5 things piano players never learn

You want to be the best pianist you can be, right?

While most pianists learn the basics, like reading music and chords, even veteran pianists often don’t learn the things we’ll talk about in this post.

We’re going to talk about 5 things most pianists never actually learn, and how you can master them!

I’ll also share some tools that can help you get started.

No matter your skill level, you need to know about these things and work toward learning them!

Read on to learn how you can stand out as a well-equipped pianist.

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1. How to Sight Read Above and Below the Staff

If you have been playing the piano for more than a month, you probably have a fairly decent idea of the names of the notes on the staff.

If you’ve been playing for years, you can likely sight read them with no problem.

However, most people never learn to sight read above and below the staves!

While floating notes don’t appear in every song (apart from our beloved Middle C, of course), they hang around often enough to be important.

You might not be able to remember the name and location of the note five lines up, but you should know the ones at least three lines up and keep working to learn more.

This will make you a better sight reader and piano player in general!

Check out Playground Sessions for online lessons and music that will give you the opportunity to practice reading tough notes.

2. Advanced Key Signatures

Learning new key signatures is no picnic.

It takes time, practice, and a lot of missed sharps!

Many piano players—including myself—learn to play three or four key signatures well and then forget about the rest.

It doesn’t seem that bad. Most songs are in easier keys, right?

However, you will shoot yourself in the foot if you fail to learn advanced key signatures.

Trust me, I know!

If you know how to play everything else well but never learn tough key signatures, you severely limit your ability to play music you love.

After all, many intermediate and advanced pieces do involve key signatures with lots of sharps or flats.

Besides, this is also the foundation for many other advanced music elements.

Do yourself a favor and learn a new key signature regularly. You’ll be so glad you did when you pick up a favorite song and your fingers know how to play in that key!

Here’s a tip:

An easy way to keep a mental cheat sheet for key signatures is to memorize the step patterns for major keys.

If you look at the C Major scale, you only play the white keys, right?

Take a look at the pattern you play for the key of C Major:

C to D is a whole step, D to E is a whole step, E to F is a half-step, F to G is a whole step, G to A is a whole step, A to B is a whole-step, and B back to C is a half-step.

This pattern is the same for every single major key! Try it out for yourself.

Here’s a hint:

A good way to learn this by heart is to practice the C Major scale while saying “Whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half” aloud.

Do this a few times, and you’ll memorize a “song” that helps you play in almost any key! When you need to figure out how to play a key signature on the fly, you can use this trick to see which keys get sharps or flats.

3. Transposing

Transposing is the next step up from learning multiple key signatures, and it is a valuable tool for piano players.

Wondering what this word means?

Transposing is changing a song from one key to another.

Basically, you will shift your entire song up a number of notes.

For example:

You can transpose a song that is in the key of C to the key of D.

If you do this, you shift every note in your song up two half steps.

If you change from the key of C to the key of G, you will shift your song up seven half steps.

It sounds hard, but if you practice often, it can become pretty easy.

Transposing is especially helpful if you want to sing to a song, or if you are playing with other musicians.

You don’t have to wait until you know all the key signatures to learn to transpose.

In fact, you can start learning if you only know two key signatures!

4. Modes

Don’t be surprised if you’re a seasoned pianist and you don’t even know what this means.

Do, however, take the time to learn modes and incorporate them into your piano abilities!

Basically, modes are simply different ways to play the same scale on the piano.

To change the mode of your key, you raise one of the seven notes in the scale.

If that doesn’t make sense, don’t check out!

Let me explain a bit more:

We talked about scale patterns above in our discussion about key signatures.

I gave you tip on how to play any major key, right? Take a second to review the step pattern above.

If you know much about musical keys, you are probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned minor keys.

The truth is, a minor key is simply a “mode” of a major key!

For example:

If you raise the 6th note on a C scale, you change it from C Major to C Minor.


Well, you can actually raise any note in any scale, and you will be changing to a new mode!

The various modes change the sound of a song, and different music styles tend toward different modes.

Middle Eastern music, for example, tends to prefer different modes than most Western music.

This topic is pretty complicated, so we can’t discuss everything about it here.

If you learn how to use modes, you can learn to understand more music pieces and learn to improvise in jazz and other styles!

Speaking of jazz, this is next thing every pianist should learn:

5. Jazz

Jazz is a lot of fun to listen to, but it’s even more fun to play!

Unfortunately, most pianists never get that joy.

Traditional piano lessons stick strictly to playing the notes on the page, but jazz isn’t about that life.

Instead, jazz is about playing off the top of your head!

Of course, you can’t break the rules until you know them like the back of your hand.

If you want to learn to play some mean jazz on the fly, you have to get good at traditional piano styles first.

You also have to learn how to use a variety of key signatures, and it’s a good idea to know how to transpose and use modes.

To a lay a good foundation and get ready to learn jazz, take a high-quality piano course that will teach you how to understand the elements of music and play well.

Playground Sessions is an online program that can build your piano abilities and prepare you to play jazz by ear.

Are you ready to take your piano abilities to the next level?

playground sessions logoGood for you!

Don’t know where to start? Check out Playground Sessions!

The key to learning any of these things is good instruction and plenty of practice.

No matter what your lifestyle looks like, you can get both of these things when you take online piano lessons!

Breana Johnson
Breana Johnson

I’m Breana, long-time piano player and casual guitar strummer. I grew up on Moezart and the Beach Boys, and I love all types of music! My day job is writing, but I moonlight as a piano teacher and occasionally play for events.