Fact Checked

How do I Play a Keyboard?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

It's a relatively simple process to play a keyboard. Usually you start by selecting a few settings that control how the keyboard sounds, and then begin to play by pressing the piano-style keys. The electronic keyboard is a versatile instrument that lends itself well to many musical styles from classical to rock, and it's possible to make it sound like a variety of instruments, not just the piano. There are several ways to learn to play a keyboard with methods that have varying degrees of structure. Some people are able to teach themselves to play by ear through trial and error, while others prefer a lesson format with a teacher or book. Some keyboards are equipped with built-in lessons which can be utilized to learn how to play a range of songs.

The actual mechanics of playing a keyboard are fairly straightforward. You usually need to select several options to control the sound coming from the instrument. This typically includes setting the volume, instrument sounds, chords vs. single notes, and rhythm style. All of these choices affect the sound of the end result when you play a keyboard. After that, you play the melody, or main part of the song, on the piano-style keys. The white ones are the true notes, and the black are sharps and flats; it's best to begin with simple melodies in the key of C since these will be easiest to play.

Keyboards have piano-style keys.
Keyboards have piano-style keys.

The electronic keyboard gains a lot of its popularity from its versatility. Because of the range of sounds the keyboard can produce, it is able to adapt to a range of musical styles such as classical, folk, country, rock, and popular music. Even inexpensive models usually come with a wide variety of built-in rhythms and instrument sounds such as harp, trumpet, flute, violin, guitar, and piano. Percussion, brass, woodwind, and stringed instruments are typically represented as well as unique novelty sounds like telephones and car horns. The rhythms available generally include jazz, Latin, pop, and traditional as well as rock beats.

When you decide to learn to play a keyboard, there are several methods available, so it's relatively easy to select one that fits your lifestyle. They all require practice to be successful, however. Some people are able to teach themselves, i.e., learning to play by ear by playing simple, well known songs using their memory and a process of trial and error until it sounds right. Others are able to learn best with more structure and prefer to find a good teacher and take lessons. There are also many books, DVDs, and software courses available designed to help students learn on their own how to play a keyboard by using the instructional materials as a guide, together with frequent practice. Another option is to utilize the built-in lessons sometimes available on certain electronic keyboard models.

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Discussion Comments


One thing to keep in mind when playing a synthesizer or electronic keyboard is to think like the instrument you're duplicating. A trumpet is not played the same way as a harpsichord, obviously, but many beginning keyboard players will still play the notes as if they were playing a piano. Every voice is different, and requires a different kind of phrasing to be convincing to the audience. String voices don't do well with fast attacks, and guitar voices will only last so long before dying out.

If an instrument naturally has bends and vibratos, then don't be afraid to use the bend and vibrato switches on the keyboard to duplicate it.

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    • Keyboards have piano-style keys.
      By: NorGal
      Keyboards have piano-style keys.