess what needs work.

31 min
Sixteenth Notes and More Secondary Chords
18: Sixteenth Notes and More Secondary Chords

Secondary chords are those that must go to the primary chord for resolution. Deepen your understanding of secondary chords by improvising with the minor second chord, and then playing around with the third and sixth chords. Deepen your abilities with Beethoven’s Minuet in G and the Harp Étude.

28 min
Compound Meter and Technique
19: Compound Meter and Technique

After reviewing your sight-reading skills to date, going over the Beethoven Minuet again, and revisiting the secondary chord progressions, Professor Pike shows you two new time signatures: 2/4 time and 3/8 time. She also shows you some new music: the peppy “Cheerful Tune” and the “Rocking Étude” to bring compound meter to life.

27 min
Parallel Major and Minor Keys
20: Parallel Major and Minor Keys

Reflect on the relationship between parallel major and minor keys. For example, D major and D minor are not relative keys (like C major and A minor), but they do have an intriguing relationship. In this exploration, you will refine your technique for harmonizing melodies and learn the “Bell Melody” and “Elephant Stroll.”

30 min
Three Forms of the Minor Scale and Syncopation
21: Three Forms of the Minor Scale and Syncopation

Over the past few lessons, you have moved from very basic off-staff rhythms and pitches to much more complicated rhythmic patterns. Today’s lesson takes your knowledge of the minor keys to a whole new level as you examine the natural, harmonic, and melodic forms of the minor scale. Also, witness “syncopation” in action in Swing Low.

33 min
Artistic Expression and More Minor Keys
22: Artistic Expression and More Minor Keys

Revisit the expressive quality of music and how you can use the techniques you are learning to better convey expression. Professor Pike offers a few tips for where amateurs tend to get distracted with anticipation. Reflect on how musical dynamics are related to the musical line, form, and harmonic progression.

34 min
The Classical Period and Fortepianos
23: The Classical Period and Fortepianos

Learning to play the piano is about more than acquiring, perfecting, and practicing techniques. Understanding the time periods of music history help inform your understanding of practice. Here, start with the Classical period and learn how the piano developed as an instrument. Play Mozart’s theme from the Sonata in C.

29 min
Seventh Chords and Sonata Form
24: Seventh Chords and Sonata Form

Continue your study of the Classical period with a look at one of the most important forms in piano music: the sonata-allegro. See why the seventh chords are so important for classical music, and then survey the life and music of Haydn. Practice Mozart’s Sonata in C and Haydn’s Dance in D Major.

33 min
Sight-Reading and Technique
25: Sight-Reading and Technique

It’s time. You’ve learned enough about music theory and notation that you are ready to tackle sight-reading head-on. Here, you will be introduced to several new sight-reading pieces as well as a technical étude. You’ll also continue your study of the Dance in D Major and the Sonata in C.

34 min
The Romantic Period and Seventh-Chord Arpeggios
26: The Romantic Period and Seventh-Chord Arpeggios

Shift your attention from the Classical period to the Romantic era, roughly 1800 to 1910. After surveying some of the major historical and intellectual developments of the period, you’ll begin work on seventh-chord arpeggios. You’ll also learn rules for beginning pieces at the appropriate tempo.

35 min
Extended Arpeggios and Pianist as Artist
27: Extended Arpeggios and Pianist as Artist

Continue your exploration of piano technique as it developed in the Romantic era. After some warm-up work on scales and extended arpeggios, you will find out what makes Chopin’s style so interesting, and what made Liszt such a virtuoso. Conclude with a lullaby from Brahms.

31 min
More Romantic Repertoire
28: More Romantic Repertoire

In this lesson, you will refine much of your existing repertoire. You’ll then try your hand at Liszt’s Liebestraum. While this piece can be quite challenging for students, Professor Pike has created a special arrangement designed for your current level of ability. Work on adding musical expression to these Romantic-era pieces.

29 min
Sonata Form Revisited
29: Sonata Form Revisited

By now, you have learned enough music from the masters that you are participating in a musical tradition. Revisit the sonata form and consider the modified “mini sonatina” form. Practice with “Brahms’s Lullaby”, Gurlitt’s Waltz in C, Liszt’s Liebestraum, and a theme from Mozart’s Sonata in C.

35 min
The Baroque Era and Harpsichords
30: The Baroque Era and Harpsichords

Artistic discipline is defined by having the persistence to continue learning difficult music over an extended period of time. This lesson gives you time to practice what you’ve learned before traveling back in time to the Baroque era, before the modern piano as we know it was invented. Survey the instruments and style of the period.

29 min
Baroque Repertoire
31: Baroque Repertoire

After warming up with a waltz, you’ll learn “Rameau’s Minuet,” a piece widely anthologized for music students. Then, go back to the Baroque to learn about Bach’s fugues and Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D. This lesson gives you a chance to refine your skills in harmonization.

30 min
Deliberate Practice and Learning Music
32: Deliberate Practice and Learning Music

Through much of this course, you have worked on some challenging masterpieces, many of which require difficult hand shifts and much practice. Here, Professor Pike shares a few strategies for “deliberate practice,” a systematic way to help you through the challenges. Learn a new harmonization example in the key of E minor.

33 min
The 20th Century and Modern Music
33: The 20th Century and Modern Music

Music in the 20th and 21st centuries comes in many different styles. Here, you will survey a few common trends and find out about some of the more highly regarded composers of the past century, including programmatic music of Jean Sibelius and Béla Bartók, as well as computer-generated sounds and non-traditional piano techniques.

33 min
Chorale-Style Repertoire
34: Chorale-Style Repertoire

It’s good to practice music from different eras to ensure your musical diet is well-balanced. Here, survey chorale-style piano music across the ages. You’ll enjoy the hymn-like harmonies in Schumann’s Chorale Opus 68 no. 4 as well as the Ode to Schumann. Then, turn to another, more challenging piece by Schumann.

31 min
Impressionism and the Una Corda Pedal
35: Impressionism and the Una Corda Pedal

Like its counterparts in art and literature, impressionism is a powerful musical movement that conveys a vague aural picture through interesting chords and progressions. Claude Debussy is the master of impressionism, and you will review his approach—and see how una corda pedal can help you mirror his sound.

28 min
Triplets and Continuing Piano Study
36: Triplets and Continuing Piano Study

Professor Pike concludes with a final rhythmic pattern—triplets. After playing a Hungarian dance, you will try your hand at Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a fitting coda for a course that opened with the Ode to Joy. Reflect on what you’ve learned and discover how to continue your study of the piano after this course.

36 min
Pamela D. Pike

I think you’ll enjoy exploring musical concepts while making music at the piano.


University of Oklahoma


Louisiana State University

About Pamela D. Pike

Pamela D. Pike is the Aloysia Landry Barineau Professor of Piano Pedagogy at Louisiana State University (LSU), where she coordinates the group piano and piano pedagogy programs. She earned a Bachelor of Music with honors in Piano Performance from The University of Western Ontario, a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy and Music History from Southern Illinois University, and a PhD in Music Education and Piano Pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Pike has published more than three dozen scholarly articles, is the editor-in-chief of Clavier Companion magazine, and she is the author of the book, Dynamic Group-Piano Teaching: Transforming Group Theory into Teaching Practice. A Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM), she has extensive experience teaching piano to students of all ages, both privately and in group settings. In addition to teaching piano, Dr. Pike is dedicated to helping pedagogy students develop the skills necessary to become successful piano teachers. Graduates of the LSU piano pedagogy program work in colleges and private studios throughout the United States and on four continents.

Dr. Pike serves as a commissioner and chair for the International Society for Music Education’s Commission on the Education of the Professional Musician. She has served as president of the Louisiana Music Teachers Association and of the Baton Rouge Music Teachers Association. She has won the Louisiana Music Teachers Association Outstanding Teacher Award, the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award, and the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association Teacher of the Year Award.

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