Posted by: Marie | January 14, 2011

(490) Music Lesson: What’s your name?

Post #490

Music Lesson

I have been toying with the idea of occasionally including posts on music and playing the piano and music theory . . . as in mini-educational blurbs. I’m not sure who would be interested in these posts, but I find myself wanting to publish them. I have come to the conclusion that it is okay for me to publish whatever I care to publish – and that is a freeing thought.

So . . . here it goes . . . if you don’t care about this stuff, just skip over the posts. If you do, then read away . . .


Whenever I get a new student, I review with the student (and/or the parent) the three foundational concepts – and the relationships among those three concepts – on which a person’s piano-playing education is built (see first diagram).

So . . . today . . . let’s look at one side of this triangle . . . let’s start with a tour of the physical keys on the piano keyboard (see second diagram).

As you are sitting at the keyboard, the keys on the end of the keyboard to your left are identified as the “lower” keys and the keys on the end of the keyboard to your right are identified as the “higher” keys. These relative terms of “higher” and “lower” have to do with the highness or lowness of the sound.

For example, men tend to have lower voices and women tend to have higher voices. When a key towards the left end of the keyboard is played, then a key towards the right end of the keyboard is played, the second note will be “higher” than the first note.

Okay . . . so far, so good?

I present to you the fact the physical keys on the keyboard are named using the musical alphabet. The musical alphabet contains only seven letters: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Our first order of business is to match up the letters with the various physical keys on the keyboard.

This task may seem daunting since there are 88 keys on a standard keyboard. But, the good news is that we only need to associate letter names with the white keys, of which there are only 52. And, the letter names are assigned in a repeating order, starting with A and ending with G. So, if you know the location of an “F”, it is a safe bet that the next highest note will be “G”.

If you have a standard 88-key keyboard, the bottom-most white key is an “A”. The next higher white key is a “B”. The next higher white note is a “C”. And this continues until you get to “G”, which then the next higher white note is an “A” – and the alphabet starts over again and continues until you get to the “C” at the very high end of the keyboard.

Still with me?

I bet you’re thinking there has to be an easier way to figure out the name of a particular key than to start at the bottom of the keyboard and work your way upward. You are right!

I call your attention to the pattern created by the groups of two and three black keys. Now, find a group of three black keys (preferably one towards the middle of the keyboard) and put your finger on the middle of the three black keys. Then, find the next higher group of three black keys and put your finger on the middle of these three black keys. (In this second diagram of the keyboard, I gave these two black keys a gray color.)

There are seven white keys in between the two black keys you are touching with your fingers. The lowest of those seven is “A”, the highest of those seven is “G”. So, between your two fingers lies a complete musical alphabet. This would be true if you repeated the exercise on any other section of the keyboard.

Here is another way to think about the location of the various letters . . .

Find a group of two black notes. Now, place your fingers on the three white keys closest to the two black notes (see the greenish keys in the third diagram, below). The middle of the three white notes is “D” . . . and if you think of the two black keys as a doghouse, you will notice that the key that is the door to the doghouse is “D” . . . dog, doghouse, door . . . all start with “D”, which correlates to the key named “D”.

If you think of “D” (that is in the doghouse) as a landmark, then you can remember that “C” and “E” live on either side of the doghouse. So, those three (C, D and E) can be grouped together in your mind.

Now, find a group of three black notes, then place your fingers on the four white keys closest to the three black notes (see the bluish keys in this last diagram). Of those four white keys, the bottom two are the last two letters in the alphabet (F and G), and the top two are the first two letters in the alphabet (A and B). The middle black note marks where the alphabet starts over – this middle black note is another good landmark.

In closing, please allow me to call attention to the most important key on the keyboard – that would be “Middle C”. It is the note from which all music and music theory is born.

To find Middle C, find the middle of the keyboard. You can do this by counting keys (finding keys #44 and #45), or by taking a tape measure to the keyboard . . . but, the easiest way could be to find the middle of the music stand, or to look for the manufacturer’s name printed above the keyboard.

After you have found the middle of the keyboard, find the “C” that is closest to the mid-point. If the mid-point is equally close to two “C’s”, chances are that Middle C is the “C” to the left of the mid-point.

And that concludes the first music lesson on this blog. Thanks for reading!


  1. I like this approach — it’s very friendly and practical. It’s weird to me to realize that there are lots and lots of people who don’t know where middle C is on a piano!

    • Hey, David –

      I wasn’t sure at what level to start . . . I really don’t know who might be my audience. So, maybe publishing these types of posts is more for me than for anyone who might read it. And that is fine, LOL!

      – Marie

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