Basic Piano Skills for Kids

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The basic piano skills for kids are the same regardless of method. You can go to the fanciest conservatory or a store-front music store, you are going to learn the same skills, perhaps in a slightly different order.

The biggest question is, when will the child learn each skill, and in what order?

Some methods start with reading music, others with note naming, and  still others aim to get the child pushing keys and making music right away.

You will find that reading music is the most difficult way to engage a child with the piano, mostly because the music is restricted to exercise pieces the child is able to “read.”

So let’s find out this basic list of skills.

Please remember that each child will, dependent on age and development, take a differing amount of time to absorb these ideas.

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The first skill is to be able to read and play, with proper fingering, the first five notes, C D E F and G. In Piano By Number this is 1 2 3 4 5.

Conventional Music Reading Tools
Conventional Music Reading Tools

To compare the two methods, reading music and Piano By Number, look at the drawing above, and compare it to the numbered keyboard below.

Numbered Keyboard
Numbered Keyboard

The top drawing shows the tools a child is given in “reading music:” five horizontal lines above and the keyboard below. No reference points, no relationship, really, between the two vastly differing graphic systems, the lines and the keyboard. To read music, the child must master at least five dimensions to correlate the page to the keys.

Now look at the numbered keyboard. It is one-dimensional: see a number on the page, play the same number on the keyboard.

It’s not hard to have kids make a transition to reading music, but it helps a lot if they have had a chance to gain confidence playing songs by number first.


Chords are groups of three keys, played with the left hand by beginners. I allow kids to play the bottom two members of the chord with their 2nd and 3rd fingers, mostly because it is easier for them to see the construction of the chord when they are not bothering with the thumb, a shorter finger that confuses kids at first.

They need to be familiar with the chords C F G D E and A. Some are all white keys, some have one black key. This in itself can be hard for kids to remember.

But chords are the DNA of music, and will become more and more valuable as their study goes on.


How far they get with this one depends on their age. Playing with two hands is only possible comfortably when the two brain hemispheres talk easily to one another, and this takes time for child-pianists to develop.

So older kids try a harder piece, and younger kids may simply have to show that they can make both hands play notes at the same time.

For the youngest kids, I limit this to a game where I ays, “Play a C chord with your left hand, and the number 5 with your right hand.”


Reading the rhythms in sheet music is the last skill I work on. To add it too early is to overburden the child who is desperatley trying to juggle fingering, notes, chords and many other things.

But there are simpler ways to start a study of rhythm. Essentially, you just want the child to count as they play an absurdly easy pattern.

See the piano game called FOURS.

Every child is different in how long they take to learn the list. Some do it in a few minutes (12 years old) and some take months or years.

It isn’t a race. You are dealing with each different mind, each different age.

Better to go slowly, at the child’s pace, than cram it into their heads quickly to fit some academic schedule.

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