Playing an electric keyboard is similar to playing a piano, and when starting to play, you will need the same knowledge and skills the acoustic piano requires. However, unlike a piano, an electric keyboard is portable and can play many different sounds, provide prerecorded rhythm tracks and record music. For these reasons, most pop and rock musicians prefer electronic keyboards to piano, and with a little effort and practice, you may be jamming and writing your own songs sooner than you expect.
Learn and memorise the notes on the keyboard. Like a piano, an electronic keyboard is made up of repeated scales. A scale is a pattern of seven notes: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. These are the white keys on the keyboard. Memorise the location of each of these notes on the keyboard.
Decide whether you want to play from sheet music or chord charts first. There are two main ways to write keyboard music: as traditional sheet music or as a chord chart. Many keyboard players learn to read sheet music an acoustic piano first and then switch to electric keyboard. Some rock or pop keyboard players, on the other hand, never learn to read sheet music.
Learning to sight-read sheet music proficiently will take significant time and practice. However, you will be able to play songs note-for-note from manuscript alone. If you learn only chord charts, the alternate form of music notation that is commonly used for pop music, you will be able to play a song only if you already have a general idea of the piece, but the chord method enables you to play basic songs fairly quickly.
Learn the notes on the grand staff if you are learning to read music. Keyboard music is notated on what is called the "grand staff." A staff is five lines and four spaces; the grand staff is two staves joined together. The top one, the treble clef, represents the higher notes down to middle C on the keyboard. The bass clef contains the lower notes from middle C down. Each line or space corresponds to a note on the keyboard. You will learn each note as the scales repeat up and down the keyboard. Rhythm is separated into bars (measures) and beats per measure and is indicated by a numeric fraction at the beginning of the piece.
Learn chord progressions on the keyboard if you are learning to read chord charts. You can also play keyboard as a rhythm instrument similar to a rhythm guitar. To play this way, memorise the notes in each chord you want to play. For example, a G major chord is G, B and D, played anywhere on the keyboard. Like a rhythm guitarist, you can create any rhythmic pattern you want with these three notes to accompany yourself or someone else as they sing the melody of a song.
Learn the different sounds on your keyboard. Every electric keyboard has a number of different sounds, rhythm functions and effects. More expensive keyboards have more sounds, rhythms and effects than lower-budget instruments. Either way, learn about the different capacities of your instrument. Some keyboards can play two different sounds at the same time on different parts of the keyboard, and some can sound a full chord when you play only the root note (the lowest note of the chord).
Learn the other capabilities of your instrument. In addition to playing sound effects, other instruments and vocal sounds, you can accomplish many different tasks with an electric piano keyboard. Some have a USB or FireWire port that you can connect directly to your computer to use with recording or music notation software. Many keyboards allow you to record several songs directly into the keyboard, layering different instrument sounds, and play them back with the push of a button.
Finally, experiment! An electronic keyboard can play all kinds of music, from classical piano or symphonic sounds to pop, rock or funk. Try out various combinations of sounds, effects and rhythms on your keyboard. Have fun and keep exploring new ideas.
Practice makes perfect. Once you know how to play a song, keep practicing until it comes easily. Try speeding up and slowing down. Practicing with a metronome (a device that clicks for each beat) will help you keep a steady tempo. This is especially important when playing with a group or a band.