Learning the different notes on the piano is an essential first step in mastering the piano. These notes are the building blocks of everything else you’ll do when playing a song.
Each note has a specific pitch. The pitch of a note is how high or low the notes sounds when played relative to another note on the keyboard.
It’s important that you memorize these different notes before moving on to the next section as you’ll be using them constantly. You also want to memorize where they each appear on the keyboard/piano.
Start by taking a look at the piano keys. You’ll notice that there’s a pattern to the notes and it just repeats over and over again
The White Keys
There are 7 different main notes that you need to focus on to begin with. These are the white keys on the piano. These white keys each correspond to a letter of the alphabet from A through to G.
These 7 different notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) are repeated over and over again all across the entire keyboard, regardless of the total number of keys your piano has (i.e. 24, 49, 61, or 88 keys).
Here’s a graphic to help you find the right keys on your own piano:
When you play these piano keys what you will notice is that the different “C” notes on the keyboard, for example, all sound almost entirely the same except for how high or low the note is.
This is the pitch of the note. When you move from one low C to a C note higher on the piano, it’s called a higher octave. Middle C Is the C note that sites in the middle of the piano.
The Black Keys (Sharps & Flats)
Now if you’re ready to move onto the black keys, just know that they share the same letter names as the white keys, but with special modifiers called “accidentals,” attached to them. These accidentals are known as “flats” and “sharps,” and they slightly alter the pitch of the notes.
So take the “D” note (a white key) as an example. There are two black keys that surround the D. If you move UP the keyboard (towards the right) then we would say the note is a “Sharp.” If you move DOWN the keyboard (to the left) the note is “Flat.” So the black key to the right of D is a D-Sharp (written as D#). And the black key to the left of D is a D-Flat (written as Db).
But now take C as an example – it only has a black key to the right of it. In the last example this same key was called a D-Flat (Db). But when we’re talking about a C (instead of a D like in the last example) this is known as the C-Sharp (C#) key.
So basically each black key on the piano will have two separate names. It is sharp or flat relative to the note that you’re talking about. Here’s a little image to help you visualize what I’m talking about.
So in total, there are 12 separate keys/notes on a piano – 7 white keys and 5 black keys. And that’s that – you’ve learned all the piano notes. It’s a good idea to memorize all these notes and their positions to help you learn piano scales in the next step.
So now that you’re familiar with the basics of music theory and have memorized all of your piano notes, it’s time to talk about piano scales. Piano scales are basically a series of notes that sound good when played one after the other.
When you listen to a song and hear a piano player moving from note to note without anything sounding out of place, it is because the player is playing along a certain scale on the piano.
The first thing you need to know when learning piano scales is how to move along a keyboard. We explain this in one of our basic music theory tutorials on building scales.
But for now know this – there are two main types of musical scales that you want to learn when you first start playing the piano. These are the Major scales and the Minor scales, and they’re found in most music you’ll hear.
Since there are 12 keys on the keyboard, there are 12 Major scales and 12 Minor scales to learn in total. It’s a good idea to learn all the different major and minor scales before moving on to the next step, piano chords. It’s actually a really good idea to memorize them all. When you’re learning to play piano by ear there’s something called the number system.
The number system is just a way of putting a number value to each tone (note) in a piano scale. For example, in the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), you would simple start with the first note (C) and number it as a 1 (in other words C is the 1st tone in the C major scale). D would be a 2 (or the 2nd tone of a C major scale), E would be a 3, and so on. This will be important when playing chords and chord progressions, coming up in later piano tutorials.
Don’t worry about all that for now, just use our cheat sheets (which you can download through the form below) and practice/learn each scale.
Next Up: How to Play Piano Chords