Whether you are a beginner piano player or have been playing for years, you can use the piano to compose music at the piano more effectively.  When I was a student, my composition instructor required me to play numerous technique-based exercises to improve my ability to compose. He stated that I didn't need to be a pianist, but I did need to know how to use this extremely valuable tool to compose music. Learning how to play the piano can prove challenging at first, but everything gets easier as long as you practice. Regardless of where you are on your musical journey, there is always room for improvement! No matter your current level, make the commitment now to improve your composition skills at the piano. Even 10 minutes a day of practice helps you develop lasting skills. 

How the Piano Works

Before we get started, watch this quick video that explains the layout of the piano. Once you understand the basic layout, you can start to playback your music. Even if you can't play a piece in real-time, listening to your music with a real, live keyboard can dramatically improve your compositions. 

Importance of Piano Technique 

Piano technique allows you to play the piano properly and with accuracy. It will take a lot more time for you to learn songs and scales if you don't have good hand positioning and finger movements - so start now! 

If you need assistance with technique, you are always able to take online music composition lessons to aid in your learning. However, hiring a dedicated piano instructor makes more sense if you want to perform music in public. Otherwise, by taking composition lessons online, your instructor can provide you with some techniques to practice and get you started with the proper form. You won't succeed as a professional pianist by only learning techniques, but you can greatly improve your ability to play around with compositional ideas. 

How Can I Improve My Technique

  • Sit up straight in order to avoid backaches or pain in your arm muscles; this also leaves room for movement from one side of the keyboard to the other. Even though you should sit up straight, try to relax your shoulders. If you sit too stiffly, it can hamper your movement.
  • Keep both hands close together in front of you with the tips of your fingers slightly curved (like when typing). 
  • Hold your wrist still in order to avoid shaking or bending laterally during playing, especially if you're just starting out.
  • Aim to maintain finger independence. Don't force independence, but you should try to move each finger without any of your other fingers moving. This takes some time, and your instructor can show you how to complete exercises while maintaining proper technique. Don't follow in the steps of Robert Schumann who invented a contraption to increase finger independence, which ruined his fingers.

Study Piano Music

A lot of people are under the impression that playing the piano requires you to have perfect pitch or be able to read music from sheet music perfectly. While some professional pianists and teachers may agree with this, for the sake of argument, it is not entirely true. With today's technology, more people than ever before can learn how to play piano by listening to their favorite songs, playing along with them, and even make their own original music! The internet has made it possible for anybody who lays claim on a computer or portable media player capable of running MP3 files (which is basically pretty much every personal computer on the market today) to learn just about anything imaginable. Especially if it's piano music.

No matter what your level, find a piano piece that you enjoy and locate the sheet music. IMSLP.org offers a great resource of free scores you can download. The scores often include audio files as well. Find the piece you would like to learn more about, and do your best to follow the score while listening to the music. This enables you to improve your ability to read music, and it can also help you develop your understanding of how your favorite composers develop ideas. 

Singing or Internalizing a Single Line

Composers who lack a great deal of piano technique may consider singing or internalizing one line in a composition while playing the other. This technique serves as a useful option to hear more than one line in an acoustic manner. While notation programs offer one way of playing back music, you should aim to avoid them. 

Notation programs tend to lock you into a particular time signature, and it becomes too easy to simply phone in your composition by copying and pasting or using built-in tools to create counterpoint and harmony. Singing one line while playing the other makes you more intentional about your music. A composition instructor can help you learn more about these techniques and show you how to write music. 

Writing Music on the Piano

Always know the purpose of what you are writing. Write to create a specific emotion, provide background music for a video, or tell a story with your music. You can even go completely abstract like Mahler's Fifth Symphony, and just write music that is built on motives and themes. 

If you want to write great melodies, make sure to play and sing many different types of music so that when you sit down at the piano your mind is overflowing with ideas. Music sometimes reflects the feelings of the composer, but many valid methods of writing music exist as well. It's important to use your ears! 

There are millions of songs out there already just like the one you're trying to write; find something that sounds interesting and unique that calls to you. Emulate that song and try to write in the style of the composer. Imitating another composer can help you develop your craft and improve your skills. Online music composition lessons are great at teaching more about melody writing, even outside of piano playing.