Electronic Keyboard Basics 1 - an introduction

Electronic Keyboard Basics 1 is designed to provide a gently progressive introduction to learning the keyboard. My aim was to create pieces that were attractive and fun, right from the outset, but that would give students a strong musical foundation.  The books I’d tried before had many positive qualities, but didn’t quite work for the secondary school students: some of them, in landscape format with huge notes and nursery rhymes, were clearly too young in outlook, and others, with arrangements of inevitably out-of-date pop songs, were too advanced for beginners. And it goes without saying that piano tutor books weren’t going to work! Through a process of trial and error, my own book began to take form. I was determined that my students should have material that took them seriously and didn’t patronise them – they deserved to gain a thorough understanding of musical notation and acquire a decent keyboard technique with reliable fingering…solid musical skills, in other words. I quickly realised that there was no point trying to skate over these things in order to gain quick-fix results – like any instrument, the keyboard doesn’t give instant gratification - on the contrary, it demands high levels of coordination and an extremely secure rhythmic sense. I created the Drumkit Dynamo exercises help to familiarise students with simple rhythmic patterns and develop the solidity they’ll need in order to keep up with the auto-accompaniment (they’re also an excuse to use the Drumkit voice, which is great fun for students and not easy to incorporate into pieces in other contexts!).

 

Although the Drumkit Dynamo exercises are the first step in developing rhythmic security, I don’t delay the introduction of auto-accompaniment. It’s the heart of the electronic keyboard, and perhaps the main reason that students are attracted to the instrument, so I didn’t think it would be helpful to postpone it. Simple tunes like One Chord Waltz don’t require any change of left-hand position, so they leave the student free to concentrate on coordinating their right hand with the backings supplied by the keyboard. Even that is quite challenging for a beginner – but it’s my experience that electronic keyboard students like to feel they’re embarking on a reasonably serious endeavour, just like their piano- or violin-playing friends.

 

The Finger Rambles are little right-hand exercises devised to get the fingers working, and establish good fingering habits. I’ve always found that methodical fingering is very grounding for beginners – when teaching piano I often use the James Bastien books, which are very strong on that score (their book For The Older Beginner is perfect for secondary school age students). I know there’s a risk that some students may become reliant on reading finger numbers rather than notes, but that’s more than compensated for by the confidence they acquire and the encouraging musical results they can attain. As the hand positions evolve, these students usually switch painlessly to proper note-reading without even realising they’re doing it.

Many people ask me why Electronic Keyboard Basics 1 starts in the key of D minor. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the electronic keyboard inhabits the world of popular music, and the D minor chord is ideal for accompanying Dorian mode melodies which sound authentically non-classical (obviously, Dorian is also great for early music styles - another strength of the electronic keyboard). 

The D minor chord also helps students to create their own music – they can set a D minor auto-accompaniment going and create all sorts of effective improvisations by simply noodling around on the white keys.  

To reinforce this Dorian, non-classical harmonic feel, the second chord introduced in Basics 1 is G major, with its B natural. Which brings me to the issue of key signatures – a truly classical D minor would need a B flat signature, which would complicate things for a beginner – but with my pieces being more Dorian in quality, I wasn’t worried about leaving the key signature out.

 Playing a D minor autochord does require two fingers, unlike a major chord which only needs one, but my students didn’t find this too hard. And when they moved on to G major, it was encouraging for them to find their second chord even easier than their first! As for the third chord introduced, C major, that means the student now has a harmonic progression of II-V-I up their sleeve – fundamental to so much music, whether pop, jazz or classical.

 Finally, the tunes which beckoned me into the world of music were based around minor 3rds. The earliest pieces in Jibbidy F use C and A, which have that wonderful ambiguity – one minute implying minor, then major harmonies. Many beginners’ books start off with linear melodies building up from C to G, which are harmonically static – and potentially, very dull.

 So, to sum up, I hope the D minor emphasis in Keyboard Basics 1 might inspire the student … and give some well-deserved refreshment to the teacher’s own ears!