Terms Every Piano Beginner Needs To Know

Music is a language, that’s for sure.


But it’s different from languages like English, Spanish, Chinese, Pig Latin, etcetera etcetera. It’s mathematical and symbolic and it also includes a vocabulary list.


Having to memorize all those secret codes we call “notes” as well as math formulas we call “harmony” can be so overwhelming. It can take years and years to master all of it. (Does anyone every really master it?)


So learning a vocabulary list can sometimes be swept aside.


Most beginners are only concerned with learning the notes to the song and getting them right. They don’t have time to learn a new list of words. If you can relate, then read on. Here is a list of the most important words for beginners to learn and memorize.



This is the most important thing to know when you’re learning how to read music and yet, it’s so underrated. Too much time is spent learning the letter names of the notes on the staff, when that precious time could be spent memorizing images of intervals.


Intervals are the measurement between 2 notes. For example, if a note is situated on a line and then the next note is placed on the very next space above it, we call that a 2nd.  Why? Because it only takes 2 lines and spaces to go from point a to point b.


If you have a note on a line and it skips up to the next line, that’s called a 3rd. Because it takes 3 lines and spaces to get from point a to point b. Here’s a little graphic to help you understand:


Intervals Graphic-2

Make sense? If not, leave a comment below, and I’ll help.



Again. This is something that is usually overlooked by the DIY beginner. It’s understandable. You’re spending A LOT of mental energy learning how to read the notes and get the beats right. But dynamics are super important too. What are dynamics?


Basically, it’s volume.


But it’s also about the tone. How hard or soft you hit those keys. Are you just slamming out notes like a machine with no emotion at all or are you careful to play the notes gently, like it’s a tiny puppy that needs to be handled with care? If not, you should start.


Practice your scales softly and loudly and in between. Practice getting gradually loud and then gradually soft. Oh that reminds me:



This means to get gradually louder.


This is a good one to know because it makes your music sound more… natural. In other words, you sound like a human and not a computer. How? Because human beings are dynamic when they talk. Most of us don’t speak at the same exact volume all the time. Depending on the mood, our voices get louder and softer all in the span of one conversation.


When you make music, you want it to sound human, so practice playing some crescendo every now and then.



This just means speed. You probably knew that, but I wanted to throw it in anyway, because it’s like… important and stuff.



This is when the song changes keys. Modulation is quite common in Classical music, but Pop and Rock musicians use it to make themselves feel extra fancy, so if you’re a pop songwriter, take note. Learn this skill and implement it into your work.


Unison Playing.

That’s when both hands are playing the EXACT SAME THING. This is a great thing to notice because it makes sight reading SO much easier!


Contrary Motion. 

When both hands are playing the same intervals, but going in opposite directions. Again – a great tool for sight reading. And here’s one more:


Parallel Motion.

You guessed it. Both hands are playing the same exact intervals, going in the SAME direction, but starting on different pitches.



I think that’s a good list to start. Care to add anything? I’m sure I missed something, so please chime in!


If you’re a beginner, please join me on our free private Facebook group. I’m always in there answering questions and stirring up trouble. I’d love to help you on your piano journey.







Subscribe & Recieve A FREE Guide To Reading Both Staves At Once

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Leave a comment