Essentials Of Playing The KeyMusician Keyboard

Low-To-High Pitch Key Order

The key order used in playing successively higher notes, starts on the bottom row left-to-right, on the next row (the home row) right-to-left, on the next row (the top row of letters) left-to-right, and on the top row right-to-left, as shown in the following picture:

Picture of a QWERTY keyboard, with arrows overlaid, starting on the Z-key, going to the forward-slash-key, to the apostrophe key, to the A-key, to the Q-key, to the back-slash-key, to the Backspace-key, to the acute-accent-and-tilde-key, illustrating lowest key to highest key order.
This 'meandering' order is needed to allow you to always be able to play a melody with just one hand, leaving the other hand available for playing chords. Getting used to the reversing key-orders of each row, is much easier than the two-handed fingering that would otherwise be necessary when a melody passes the end of a keyboard row.

The picture also shows which keys are used for melody notes.

In a key-signature with no flats or sharps (C major, or A minor), middle-C is the “Q” key (left-most key of the top row of letters).


Accidentals are notes which are not a part of the current key-signature. In the key of C, accidentals are flats or sharps. It takes 2 key-strokes to play an accidental. It's similar to typing a capital letter. Here's how you do it:

  1. Press and hold the appropriate shift-key (Page-Down, or Left-Shift for a flat (half-step down), or Page-Up or Right-Shift for a sharp (half-step up)).

  2. Press and hold the note-key for the note to be flatted or sharped.

  3. Release the shift-key you used – the flatted or sharped note will keep playing until you release its key.

  4. This process also applies to specifying the root-note of a chord, or a slash chord note.

Having to play an accidental is rarely required because:

  1. You use the “Transpose” button to specify the key-signature, allowing the software to play the flats or sharps for you

  2. If you are playing a chord using an accidental (even a fraction-of-a-second before the melody note is played), the same accidental (shifting) is done for that melody note if it is the same note-letter name as an accidental in the chord

Remember: Setting the key-signature saves you a lot of needless effort, eliminating the need to practice scales!

Playing Chords On The Numeric-Keypad

Here is a picture of the numeric keypad, along side the Chords window:

Notice the similarity of the numeric keypad (below) and the “Num-Keypad – Chord” application window screen-shot below it:

Picture of an actual numeric keypad on a keyboard.

Screen-shot of the Chords window, with the 4-key (F-chord), the Plus-key (major chord-type), the 9-key (seventh chord-attribute), and the 2-key (D for the slash-chord note).  The 0-key (Play button, with F-major-seventh-slash-D displayed on its button-face), also selected.
Numeric keypad keys 1 through 7 are used to specify (first) the root-note of the chord (which identifies the chord), and (second, if present) a slash-chord note (a note in the bass, below the chord).

The Chord window shows the notes of the current key-signature's scale, and those note-names will change, depending on the key-signature used. These note-names may include the sharp-sign (#), or the flat-sign (b), as shown in the following screen-shot:

Screen-shot of the chords window, with the 1-key (D-flat chord) selected, the Plus-key (major chord-type) selected, the 9-key (seventh chord-attribute) selected.  The 0-Key isn't selected, so the chord is not playing, but it has D-flat-major-seventh-slash-D-flat on its button-face, as the last chord played.
This again illustrates that if you set the key-signature (using the “Transpose” button of the performance pane), the chord notes are flatted (or sharped) for you, and the only time you have to flat or sharp a chord note, is if it's a note not in the key-signature (an accidental).

Numeric-kepad keys:

8=6th, 9=7th, /=augmented, *=9th, -=dim, +=major, Enter=minor, and .=suspended

These keys are used to specify the type of chord (chord attributes). Some types can be added together for a more complex chord, and other types are mutually exclusive (can't appear together in the same chord).

The numeric keypad key “0” is the “Play” key, which you press with your right thumb.

When you play a chord, its name is shown on the “Play” key, and also in the title-bar. The chord plays as long as the “Play” key is held down, and if you press the “Play” key again, the same chord is played again.

Notice that the buttons of the screen-shot above are toggle-buttons (on, or off). If they are toggled “on” (selected), they are highlighted, and otherwise, they aren't highlighted.

If you press a non-highlighted key, it selects it, causing it to be highlighted. If you press a highlighted key, it un-selects it, removing the highlighting.

The steps to playing a chord are:

  1. Press one of the numeric keypad keys 1 thru 7, to specify the root-note of the chord.

  2. If there is a slash-chord note, press one of the numeric keypad keys 1 thru 7, to specify the slash-chord note.

  3. Select, or clear any desired chord types (attributes).

  4. Press the “Play” key (numeric keypad key 0) with your thumb.

Steps 1 to 3 specify the chord. Step 4 plays it.

You can usually do steps 1 to 3 while you are holding down the “Play” key, specifying the next chord, while still playing the current chord.

Standard Chords, and Modal Chords

So far, we have been showing standard chords.

Standard chords are best for playing from sheet music. Modal chords are best for improvising together with other musicians.

You select which chord system to use on the F1 (Help/Setup) pane:

A portion of a screen-shot of the F1 pane, of the area where the chords type is selected.  The "Modal" radio-button is selected.
When playing from music, you can't take your eyes off the music to look at the Chords window to see what chord types (attributes) are currently selected, so the momen't you start selecting a new chord, any currently-selected attributes are cleared. That means each chord starts new.

With modal chords, attributes remain selected until you clear them, or select a new chord where your initial choice won't have any attributes selected that require accidentals (notes not in the key-signature).

The Chords window for modal chords looks a little different:

A screen-shot of the chords window, with the 4-key (F-chord) button selected, the plus-key (major chord-type) button selected, the 9-key (seventh chord-attribute) button selected, and the 0-key (Play-Chord) button selected, showing F-major-seventh as the chord being played.
With modal chords, the first choice of chord selected, will be one using only notes of the key-signature. That way, people improvising along with you, only need to improvise using notes of the key-signature (you can override that initial choice, if you choose to, but that may introduce accidentals, making it more difficult for the other musicians).

That means some chords will be major (such as the 1-key, 4-key, and 5-key chords above), some will be minor (such as the 2-key, 3-key, and 6-key chords above), that have a lower-case “m” appended to the chord name, and one will be diminished (the 7-key chord above), which has “dim” appended to the chord name.

Unfortunately, some attributes will require accidentals, no matter what you do, so people improvising with you will have to avoid certain notes if such a chord is used. Those chord types are somewhat unusual, however.

Additional Chord Types/Attributes

Some of the attribute keys have additional chord attributes associated with them. You get those additional attributes by double-tapping the attribute key, which shows the next attribute available to it. Eventually, you come back (after going through all the alternatives) to the original attribute.

Here is a diagram, showing the additional attributes associated with some of the attribute keys:

A screen-shot of the chords window, with annotations showing that the period-key (suspended chord-type), the 8-key (sixth chord-attribute), the slash-key (augmented chord-attribute), and the asterisk-key (ninth chord-attribute) are all keys having multiple-uses.  You double-tap such keys to get the next alternate meaning.

Other Important Keyboard Keys

The various performance panes can be selected by hitting their associated function key, or other key (in cases where the function key isn't available), as shown in the following keyboard diagram:

Keyboard diagram, with the Escape-Key highlighted in blue, the F1 key highlighted in yellow, and green highlighting on the F2 through F12 function-keys, as well as the Scroll-Lock key, the Pause-Break key, and the Num-Lock key.  The Windows keys, and the Menu-Key (on the bottom row) are highlighted in red.
In the diagram above, the red keys aren't usually available.

Function key F1 selects the “F1 (Help / Setup)” pane.

Function keys F2 through F10, and F12, select the F2 through F10, and F12 performance panes.

If F11 doesn't full-screen the application, then you can use it to select the Drums pane. Otherwise, use the Scroll-Lock key to select the Drums pane.

The Pause/Break key toggles between the Chords window and the Dynamics window.

The Num-Lock key can be used to switch to the Chords pane. If you do that on Windows, you'll have to press it again to re-enable the playing of chords (or dynamics). You can only play chords, or specify dynamics, on the numeric keypad, when numeric-lock is set. On a Mac keyboard, there is no numeric-lock, so you use F13 to switch to the chords pane.

You can change performance panes, even while holding out a chord, and/or melody notes. Changing performance panes can give you a new instrument sound, and/or a new key-signature.

Other important keys are to the left of the numeric keypad, where you can reach them with your chord-hand, as shown below:

A picture of the keys between the numeric keypad and the main section of the keyboard, showing the Insert and Delete keys, the Home and End keys, and the Page-Up and Page-Down keys.
The Insert and Delete keys are used to increase (or decrease) the velocity setting (a way of controlling volume).

The Home key is used to restore the performance pane to its last-saved settings, so if you've been fading out a note (decreasing the volume), hitting the Home key will restore it instantly.

The End key is used to clear all Chord pane selections, and restore any alternate chord attributes to their original attribute.

It's a good idea, after playing a piece, to hit the Home, and End keys, so you don't inherit any settings (such as a faded-out note) from the piece you last played.

The Page-Up key is used for playing a sharp-shift accidental, and the Page-Down key is used for playing a flat-shift accidental, either in the melody, or in the chords. You can reach it with your chord hand.

The Left and Right arrow keys, are used for decreasing or increasing the volume.

The Up and Down arrow keys, are used for increasing or decreasing the assignable control, controlling whatever you have assigned to it, such as modulation.

And finally, if you repeatedly press the Enter key of the main part of the keyboard (not the Enter key of the numeric keypad), while holding out a note, you will produce a 'wah-wah' effect, which can be very useful in some cases, such as when you're playing a Hawaiian Guitar, or imitating Jimi Hendricks!

Good luck. Having read this, you should be on your way. Enjoy!

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