There Are Only 12 Notes
Have a look at the keys on the piano. They can seem overwhelming if you think they’re all unique. 88 keys on a standard piano – that’s a lot!
Fortunately for us, they’re laid out in a pattern. Notice the black keys are in sets of 2 and sets of 3.
Sets of 2 Black Notes
Sets of 3 Black Notes
So, if you play the same note in two different groups, they’ll sound almost exactly the same. For example, play the left notes on any of these sets:
Compare that to the sound of the left note in one set, and the right note in another set:
In the second video it should be much more obvious that these are two different notes.
Ok, since the black notes are laid out in a pattern, that means the white notes are also in a pattern, just a little less obviously. We could break them down as a set of 3 white that surround the 2 black notes, and a set of 4 white notes that surround the 3 black notes:
Notes C D E
Notes F G A B
So, all the white notes that are to the left of a set of 2 black notes are called C.
D is in the middle of 2 black notes (only in a set of 2).
E is to the right of 2 black notes (only in a set of 2).
F is to the left of 3 black notes.
G and A are the inside white notes of a set of 3 black notes. (G on the inside-left, A on the inside-right).
B is to the right of 3 black notes.
Learn the White Notes based on the Black Notes
If you’re like most of my students, you started learning to figure out where the other white keys were once you knew where C was. So if I asked you to find F, you might count up from the note C, playing D and E and then F, to figure out where F was.
This is ok to start with, but it’s a really slow way to figure out where the keys are in the long run. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text. Every time you want to find an A, you don’t want to have to count 6 letters to figure out where A is.
And, by the way, how did you know where C was to begin with? You figured out that it was to the left of two black keys. So you’re gonna do the same process for the rest of the white keys.
If you find yourself counting to figure out where a white key is (say, F), then I want you to play all the F’s on the keyboard right after that, and say to yourself “F to the left of 3, F to the left of 3,” etc. Pretty soon, you’ll know where all the keys are without having to count!
I’m Andy Grall, and I teach piano online and in Houston, TX. If you’re ready to dive in to learning piano, schedule your free consultation now:
Or, if you’d just like to support my work (thanks!):