Lesson 3: The Keyboard

A solid understanding of the principles of music theory requires a solid understanding of the piano keyboard.

Notice that a piano keyboard is a collection of white and black keys. Unless you are a being from another planet, you will know that pressing a key causes the piano's key mechanism to operate. This causes a small felt-covered hammer to strike a string (or set of strings) inside the piano, and you hear a sound.

It is the black keys that help you understand "where you are" on a keyboard. The black keys are grouped together in alternating groups of two and three. The note 'C' is the white note that is just to the left of each group of two black notes. Here is a piano keyboard with the white notes properly labeled:

Let's start with the lines on the staff. The notes that are written on the lines in the staff are C, E, G, and B. You can make up a fun sentence to help remember the names of the notes that are written on the lines in the staff. Example: Cows Eat Glue Buckets. Make up one for yourself and write it down somewhere. Keep it close to your keyboard for reference.

Now let's look at the spaces on the staff (I'll leave the "C" note in just for reference only. It is not on a space). The notes that are written on the spaces in the staff are D, F, and A. You can make up a fun sentence to help remember the names of the notes that are written on the spaces in the staff. Example: Dogs Find Apples. Make up one for yourself and write it down somewhere. Keep it close to your keyboard for reference.


 
 
 



This spacing of 12 on the keyboard or 8 on the staff, is called an "Octave." In the picture above, you are looking at "Octaves" on the staff and on the keyboard, (from 1 "C" note to the next "C" note). You will be learning all the notes in 1 octave (1 group). The octave we will concentrate on will include "middle C."

Find all the "C" notes you can on your keyboard.

NOTE: Keyboards come in different widths so don't worry if you end up with more or less "C" notes than the keyboard shown above. Look for two black keys and then the first white key to the left of these black keys. This white key will always be a "C" note.

Now, you've often heard that term 'MIDDLE C'. If you sit roughly at the middle of a piano and look down, you should be looking at MIDDLE C. As you can see there are several C's as you glance up and down the piano keyboard. The one in the middle is called MIDDLE C.

The naming of the black notes requires that you understand what sharps, flats and semitones are. In our western culture, the smallest space (interval) between two pitches is called a semitone. Looking at a piano keyboard, you will see that a semitone above the note 'B' is 'C'. That is because there is no note between them; therefore, the distance between 'B' and 'C' is one semitone. Similarly, the notes 'E' and 'F' are as close together as they can be: there is no note between them, so they are said to be one semitone apart.

Want more semitones? Look at the note 'C' (doesn't matter which one). The semitone above 'C' is that black note, the lowest of the group of two black notes. What do we call that note? We call it 'C-sharp'. So the answer to the question, "Tell me the name of the note that is one semitone higher than 'C'" is 'C-sharp'. What's the note that is one semitone higher than 'F'? 'F-sharp'! One semitone higher than 'A'? 'A-sharp'. Any black note can be named for the white note that is just below it in the manner just described.

Now, look at the note 'G'. The semitone down from that note would be the black note which is the lowest of the group of three black notes. We would call that note 'G-flat'. Did you notice? 'F-sharp' and 'G-flat' are the same pitch! All of the black notes on the piano keyboard have two different names. Give two names for the black note which is the middle of the group of three...The answer would be 'G-sharp' and 'A-flat'.

Here is a picture of a keyboard with all of the keys properly labeled, with a staff showing where each note is located. In printed music, we use this sign to indicate 'sharp':  , and this sign to indicate 'flat': 


 
 

Look at the first measure. It has some strange signs at the beginning of it and it has some numbers. We will be looking at the numbers for now. The numbers tell you what size the measure is. First let's learn a little more about the different parts of the staff before we learn more about the measure size.

Look at the staff again. Starting from the top of the staff, there are five horizontal lines. Count these five top lines. These top five lines in the staff are called the "Treble Clef." The "Treble Clef" shows the notes that you will be playing with your right hand on the piano. The "Treble Clef" has it's own label so that you know it's a Treble Clef. Look at the object that looks like a strange violin on the left side of the Treble Clef (it is next to the 4/4 numbers). This is the sign (label) for Treble Clef. In fact it is called a Treble Clef.

Look at the staff once more. Starting from the bottom of the staff, there are five horizontal lines. Count these five bottom lines. These bottom five lines in the staff are called the "Bass Clef." The "Bass Clef" shows the notes that you will be playing with your left hand on the piano. The "Bass Clef" has it's own label so that you know it's a Bass Clef. Look at the object that looks like a backwards letter C on the left side of the Bass Clef (it is next to the 4/4 numbers). This is the sign (label) for Bass Clef. In fact it is called a Bass Clef.

Quick Review


  • "C" Sharp is the same black note as "D" Flat.

  • "D" Sharp is the same black note as "E" Flat.

  • "F" Sharp is the same black note as "G" Flat.

  • "G" Sharp is the same black note as "A" Flat.

  • "A" Sharp is the same black note as "B" Flat.

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