If you’re just starting out on the piano, this article is for you! Maybe you just bought a new keyboard. Maybe you have owned a piano for some time. Maybe you just never had the time to learn the note names of the ebonies and ivories underneath its lid. Maybe, you’re ready to start learning your first song online.
If this is you, congratulations! Learning music is a great aid in developing your brain. It will stimulate your creativity and help you to express your emotion too, by the way.
Should you label the keys on your piano?
To label, or not to label – that is the question. Piano teachers are often in two minds about labeling keys. Half of them are staunch proponents of learning the formal way without labeling keys. The other half are all for labeling keys and making it as easy as possible for new players to learn the instrument.
We say: Label those keys!
And here’s why you should label the keys on your piano
New students and younger learners sometimes struggle to remember which key is which on the piano. In my personal experience as a music teacher, students who constantly get confused with note-names are often discouraged and demotivated. Simply because playing the piano is hard for them. It doesn’t have to be this way though. At skoove, we recommend labeling keys as a learning strategy for ultimate beginners – especially younger ones.
Music education holds many benefits, as this article on skoove shows: We want to tap into those benefits as easily, and as quickly as possible.
Learning to play piano the easy way often translates to learning piano the FUN way – so let’s keep it fun! After you’ve labeled your piano keys you might feel like having some fun so head back here and try some songs! This article on skoove highlights some of the easier songs that you might be able to play soon: Easy piano songs for beginners.
Another train of thought is that labeling piano keys could help you learn faster. Finding keys easily, right from the beginning, prevents you from wasting precious time looking for notes when you could simply be playing them! Skoove has a brilliant blog that might help you to improve on learning how to read – and play – sheet music faster.
It is essential to learn and memorize the keys on the piano if you want to become a successful pianist. Labeling the keys when you start learning could stimulate memorization skills, and can be considered the “step one” of learning notes.
Before we look at different ways to label the keys, you’ll need to be able to find those keys…. So let’s look at the basics first.
The music alphabet
In music, we name notes with the same alphabet we use to spell. Namely A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
There is no H or any other letter other than the first 7 letters of the Latin alphabet as we know it.
The white keys
So, let’s place the white keys. If you look at a piano or keyboard, you will see that there are two groups of black keys. The first group has two black notes, and the second has a group of three black notes. These alternate throughout the piano, from the bottom to the top. You’ll see two black notes followed by three black notes, followed by two black notes, followed by three black notes. Almost ad infinitum, but you should get what we’re saying here.
We’ll use these black keys to place the white notes. The note right before(to the left of) the group with two black notes is a C.
You’ll see that there are a few C’s on every piano or keyboard – they’re all before the two-group of black notes. If you’re feeling confused, try finding it on the skoove app:
The note next to C on the piano is a D.
I always tell my younger students about “Donkey D”. Imagine the two long black ears (the two black notes) of a donkey. Donkey D’s head(the note) is right in the middle of those black ears!
The notes following C and D are – as you probably guessed – E, F, and G.
After G, the music alphabet starts again – so, the next note is A.
Then comes B, and then C, which should be the note before the two black notes again.
So, the white notes repeat the same 7 notes – A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G repeatedly.
The black keys
The black keys are SHARPS and FLATS.
Sharp keys are the black notes immediately to the right of the white notes. So, the first of the black notes in the two-group of black notes is C Sharp. You will hear that it sounds a little higher than the C if you play it.
The symbol used to notate sharps looks like a hashtag – so you can write C#, D#, etc for black notes.
If a black note to the right of a white note is its sharp, then the two-group of black notes is C# and D#. If we look at the three-group of black notes, they would be F#, G#, and A#.
Flat keys are the black notes immediately to the left of the white notes. So, the first of the black notes in the two-group of black notes is a D Flat. You will see that it is slightly left of the D, and you will hear that it sounds lower than the D.
The symbol used to notate flats looks like a lowercase letter B. The right way to write B Flat would look like this: Bb.
So the two-group of black notes are Db and Eb. The three-group of black notes are Gb, Ab, and Bb.
To recap then: sharp is higher, and flat is lower. You will often hear “sharp” and “flat” used as music terms. For example, you might hear someone say that a choir sang a little sharp. Or a guitar teacher might tell a student that his A-string is flat.
Random fact: Most toilets flush in E-flat. Yank the chain, hum the note you hear, and then try playing an Eb on your piano. Betcha it’s the same note!
The five most popular ways to label your piano keyboard’s keys
Now that you know how to find all the different notes, it should be quite easy to label them.
There are many different ways to label your piano keyboard – all of them with their own pros and cons. These are the five most popular ones.
1) Color coding the notes.
Color coding might be a good option if you are labeling the piano for a young beginner. Kids who can’t read or write yet often learn the placement of notes using the color-coding system early in their musical journeys.
Some older beginners start by learning how to play by ear first. This article on skoove will take you through the motions of getting started on that journey.
You won’t be “reading” music if you play by ear. So, starting with the color coding method might be a good option for you then.
I personally like the color-coding method, because I feel it encourages memorization more. You’re not physically writing the notes on the keys, and you would still need to associate a certain color with a certain note. It’s a win-win situation!
What you need:
-Colored dot stickers, available at any major retailer of office supplies. Make sure that they are self-adhesive, and that you get sheets or rolls of at LEAST five different colors.
How to label your piano keyboard with the color-coding method:
Start by finding middle C, and stick a red dot on it.
Next, place a green dot on D
A yellow dot on E
An orange dot on F,
And finally, a black dot on G.
Most beginner pieces and exercises are centered around the first five notes of the C major scale. These five notes are the notes C-G we have just labeled. Some of them use even fewer – like the theme of Jaws, which uses only two notes! Don’t believe me? Try it on skoove:
Don’t focus too much on colors – these are purely illustrative. You can use any five colors that you can find. If you have more than five colors in your sticker pack, continue labeling the next two keys – A and B too.
Here’s an interesting fact about recent research from the University of California, Berkeley. Scientists found that our brains are wired to make music-color connections corresponding with how the music that we are listening to makes us feel! The folks from neurosciencenews explains it here, if you’re interested in reading more.
2) Writing all the notes on the keys.
As the heading suggests, labeling your keys by writing all the notes on the keys involves you placing the entire music alphabet on the keyboard. If you are looking for the easiest way to get playing, this is it!
What you need:
A roll of white dot stickers, which you should find at any retailer selling office supplies. You could also use blank name tag stickers which you can cut into smaller circles yourself or Post-it notes cut to size.
How to label your keys by writing all the notes on the keys.
This is easy to do, provided that you know where all the keys are. The trick is to do it right the first time- but if you make a mistake, just take the stickers off and start over. Patience = virtue.
Start by finding middle C on your piano or keyboard.
Next, stick a white sticker on each of the white notes from C to C. You should be placing 8 stickers on the keys.
Lastly, put a sticker on each of the black notes. There should be 5 black notes that need stickers if you placed your first C correct.
You’re ready to label those keys!
If you made sure that you put the first sticker on C, you can go ahead. Write C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C on the stickers on the white keys.
Your final step is to write all the black note names on the stickers you put on them. You have the choice of either writing their names in as sharps or as flats. I suggest you do both if you are using this method to label the notes.
Do it like such:
On the two-group of Black notes, label the first note as C# / Db, and the second note as D# / Eb.
To complete the labeling process, label the last three black notes, in the three-group as F# / Gb,G# / AbandA# / Bb.
Once all the keys have been labeled, you are ready to start playing piano! Why not head over to the skoove app to try and play a song? This easy arrangement of Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t worry be happy’ might be a good start:
3) Labeling SOME of the notes on the keys.
Writing some of the notes on the keyboard, entails you labeling just some of the notes on your piano or keyboard. You decide how many notes you think you want or need to label to make your learning experience better.
What you need:
A roll of white dot stickers, which you should find at any retailer selling office supplies.
How to label some of the notes on the piano keyboard
There are many ways of going about this. For instance, you could only label the white notes. Or just some of the white notes. Perhaps you would want to label only the A, B, and C notes. Or the C note, the E note, and the G note.
Some students will start out labeling all the notes on their piano keyboards, and then start taking labels off as they progress. Eventually, you will end up with a situation where only a few of the notes have labels on. This might be a good approach if you are a solid beginner who likes a bit of a challenge.
There is an art to practicing piano the right way. If you’d like to get those stickers off as soon as possible, these might be good pointers!
4) Going all out – notes and notations.
This the right option for people who want to go the whole nine yards. If you want to see what the notes you play look like on actual sheet music, you will want to use this method. You will label all the notes on the piano with their note-names, and a small image of its notation.
What you will need
You’ll need to buy a set of piano stickers specifically designed for this purpose.
There isn’t really a do-it-yourself option here. While it might be possible to make these notations yourself, you will need to be a seasoned musician to do so. And, if you were a seasoned musician you wouldn’t need them. Catch 22!
Many music shops and sheet music retailers have toys, gadgets, and other aids on sale. And, that’s where you will find something like this:
This specific sticker set also retails on Amazon, and you can buy it here.
How to label all your keys with pre-printed stickers:
These stickers can tear easily – so be careful when you open the packet and place them!
Then, find middle C on the piano. If you bought a sticker set with more than one octave of stickers, find the other C’s too. Stick the correct stickers on them after you’ve done middle C.
After the C’s, place all the D’s on the piano. Then the E’s, the F’s, and so on.
Once all the white notes have been labeled, move on to the black notes – so label all the sharps and flats. Start with the two-group(C# and D#), and finish with the three-group(F#, G#, and A#) of black notes.
5) Just give me a start…
I call this method the ‘Just give me a start’ method because that is literally what it is. Beginner pianists often feel that they struggle to find their initial hand placement – but once they do, they easily play their practice pieces. To help with placement, use this method by labeling only your starting position.
What you need:
You need any sticker or sticky note. This can be a post-it note, an unused gift label, a name tag, or anything of the sort.
How to label your piano for a starting hand position.
If your sticker is of the bigger variety, cut it into a smaller size of about 1cm by 1cm.
Then find middle C on your piano, stick your sticker on it, and write C on it with a marker.
This should guide you enough to find your starting position, which is usually with your thumb on the C that you have just labeled. You can try playing Beethoven’s popular Ode to Joy melody with your hand in the C position. This lesson on skoove will take you through it:
These five ways to label your piano should get you started on your musical journey. The skoove piano learning app follows a solid methodology that should get you there in no time. While you’re at it, all the best with your practice – remove those stickers when you’re ready, and at your own pace.
May learning how to play the piano be a fun and fruitful journey for you. And, may your name get carved into the music halls of fame one day!
Author of this blog post:
Roelof Strydom is a 30-something-year-old wordsmith whose content has been published globally. He was born with perfect pitch and honed his sight reading skills while attending the world-renowned Drakensburg Boys Choir School. When he is not writing, he spends his time playing the piano, drinking red wine, reading good books, or operating the cruise control of his old ‘Benz in the wide-open spaces of South Africa where he lives. He owns a music school currently teaching music to about 250 students and is a popular entertainer doing pianoman-type gigs in Johannesburg.