Piano For Dummies by Blake Neely, Jon Chappell, Cherry Lane Music |, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Piano For Dummies

Piano For Dummies

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by Blake Neely, Jon Chappell, Cherry Lane Music

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This guide quickly and easily teaches young musicians how to read music and play the piano - and enjoy themselves in the process! It includes an instrumental guide for selecting a piano or keyboard and tuning it; a complete guide to notes, keys and scales; instruction on how to read sheet music or play by ear; dozens of exercises and pieces to get readers tickling the


This guide quickly and easily teaches young musicians how to read music and play the piano - and enjoy themselves in the process! It includes an instrumental guide for selecting a piano or keyboard and tuning it; a complete guide to notes, keys and scales; instruction on how to read sheet music or play by ear; dozens of exercises and pieces to get readers tickling the ivories in no time; a CD filled with songs and exercises; and more. Covers a full range of styles, from classical and country to rock and jazz. 340 pages, 7 1/2 inch. x 9 1/4 inch.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Instruct: to provide with knowledge, especially in a methodical way. That is, in fact, what Phillips and Chappel of Cherry Lane Music do in this logical, pedagogic introduction to keyboard instruments, music theory, and piano technique. The chapter on the famous--or is it infamous?--"Part of Tens" includes information about past and present masters of the instrument, ways of expanding your interest beyond the scope of the book, and tips on finding a teacher. Printed musical examples are plentiful, and an accompanying audio CD is included. This book intends to be fun and funny and succeeds in a vaudeville sort of way. Students are encouraged "to continue to seek knowledge about your instrument long after you tire of the jokes" and told that "piano teachers and method books shouldn't be forsaken forever." The do-it-yourself phenomenon has made the "Dummies" books very popular. This one is particularly appropriate for school media and public libraries.--Janet Brewer, Murray State Univ. Lib., KY

Product Details

Publication date:
For Dummies Series
Edition description:
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7.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Meeting the Keyboard Family

In This Chapter

* Discovering what makes a keyboard tick

* Comparing acoustic to electric keyboards

* Distinguishing a piano from an organ from a pig squealing

To be perfectly clear, when I say keyboard I mean the type that produces musical sounds. I don't mean a keyboard with the letters QWERTY on it that is connected to a computer, typewriter, or NASA space launch. So, did you purchase the right book? Good.

Be it a piano, organ, or synthesizer, your keyboard is a wonderful and miraculous instrument. You have chosen your instrument wisely.

Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes. They can have many keys or just a few; they can be huge pieces of furniture or small little boxes. Whatever the size, shape, or makeup, the instrument is probably a keyboard if any of the following happens:

• Musical sound is produced via the pressing of a key or button.

• Blowing, bowing, strumming, or plucking it doesn't do much good.

• Anyone in the room says, "Hey, dude, nice keyboard!"


If you haven't yet purchased a keyboard, read this chapter, decide what kind of keyboard interests you, then see Chapter 16 for tips on buying your instrument. You may discover a keyboard at the store that you find even more exciting, but at least the ones I mention in this chapter will give you a starting point.

The Acoustic Ones

Acoustic means non-electric. So, acoustic keyboards are great for starving musicians, because even when you can't pay the electric bill, you can keep playing.

The inner workings


Each key on most acoustic keyboards corresponds to a string, or set of strings, housed inside the body of the instrument. When you press a key, it triggers a fancy mechanism to "play" the strings associated with that key. The string begins to vibrate very, very rapidly. The entire vibration process occurs in a split second — think hummingbird wings' speed. Your ear picks up these vibrations and you hear music.

To get an idea of just how fast this all happens, go to a piano and touch a key. At the exact same time, you hear a musical note. That's pretty darn fast.

To keep the strings from vibrating all the time, another mechanism called a damper sits over the strings inside the keyboard. Dampers are made of cloth or felt, which mutes the strings by not allowing any vibration. When you press a key, in addition to triggering the mechanism that vibrates the string, a piano key also lifts the damper.

The basic difference between each type of acoustic keyboard is the type of mechanism used to vibrate the strings. The different mechanisms can produce very different overall sounds.

Back when no one bathed

A long time ago (in a century far, far away), an early keyboard was in the form of a hydraulis, or water-organ. Featured in Roman circuses ("In the center ring, see the dancing hydraulis!"), the pipes were sounded by moving a slider, rather than pressing keys.

Soon after came a small portative organ, which had buttons instead of keys, followed by your basic pipe organ (also known as a church organ) with a set of keys to play a series of pipes.

As early as 1435, Henry Arnoult de Zwolle began designing various keyboard instruments affixed with strings that were vibrated by the trigger of a key. These early designs included one for the clavichord, which led to the birth of the harpsichord later that century. These two chord instruments differed by the process and mechanism that played each string.

Early versions of keyboard instruments had very few keys — 10 to 20 — a feature that was easily expanded with each successive new model. This marked the birth of an ever-popular sales strategy in the musical instrument industry: making products obsolete in order to sell more next year.


Pianos, the most popular acoustic keyboard, come in three appropriately named packages:

Grand piano (see Figure 1-1): You may need a living room the size of a grand ballroom to house one of these instruments. If you don't live in a castle, you may want to consider a baby grand, the smaller version of the grand piano.

Upright piano (see Figure 1-2): These relatively small instruments sit upright against your living room wall.

Baby grand piano: The offspring of the first two types of piano — kidding! This is simply a smaller version of the grand.


You can hear the marvelous sounds of a piano on Track 1 of the CD. First, you hear an excerpt from Erik Satie's classical work "Three Gymnopédies," followed by a sampling of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag."


Thousands of pieces have been written for piano. For a small sampling of various piano styles, check out the following recordings:

• Alan Feinberg, Fascinatin' Rhythm (Argo)

• Dave Grusin, The Firm — Soundtrack (MCA/GRP)

• Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata in A minor, Alfred Brendel (Philips)

• George Winston, December (Windham Hill)


The grand piano has an enormous lid that you can prop open with a stick that comes with the piano. By propping open the lid, you can see lots of metal strings and other components, maybe even those car keys that you misplaced last month.

Because the sound of a piano comes from the strings inside the instrument, you get a louder and more resonant sound when you leave the lid of a grand piano open.


The keyboard: Master of all instruments

Many people regard keyboards as music's most versatile instruments. I can back up this big, broad (and slightly biased) statement with some facts:

• They are capable of a great range of volume — from very soft to very loud.

• They can sound more than one note at a time.

• They are toned, or pitched instruments (capable of producing different musical notes, compared to unpitched drums and cymbals).

• They have the widest pitch range of any instrument from very low to very high.

• They can be played as solo or accompaniment instruments.

• They're capable of playing by themselves.

Sure, your neighbor can (unfortunately) play his clarinet very loud to very soft, but he can only play one note at a time. Your friend with the violin can play two or three notes at once, but she can only play half the notes a keyboard can play. And, yes, the Pearl Jam concert on Friday night did feature a drum solo, but was it very hummable?


The upright piano also has a lid — and some even have a stick to prop it open — but only piano tuners actually use the stick to help them keep the lid open while they tune the strings. Because an upright's sound is not dramatically changed by opening the lid, you can instead try pulling the piano away from the wall a bit to make the sound less muffled.

String layout

In the grand piano, the strings are horizontal; in the upright, the strings are vertical. The strings must be set diagonally — with the treble strings crossing the bass strings — to fit in the smaller upright case.


The difference in the string layout affects the resulting sound of the two pianos in the following ways:

• The strings in an upright are perpendicular to the ground, thus the sound travels close to the ground.

• The strings in a grand piano are parallel to the ground, thus the sound travels upward from the ground and fills the room.

• The strings in an upright are mostly behind wood casing that can't be opened, causing a more muffled sound.

• The strings in a grand are directly under a lid that can be opened to allow a more resonant sound.

Keys and hammers

Most acoustic pianos today have a row of 88 black and white keys. If you have 87, 89, or 32, you may have been cheated! Each of the 88 keys is connected to a small, felt-covered hammer, the mechanism that plays the string, shown in Figure 1-3. Press a key and the correct hammer strikes a string, or set of strings, tuned to the appropriate musical note.

Ol' Bart needed more volume

Contrary to popular belief, the inventor of the piano was not named Steinway, nor was it Alec, Billy, Steve, or any other famous Baldwin brother. No, the piano was invented by an 18th-century Italian harpsichord-maker named Bartolommeo Cristofori (1655-1731).

It seems that one day in 1709, after a long day polishing his umpteenth harpsichord, Mr. Cristofori thought to himself, "Hmm, instead of each key causing a string to be plucked, what if each key caused a string to be struck?" Rather poetic, don't you think? (I'm paraphrasing, of course, because I wasn't there, and I don't know Italian.)

Not one to sit still for long, ol' Bart quickly set out to expand his business with the new hammered harpsichord. The marketing pitch? Unlike a harpsichord, which played the same volume no matter how darn hard you hit the keys, the new instrument would play all volume levels. Thus, the new invention was christened pianoforte, which is Italian for "soft loud."

Why the name dropped forte over the years is probably about as exciting and informative as why you shorten Robert to Bob. Suffice it to say that 18th-century Italians were pretty trendy. Heck, why say a five syllable word when three syllables will do?

The piano was not an instant success. Wine and cheese parties at the time were all a-buzz with heated debates over the "dullness of tone" and "lack of an escapement" in the new piano. (Oh, my kingdom for a time machine!)

After many improvements and many years, such prominent composers as Beethoven, Haydn, and some guy named Mozart were abandoning all logic and writing for the crazy instrument.


The number of households in the U.S. with a harpsichord is roughly the same as the number of households with a mural of Beethoven on the front door. Harpsichords are so rare today, it's hard to believe that harpsichords were once all the rage in Europe.

If you happen to find a harpsichord — perhaps at a university or bingo parlor — you'll notice that harpsichords look a lot like pianos (see Figure 1-4). But check out the ornate lid on the harpsichord. Today, keyboard players have to suffice with plain old black boxes.


Some harpsichords even have the color of the keys reversed — as do some old pianos. I'm sure there was a good reason for this switch to more white keys than black ones — perhaps a surplus of ivory.

The harpsichord may bear a striking resemblance to the piano in many ways, but strike a key on the harpsichord, and you'll notice the difference between it and a piano immediately.


Track 2 of the CD, an excerpt of Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," lets you hear the different sound of the harpsichord.


The harpsichord achieves its different sound because of the way the strings are played inside the instrument. Instead of a hammer, the keys on a harpsichord connect to small hooks, or quills, which sit very close to the strings. Pressing a key causes the corresponding hook (also called a plectrum) to pluck the string — much like a hillbilly would pluck a banjo — tuned to the correct musical tone.

Many harpsichords have more than one keyboard, also called a manual. This was a quick solution to the instrument's one big problem: No matter how hard you hit the keys, the volume stays the same. By adding a second keyboard and a few other fancy mechanisms, the melody can be played slightly louder — on the lower keyboard — than the accompaniment.


Listen to harpsichord music as it was meant to be heard ... on the harpsichord:

• Domenico Scarlatti, Sonatas, Trevor Pinnock (Archive)

• Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra (EMI); this piece doesn't feature the harpsichord as much as the violins, but you can hear the harpsichord plunking away in the background.

• Johann Sebastian Bach, Concerto in D minor for Harpsichord, Igor Kipnis with Sir Neville Marriner and the London Strings (CBS)

Is that a Ruckers in your salon?

Next time your snobbish violinist friend utters the words, "Darling, I only play a Stradivarius" (arguably the finest violin crafter in history), step up to the challenge with "Well, I insist on a Ruckers." Then ask her for some Grey Poupon.

Hans Ruckers (around 1555-1623) is considered to be the greatest harpsichord-maker the world has ever known. At the young age of 20, this Flemish-born (where the beck is Flemland, anyway?) began building his own keyboards of unsurpassed quality. He even managed to moonlight as an inventor, being credited with adding a second keyboard to the instrument.

Sadly, few of his creations survive. It seems that their casings were so beautiful — the paintings and wood designs — that art dealers began buying, dismembering, and selling pieces of Ruckers harpsichords all over Europe ... including in Flemland.

What is that term again?

A concerto is a composition written for orchestra and one or more featured instruments. So, in a concerto you hear the whole orchestra playing frantically, followed by a solo by a pianist, harpsichordist, or kazoo player.

A sonata is a composition written in a specific form for a solo instrument. You can find sonatas for piano, harpsichord, violin, you name it.

Other terms like fugue, passacaglia, mazurka, bagatelle, and many others appear in the titles of keyboard works. To understand more about these and other classical music terms, hop in your car or on your bike and head to the bookstore to buy your very own copy of Classical Musical for Dummies, by David Pogue and Scott Speck, published by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.

Pipe organs

As I explain earlier in this chapter, acoustic means non-electric. It does not mean having strings. Therefore, I must quickly point out — lest you call me a liar — that a pipe organ is also an acoustic keyboard. It does not, however, have any strings. Instead, it has ... pipes.

You won't find a pipe organ in many of your neighbors' homes. Well, maybe if your neighbor has the last name Gates, but that's another story. You can find pipe organs at churches, synagogues, universities, and some concert halls.

Pipe organs are the world's largest and most complex acoustic instruments. They are great monsters with many, many different-sized pipes. Each pipe has a unique sound. Several pipes played in combination can produce other, non-organ sounds — a trumpet, a flute, a violin, a pig squealing. Okay, so maybe not a pig squealing, but you can get a large variety of sounds.

Sound is created by blowing air through the various-size pipes. Unless your organist enlists the help of about a hundred hot-aired music enthusiasts, a giant air bag (called bellows) sits under the organ loft — hidden from public view and kids carrying sharp objects. The bellows push air through the pipes. The longer the pipe, the lower the sound.

Most pipe organs have several rows of keyboards. Any single key on a keyboard can trigger one to a hundred pipes. Which pipes a key triggers is controlled by little knobs called stops, located on a panel near the keys.

If you have the chance, put your hands on a pipe organ and — as they say in show business — pull out all the stops. Any (and I mean any) note you play will sound wonderful and terrifying all at once. But not as terrifying as the organist shouting, "Who did that? Show yourself!"


Listen to Track 3 of the CD to hear the ominous sounds of a pipe organ, playing an excerpt from Bach's terrifyingly magnificent "Toccata and Fugue in D minor."


If you like the sounds of a pipe organ, listen to other classics written specifically for this complex and impressive instrument.

• Johann Sebastian Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, E. Power Briggs (CBS); Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, Virgil Fox (RCA)

• Camille Saint-Saëns, Symphony No. 3 (Organ), Peter Hurford with Charles Dutroit and the Montreal Symphony (London)

• Andrew Lloyd Webber, Phantom of the Opera - Broadway Cast Album (Polydor)

Other wooden boxes with funny names

The centuries have seen the rise and fall of such ridiculously named instruments as the psaltery, the virginals, the spinet, the hurdy-gurdy, the ottavina, and the harmonium. Sounds like you're reading from a Dr. Seuss book, doesn't it? All of these acoustic keyboards were boxes of strings triggered in one way or another by a set of keys. Please send me an e-mail at blakeneely@aol.com if you have one.

The Electric Ones

For considerably less money than you shell out for an acoustic keyboard — not to mention no delivery fees — you can own an electric keyboard that can sound like just about any other instrument on the planet (including an acoustic keyboard).

The nuts and bolts (and knobs and buttons)

Without taking a screwdriver or welding torch to the body of your electric keyboard, you can probably surmise that there are no vibrating strings inside like the strings you find in an acoustic keyboard (see "The Acoustic Ones" in this chapter for more information).

Instead, a little thing called an oscillator produces a sound source that gets amplified over a loudspeaker. I won't get too technical, but the loudspeaker does vibrate, sending vibrations to your eardrum, causing you to hear the sound.

The electronic sound source is manipulated by a series of knobs, buttons, and sliders (more formally known as knobs, buttons, and sliders) which change the shape of the sound's waveform. I won't even begin to explain the scientific process of waveforms any further. Just trust me — you plug in your keyboard, hit a key, and it makes a sound.


Excerpted from PIANO FOR DUMMIES by Blake Neely. Copyright © 1998 by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Blake Neely has been playing piano since he was about 4 years old, although it took a while before real audible music could be detected. His fascination with music led him to other instruments, such as the French horn, guitar, and drums, but the keyboard remains his baby.

Upon graduation from the University of Texas in 1991, he moved to Los Angeles to experience the music business. He licensed music for Hollywood Records and later worked for Disney Music Publishing as editor of all printed music publications.

An award-winning composer and author, he has written symphonies, a piano concerto, and numerous orchestral and chamber works. He is co-author of the acclaimed FastTrack series, published by Hal Leonard Corporation.

Blake has worked as a composer, orchestrator, arranger, copyist, engraver, musicologist, and consultant for such prominent figures as Disney, Hal Leonard Corporation, Decca Records, Hyperion Books, composers Michael Kamen and Alan Menken, and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Currently living in Austin, Texas, Blake spends his free time tuning into his family: wife Elizabeth, daughter Jordan, and son Jacob. Blake is the proud owner of a Kawai grand piano and Kurzweil, Ensoniq, and E-Mu synths and samplers. You can reach Blake via e-mail at BlakeNeely@aol.com.

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Piano For Dummies 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At the age of 67, I decided to buy a piano. I had lessons as a child but never had the patience or inclination to study it or take it seriously. This book is fantastic. Easy to read, very humorous and in four chapters I learned things I had never been taught in lessons. Well worth the price of the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this piano book so much,it showed me some fun tricks,like the trills?I love the trills!And the auther is so humerous!I seek fancy handwork in my love for piano,not because every well brought up girl should know her notes. My piano is like my best friend,my right hand,everyone should see their piano that way.
Explorersam2 More than 1 year ago
I picked up a keyboard for my 60th Birthday and signed up for once a week group lessons. I bought the book as a companion to the lessons, and found that it was excellent in filling in materials not covered in the short lessons. The information is presented in a fun, easy to use fashion, and I'm thrilled with the purchase.
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Looks cool EXPENSIVE i proably wont buy it
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GaryinDC More than 1 year ago
I am a beginning piano student. Given the many resources available on the internet (and now through apps), I was hoping for some really helpful recommendations to help me separate the good ones from the bad ones. However,the section on "Exploring Piano Sites on the Web" listed only four websites! With this pathetic "effort," the result is that I will just have to do Google searches myself to find some good websites. It would have been so easy to make this section good, but for whatever reason, Mr. Neeley chose not to. (P.S. MR. Neeley, if you feel like responding to this and adding some website recommendations, feel free.)