Names of the Piano Keys

Here we are going to learn how to name the piano keys using naturals, sharps, and flats. In doing so, we will expand our visio-spatial awareness of the keyboard and prepare for expert music-reading.


Keyboard Layout

There are twelve different physical piano keys… seven white & five black:

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-seven-white-five-black

Notice that the black keys come in groups of 2s and 3s…. and that this pattern repeats itself all the way up and down the keyboard…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-black-notes-twos-and-threes

By the way, if you ever wondered how important the black keys are, just imagine trying to play a keyboard that looks like this:

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-no-black-notes


Naturals

Once upon a time, the European music community decided to name the notes using the first seven letters of the Roman alphabet: A B C D E F G. These letters are assigned to the seven white keys as follows:

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-naturals-abcdefg

Notice four things:

  • As you go up the keyboard (to the right), you count up the alphabet.
  • As you go down the keyboard (to the left), you count down the alphabet.

Furthermore, the seven letter names repeat themselves over and over in the same pattern…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-naturals-repeated

C is always the white note just to the left of each group of two black notes; D is always the white note between the two black notes; E is always the white note just to the right of the two black notes; F is always the white note just to the left of the group of three black notes and so on.

A Word of Advice. It is absolutely crucial that you do not keep using C as a crutch for finding the other notes by always counting up or down from C. Learning that C is the white note to the immediate left of the two black notes is pretty easy, right? Well, the other notes are just as easy to learn. But if you decide to use C as a crutch to find the other notes, your playing and sight reading will be hamstrung (like those who can’t sing their ABCs without going back to the beginning). If you learn each note on its own without needing to rely on C, you will be rewarded handsomely in your playing and sight reading.


Sharps

One way to name a black key is to use a sharp symbol (#). Sharp means the very next note up (to the right).

For example: F# is a black key, the very next note up from F…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-sharps-f-sharp

Here are the black keys named using sharps…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-sharps-black-keys

By the way, a sharp does not have to be a black key. Two white keys can also be named using a sharp. The sharp (the very next note up) is a white key for the notes B and E…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-sharps-b-sharp-and-e-sharp

Here are all seven possible sharps…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-sharps-all-seven


Flats

One way to name a black key is to use a flat symbol (b). “Flat” means the very next note down (to the left).

For example: Bb, a black key, is the very next note down from B…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-flats-b-flat

Here are the black keys named using flats…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-flats-black-keys

By the way, a flat does not have to be a black key! Two white keys can also be named using a flat. The flat (the very next note down) is a white key for the notes C and F…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-flats-c-flat-and-f-flat

Here are all seven possible flats…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-flats-all-seven


Double Sharps & Double Flats

[insert example image here] Believe it or not, there are also such things as double sharps and double flats. There are theoretical reasons for using double sharps and double flats, but don’t worry about the reasons why for now. This will all make sense when we study scales and chords.


Lesson Summary

Here are the keys named using naturals, sharps, and flats. Notice that there are seven naturals, seven sharps, and seven flats…

piano-ology-names-of-the-piano-keys-all-naturals-sharps-and-flats

Important points:

  • The white keys are no more or less important than the black keys.
  • Black keys are not the only keys that can be a sharp or flat; white keys can also be a sharp or flat.
  • There are twelve physical piano keys, but each can be named differently depending on the musical context. Don’t worry about why for now. It will all make sense when we study scales and chords.
  • Do not use C as a crutch for finding the other notes. C was easy to learn, right? Well the other are just as easy to learn as C. Learn them directly!

Study Aids

Names of the Piano Keys: Virtual Flashcards: Naturals || Sharps || Flats ||

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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