Knowing what the notes are on the piano by heart is the most essential step to learning how to play this beautiful instrument. It will open doors to other foundational aspects of piano playing, and luckily, with a little bit of studying and memorization, you’ll be on the right track to becoming a great pianist. In this guide, I will show you how to learn all of the piano notes and also offer some tips and tricks to make it easier for you.
The White Keys
The white keys on the piano are generally the first part that every beginner should learn because they are the most straightforward to understand.
They’re also pretty easy to explain too!
Each of these keys represents a letter in the musical scale, which ranges from A to G. However, the pitch, “C,” is usually the starting point or center of focus. The whole reasoning behind this will be explained later in this article.
Another name for the white keys is natural notes. The word “natural” in a musical sense simply means that a pitch is neither sharp or flat. So when studying the white ones exclusively, you don’t need to worry about those.
Each musical letter falls in a pattern on the piano keys, and it will always repeat itself. Once you know which white key a particular note sits on, you’ll be able to spot them everywhere on the instrument!
These are known as octaves, and it’s a type of interval that refers to the same pitch but may have a higher or lower frequency.
The Black Keys
Learning the black keys isn’t tough, but it does require a little bit more explanation than the white ones.
As you may have guessed already, the black piano keys represent flat (♭) and sharp (♯) pitches. These also have a special name, and they’re sometimes referred to as accidentals.
Each of these sits in between some of the natural notes we’ve just discussed. These keys will always be in pairs or in a trio, that also repeats itself.
The reason that there aren’t black keys between every white note has to do with half-steps and the C-major scale.
The C-major scale consists of all natural pitches, so basically if you played all of the white ones, you’d be playing in that particular key. Listed out in order, it would be C-D-E-F-G-A-B and then back to C.
All major scales consist of a formula that goes:
Root ⟶ Whole Step ⟶ Whole Step ⟶ Half Step ⟶ Whole Step ⟶ Whole Step ⟶ Whole Step ⟶ Half Step ⟶ Octave
What needs attention here are the two half-steps in the C-major scale, which correspond to the distance from E to F as well as B to C.
There is no frequency in between them (at least without going into microtones) to allow for a B-sharp or C-flat nor E-sharp or F-flat. Therefore, because the distance is too short, there is no proper sharp or flat pitch to be assigned to these notes.
Basically, B-sharp just refers to C, and F-flat is another way of saying E. Aside from some rarer circumstances, it’s kind of redundant.
If this is a bit confusing, it’s very important not to get bogged down by this too much just yet, but I felt that it’s useful to know why the black keys are positioned the way they are.
Altogether, the black notes on a piano’s keyboard consist of C♯/D♭, D♯/E♭, F♯/G♭, A♯/B♭.
The paired ones here refer to the same pitch; however, the key you are playing in will dictate which name it will be called. That’s a lesson for another day though.
Here is a diagram putting everything together that we’ve gone over so far, so you can have some helpful visualization:
Why Is “C” So Important?
Earlier in this guide to learning the notes on the piano, I mentioned that there is a lot of focus on C. In music, it really is the center of attention a lot of the time!
This is because of C major’s status of only consisting of natural notes. Not only is it usually the first scale that people pick up, but Western music is practically built around it.
However, C, as a pitch, is particularly useful on the piano because it’s super easy to find, and knowing where it is at all times will help you absorb where the other notes sit in relation to it, and you won’t lose your place.
It’s a great landmark so to speak, but eventually, you won’t have to think about it too much – it will become second nature to you.
For now, though, the easiest way to remember where every C is located is to know that it always sits directly to the left of the paired black keys.
Out of all the possible Cs, the most essential one is what is known as “middle-C.” Finding this note can change between different keyboard lengths, but here are some standard guidelines:
- Fourth C on a full 88-key piano (like the one shown above). This is also why it’s formally designated as C4.
- Third C on a 49, 61, and 76-key piano (if you are counting white keys, it will be the fifteenth one on the 49 and 61-key models).
- Keep in mind that a 76-key instrument starts with E, so this shifts the white key’s number over a bit from the fifteenth one to the twentieth.
Middle-C is so significant because it is a reliable reference point between all instruments. This pitch is the direct center of the grand staff, and therefore, connects the treble and bass clefs together, and the piano will use both of these clefs simultaneously.
It also dictates singing range – for example, if you go one octave below this point, you’ll be a bass; however, one octave higher will put you at a tenor range. Two octaves will make you a soprano.
Being able to pinpoint middle-C on the keyboard will be just as useful as knowing where all of the other Cs are, in my opinion.
Other Useful Tips
Another “landmark” you might want to know as a beginner is finding where are all of F pitches are at. This is the one that sits to the left of black keys that are grouped in threes.
Basically, it’s the same strategy as C, but once you can recognize these two pitches, you’ll only be required to fill in the blanks and memorize the notes in between them.
Another tool that beginners may enjoy is piano keyboard stickers, which are transparent and generally easy to remove when you graduate from them. Some pianists might discourage the use of them and see them as a crutch, but I think they can be efficient because they can allow new players to learn the notes on the piano as they play.
In the long run, the greatest and most crucial thing to do for yourself is to just practice the piano. Through piano practice and studying the notes on it for a mere 30 minutes to an hour per day, it won’t be long before you’ve got the memorization part mastered.
These short periods of dedicated study will definitely add up!
Additionally, this video has some unconventional (but extremely helpful) ideas on how to make learning the piano notes easier for beginners. I would have never thought of them myself:
If you’re trying to teach yourself piano, the first step you should take is learn the notes on the instrument. With a little bit of time and some simple memorization techniques, you too can get them down perfectly. Knowing your notes will make everything else much easier.
In this article, I’ve provided you with detailed information about the white and black keys on the piano, how they relate to one another, and why they are placed in a particular pattern. There absolutely is a method to the madness, and in actuality, the piano is one of the most logical and intuitive instruments out there.
Hopefully, I have made it a little less mysterious by explaining how piano notes work – learning about them will allow you to take the next steps in your piano and music education and continue to make excellent progress!