In classical and popular music, especially from the Western world, there are twelve different notes. Seven of these notes are called the natural notes and they are represented by the white keys on the piano. The black keys on the piano represent the remaining five notes.
1. Natural notes
The natural notes are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet. Their names are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The names of the notes are always capitalized.
The piano is a helpful aid because it provides a visual overview of the notes. Below is a section of piano keys labeled with their corresponding notes. The starting point is usually based on the note C. This is also the case on the piano here. Click on the piano to listen to the notes:
The black keys are arranged in alternating groups of two and three. The note C is always on the white key to the left of the group of two black keys. Each note is in several places on the piano; the further to the right a note is located, the higher it is, and the further to the left, the lower it is.
2. Middle C
The middlemost C on the piano is called middle C. On a standard piano with 88 keys, middle C is the fourth C from the left. Click on the piano to hear the note:
Middle C is an essential reference point. The specific high or low version of a note you play is important, and using middle C as the reference point, makes it easier to play the right version of the note.
A standard piano with 88 keys has seven to eight versions of each note. The distance from any note to the nearest lower or higher version of the same note is called an octave:
Usually, a note is referred to with the same name, regardless of whether it is low or high. However, there is a system for naming low and high notes that can be used if you need to distinguish between them. In this system, a number is added after the name of the note corresponding to the octave number in which the note falls.
Each octave, starting from the note C, has a number. The octave of the lowest C on the piano has number 1, while the octave of the highest C has number 8. All notes from C up to the next octave have the same number (e.g., C1, D1, E1, F1, G1, A1 og B1). These are the most common octaves and their numbers:
|Octave 7||C7 → B7||Very high|
|Octave 6||C6 → B6||High|
|Octave 5||C5 → B5||Moderately high|
|Octave 4||C4 (Middle C) → B4||Medium|
|Octave 3||C3 → B3||Moderately low|
|Octave 2||C2 → B2||Low|
|Octave 1||C1 → B1||Very low|
4. Half steps and whole steps
The distance between each of the twelve different notes is called a half step, or, a semitone. That is, the distance from any white or black key on the piano to the key immediately to its right or left, is a half step.
The distance between the natural notes E and F and the natural notes B and C is a half step (1), while the distance between all other keys is two half steps (2):
The distance of two half steps is also called a whole step or a whole tone.