By Joel Weckermann
The piano is one of the world’s greatest instruments, but it can be difficult to wrap your head around those 88 white and black keys if you are setting out to learn how to play for the first time. If you are completely new to the piano and want to get started, the key of C major is the best and easiest place to start. In music theory, the black keys on the keyboard are called accidentals, and C major is the only major key in music that doesn’t feature any of them. Learning scales, chords and songs in C major can give you the knowledge and chops to be able to play in any key in music. The Key of C major is used in famous songs like ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon, ’Wake me up before you go-go’ by Wham! or ‘Let it be’ by The Beatles. Used by those legendary songwriters mentioned above and its accessibly for beginners, C major is a great starting point for writing and performing your first song.
- Firstly you need to prepare yourself. Get cozy, take a few sips out of your half-full glass of wine and sit down in front of your keyboard. Take a look for the middle C on the keyboard. You will find it because it will have two black notes to the right of it and one white note to the left of it. Take your index finger and put it on that C.
- Secondly, put a little friend in there. That little friend is going to be your middle finger. You are going to put it on the next adjacent white note D, which is on C’s right. Now to add the next note to the court you are going to take your thumb and put it on G. To find G, I want you to count down from C three white notes. Altogether index on C then middle on D and thumb on G. Great, now you got your first chord. If you want to spice it up a little more, get your pinkie up to an octave G, so let’s go from bottom to top, G C D G.
- Thirdly, take a moment and get used to your right-hand chord. The next step would be adding the root note with your left hand. The root note would be of course C two octaves below. Get your fingers on all the notes mentioned beforehand and press them all down.
- Congratulations you’ve just learned a life-changing way to play C major. If you have a sustain pedal, hold it with your foot, play the chord and get used to the sustain pedal sustaining the chord. The chord will hold as long as you hold your foot down. It sounds absurd, but now you have the technique needed to play thousands of songs.
- Fourthly, comes the magic – don’t you dare to move that right hand, keep it right on G C D G. Keeping the hand in this position creates a discomfort but that effort is worth the price of discomfort. What is amazing with this chord is any white note on the entire keyboard with this C major voicing will create a lovely chord.
- Fifthly, count up three white notes from your low C to F. Change the root note with your left hand from C to F and back to C while your right-hand stays where it was supposed to. So now you have your refrain. You can add a second part by figuring out several white notes to play with your left hand while your right-hand stays on that chord.
- Lastly comes the most difficult part: writing lyrics with decent meaning. The first thing to remember is that songs tell stories. The best songs are about people, situations, and they are about what people say to other people because of the situation they are in. In a song, those stories are usually ultra-simple – two people in love, two people breaking up, somebody warning someone about someone else. But the power of thinking about songs this way is that it gives you a concrete concept to build the rest of your song around. To come up with a solid song idea and writing in general, including an essay for class, you are going to want to answer these two fundamental questions: Who is singing the song? What is the person trying to say? So to find a good song idea, all you have to do is come up with a situation or story and use it to answer these three questions.
- This is not as complicated as it sounds. Your song might be a love song, sung by a guy to his girlfriend, and he is trying to say ‘I’ve never met anyone as special as you’. Or in a world where everyone throws his political commentary into the world like a frisbee, your song might be sung by you to the world saying ‚ the government is bad, screw you guys‘. Try to improvise, soon melodies are flowing in your head. Even if you can’t finish your song the first time you picked up writing, leave it alone a couple of days and try later on. Of course you have to play and sing at the same time later on, but as everyone knows – practice makes perfect.
- Performing your song is a nice party trick for sure but playing the piano makes you smarter. Science has shown that practicing an instrument engages all of the areas of your brain. Practice and performance require repetition. Repetition creates myelin which forms around our nerves and works as a blanket for the pathways in our brain allowing information to travel efficiently throughout our brain. The more myelin we create the more efficiently information can pass where it needs to go. In a world where people think that the European Green Deal will end climate change by 2050, we need more intelligent people. So learning the piano would have benefits on both sides – What do you think?
And there you have it: your first song in the key of C major. Songwriting is like any craft: the more you do it the better you get. Once you are done with your first track, keep the creative juices flowing and keep writing. Once you have one or two songs, start performing at open mics or get opening sets for local acts. Performing live will give you immediate feedback on how well your songs perform. Talk to audience members and artists alike after your performance. See what they liked and didn’t like — all feedback is important.