Broken Chord Exercises for the Piano or Keyboard
How to Play Songs with Harmonic Intervals on the Piano or Keyboard
How to Play Handoffs on the Piano or Keyboard

How to Identify the Keys on a Piano

The first thing you notice on your piano keyboard is the not-so-colorful use of 88 black and white keys. The black ones are raised and are set farther back than the white ones. Each key on the keyboard represents a specific musical note. These notes use a very complex naming system — the first seven letters of the alphabet: A-B-C-D-E-F-G.

The black keys always appear in consecutive groups of two and three, and if you use your imagination, you can think of any set of two black keys as a pair of chopsticks and any set of three black keys as the tines on a fork. Chopsticks starts with the letter C, and fork starts with the letter F.

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You can use these chopsticks and forks to help identify the white keys on the keyboard:

  • To the left of the chopsticks (two black keys) is the note C.

  • To the left of the fork (three black keys) is the note F.

Moving up from C you have the notes D, E, F, G. When you get to G, think “Go” as in “go back to the beginning of the alphabet.” The alphabet pattern repeats over and over in octave groupings, which are groups of eight white keys and the black keys between them.

The seven note names (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) are all on the white keys. Black keys represent separate musical notes. The black keys are assigned the same name as the closest white key but with one of the following suffixes added on:

  • Sharp is used for a black key to the right of (or higher than) a white key.

  • Flat is used for a black key to the left of (or lower than) a white key.

Here’s another culinary metaphor to help you remember sharps and flats. At your imaginary musical place setting, a white key represents a plate, so

  • A knife is sharp and lies on the right side of the plate.

  • A napkin is flat and lies on the left side of the plate.

Just remember chopsticks and forks, knives and napkins, and you’ll never forget the names of the keys . . . but you may feel a little hungry.

Because each of the black keys lies between two white keys, each black key has two names, depending on the white key you approach it from. For example, the black key to the right of C is C-sharp, but it’s also D-flat.

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