If you don't have a musical bone in your body, then you might be excused if you thought that the keyboard was the small, battery-operated gadget that you got one Christmas and learnt to play the 'Jingle Bells' melody on before moving on to another cool toy. But for those of you fell in love with making music with just the press of a button, or key, then you probably know only too well that there is much more to 'keyboards' than that.
A keyboard instrument is actually a term that covers a range of individual musical instruments, from the modest keyboard itself to the accordion. So what do these pieces of music equipment all share in common? You've got it! The fact that they are all operated or played using a keyboard.
The part of the machine that is called the keyboard is made up of a row of keys, like levers, which you press with your fingers (or toes of you are very talented!) and produce musical notes. The most common keyboard instruments are the piano, the organ and the keyboard (including electronic keyboards like synthesizers). However, the list is very long and you might hear music teachers talking about celestas or carillons.
If you want to know more about the keyboard family, then do some research or carry on reading to find out more.
How to play the keyboard
Playing keyboard: the basics
It sounds very straightforward: you press the keys and make music. BUT, as always with music-making, there are some challenges and hurdles to overcome when learning to play the keyboard.
For instance, do you know the difference between the white and black keys? Do you know why there are so many keys to play with? And that's all without understanding the various buttons that can be found on some digital pianos! If you did have a handheld keyboard as a child, you'll probably remember that it is actually pretty hard for a beginner!
You'll be pleased to hear that one thing that is simple is the order of the keys. The keys correspond to the music scale, displaying consecutive notes from left to right, or bass to treble.
When it comes to the colour of the keys, white means whole notes. They have no sharps or flats, and are just natural notes from the musical alphabet. The black notes, however, represent sharp or flat notes.
What's fascinating about playing an instrument like the keyboard is that even when you grasp playing individual keys one at a time, there's a whole new level to playing music when you learnt that you can create more interesting and tuneful sounds if you press various keys all at once or in close succession. This is called playing chords.
This complexity makes the keyboard so versatile as an instrument, meaning that it is as popular today as it was in the time of classical composers.
And while it sounds like it is easily learnt, it takes a lot of dedication and natural flair. Not everyone can play a keyboard instrument like the greats!
Playing the keyboard: the details
Playing the keyboard is not all about where you place your fingers, it's a whole-body experience.
You must sit straight at the centre of your device, preferably on a piano stool or bench, and maintain your posture throughout. You want your feet placed flat on the ground when playing.
Your arms, meanwhile, should be relaxed and supple, with your hands curved in a C shape over the top of the keys. Align your fingertips with the middle of the white keys, elbows at the same height.
Now that you look the part, it's time to make some music.
Start off by finding the A note, as it's the first in the musical alphabet. You'll find this note near a group of three black keys, and A is the white key located between the second and third black key in the grouping.
If you wish to, you can mark the notes on the white keys.
Next, find the C note, then F, and so on...
When it comes to practising playing music from sheets, you should remember that there are different representations of notes for whole notes (solid, filled-in circle with an upwards line played for one beat), half notes (empty circle with upwards line played for 2 beats), and also quarter notes (empty circle played for four beats). They all look different, so this shouldn't be too hard or confusing.
How to play the Harpsichord
A little bit of keyboard history
The first known keyboard dates back to Ancient Greek times (around the third century BC), where it is thought that a pipe organ was invented, operated using a light touch. Between then and the fourteenth century, the organ was the only keyboard instrument known to man, though back then the instrument often didn't even feature a keyboard. For a long while, the music was played using large buttons as levers.
It was during this period that the clavichord and the harpsichord appeared, with the latter most likely coming after. These two instruments were widely popular during the eighteenth century, right up until the versatile piano came about and people could vary the dynamics and volume all through touch.
Did you know that the piano was not simply called 'piano'? At the time of its conception, the piano was named the "gravicèmbalo con piano e forte", which translates as "harpsichord with soft and loud", often shortened to "piano-forte".
The piano we know today was created in the late nineteenth century and is quite different from its earlier versions (such as those played by Mozart, Beethoven or Haydn, for instance). Even throughout the twentieth century, pianos developed even more, particularly with electromechanical features which have played a very important role in enhancing the instruments.
Of course, the piano, harpsichord, and other similar instruments have evolved even since the likes of Brahms were playing them but, in essence, the basic functions have remained relatively unchanged.
Playing the harpsichord
As the technique is much the same as playing the piano, bar a few minor details, let us instead ask you to think about the best ways to use a harpsichord expressively. You can find interesting resources on this online or in print, with one fantastic book for the harpsichord enthusiast being 'Playing the Harpsichord Expressively: A Practical and Historical Guide' by Mark Kroll, available on Amazon.
The book reveals the place of the instrument in history and uncovers its expressive potential for amateurs and professional performers. The book contains more than 100 musical examples for those wishing to play harpsichord.
How to play the organ
Playing the organ is much like playing the grand piano, however, as with all musical siblings, the two sound rather different, and are also not the same to play.
On Evola Music's blog, it describes how the two differ in many ways, one of which is the way it is categorised. The piano is classed as a percussion instrument whilst the organ is classified as a woodwind.
What's more, the sound, number of sounds and sound control are very different. An organ is a bit more versatile as you can alter the sounds to make it mimic other instruments thanks to its ranks, or voices.
While the piano is a good leading instrument, due to its power of percussion and its speed at producing melodies and rhythms, the organ is better at filling larger spaces with sound, hence why it is commonly used as a support to a congregation.
Although both instruments are controlled by a keyboard, organ players must learn to play bass notes and control volume using pedals whereas pianists must get to grips with complicated fingerings and chords.
Who would have thought that two keyboard instruments could be so far off each other?
How to play the Accordion
If you haven't seen one before, then the accordion is probably the most unique looking instrument in the family. It has the distinctive keyboard to one side, but also has an air valve on the other, and is held against the body with straps.
For instance, when practising playing the accordion, one might be advised to familiarise themselves with the valve by doing the following:
"Push down on the air valve (a lone button on the left-hand side near the strap). Press the button down softly, and pull your instrument with your left arm. You'll hear a hissing noise as the air goes into the accordion and the bellows open.
Note that it's important to use this air valve button when you open and close the bellows while they're moving.
Don't press down on the keyboard while you're opening and closing the bellows at thus point, as we are focusing on the bass buttons." - WikiHow
Do you think you could get to grips with a portable keyboard like the accordion?
Find a tutor with Superprof!
Always available for your learning needs, Superprof features a range of music tutors with varying levels of experience and offering different rates. You can search the website for all types of keyboard tutors now.
With this platform, you can either choose a tutor based in your area, one who either has a studio or will come to your home. Another option would be online classes via video link, which could save you money in the long run - no travelling time to and from lessons, and your tutor might give you a discounted rate because s/he won't have to travel, either!
You might also be interested in knowing that most Superprof tutors give their first hour of lessons at no charge, just to see if you two would learn well together. With such an offer, how could anyone not choose that option?
Learning the keyboard or any other instrument over Internet connection is also great for those who have busy lives and need to schedule in lessons with minimal disruption to their routine like having to travel to a studio or tidy up in preparation for a visit from a tutor.