Learning to play the piano is a fun and exciting adventure. Sharing music with your friends and family and developing a creative skill like piano makes life more enjoyable and helps build confidence and satisfaction.
However, some beginning students can feel overwhelmed when they start to learn the piano keyboard. The piano keyboard layout might seem confusing, look like it makes no sense, and leave you feeling lost.
However, there is an easy strategy you can use to conquer this problem. Create labeled piano keys!
The musical alphabet
The piano keys follow the order of the musical alphabet. If you are not familiar with the musical alphabet, now is a great time to memorize it. There are twelve letters in the musical alphabet, one for every note. The musical alphabet is:
A, A♯/B♭, B, C, C♯/D♭, D, D♯/E♭, E, F, F♯/G♭, G, G♯/A♭
You may notice that some piano notes have two names. These notes are called enharmonic equivalents. Dive deeper into this and other music theory topics with Skoove lessons!
The notes on the piano keys
Now that we know the musical alphabet and the order of the notes, let’s apply the corresponding notes to the piano keyboard.
Finding middle C
Labeling piano keys is quite simple. While it may seem intuitive to start with A as it is the first letter of the alphabet, most students start by labeling middle C on the piano. We often start with middle C because it is the root of the C major scale, which includes all the white keys. Down the road, you can think of the C major scale as a neutral starting place for more advanced music theory.
Do you know how to find the middle C on the piano? Finding middle C is a foundational aspect of learning how to play piano. Middle C is in different places depending on the number of keys on your piano keyboard. However, we can generally assume that it is the C more or less in the middle of the piano.
Let’s try and find it. Do you notice the repeating pattern of groups of two and three black keys on the piano? C is found on the left side of the group of two black keys. Here it is on the piano:
Why label the piano keys?
Labeling your piano keys will help you in many ways. It will help you to memorize the notes more quickly. It will help you to understand the visual pattern on the piano. It will help you to read piano sheet music faster. And, it will help you have more fun with the piano sooner!
How to label keys on the piano
Before we go further, let’s look at some methods we can use to physically label piano keys. Depending on the type of instrument you have, some methods will be more preferable. For example, you would likely mark piano keys on an expensive grand piano differently than you might on a budget model digital piano.
Use colored stickers
One method you can use is colored stickers. Instead of marking the letter name on each key, you can mark groups of keys with a specific color. For example, all the C notes could be red, all the E notes could be blue, and all the F notes could be green.
This strategy can help you build color associations with notes and help you visualize the repeating patterns on the piano keyboard. Additionally, these types of stickers can often be easily removed and any residue quickly cleaned off.
Use a marker
Another strategy for marking note names is to use a marker. If you have a budget model digital piano, marking piano keys with a permanent marker might be alright with you. Downsides to this strategy include:
- You can’t erase
- Marker might bleed onto your fingers
Use readymade piano stickers
A common choice among beginning piano students is to use readymade piano stickers. These stickers often come pre-made to fit the piano keyboard diagram and are a fast way to memorize all the keys. Some stickers are better than others, but generally this is the most obvious and simple strategy to labeling piano keys.
Label the keys that you need
Alternatively, you might take a slightly more challenging approach and only label the piano keys that you need. Or, you might not label the same note every time. For example, you might only label E – F – G in one spot so that you are forced to memorize the pattern visually in other spots.
Again, if you have a less expensive digital piano, you might opt to use a dry-erase marker. Using a dry-erase marker is more advantageous than a permanent marker since it can be easily cleaned. However, you would leave your piano practice with marker on your finger tips.
Labeling the remaining keys
Now that you have chosen your labeling method, let’s finish the job and label piano keys. Let’s start with the white keys.
The white keys
All the white keys on the piano are natural letters, meaning they do not have a flat (♭) or sharp (♯) attached to them. This makes the task of labeling the white keys quite simple.
From middle C, move one white key to the right and mark D, then E, F, G, then A, next B, and finally back at C. Congratulations! You have labeled the white keys on the piano in one octave. Your piano keyboard should now look like this:
The black keys
Now that you have the white keys labeled in one octave, let’s move onto the black keys. In one octave, you have one group of two black keys and one group of three black keys. Let’s take a look.
Starting from middle C, move to the black key on the right. Label this key C♯/D♭. You should have this on your piano:
Move to the next black key to the right and label it D#/Eb like this:
Now you have the group of two black keys labeled. Jump to the first black key in the group of three black keys. Label this key F#/Gb like this:
Move one more key to the right and label it G#/Ab. And finally label the last black key A#/Bb. Congratulations, you have now labeled all the black keys inside of one octave. Your black keys should look like this:
And your full octave of keys should look like this:
Different types of pianos labeled
There are a handful of different arrangements for pianos. Some pianos have a full 88 keys. Some pianos have 61 keys. Some pianos only have 52 keys. Some pianos even have 36 keys!
With all of those variables, it can be easy to get confused about where your keyboard starts. This is another reason why starting from middle C is a good idea.
- 88 piano keys labeled
Here is a diagram showing 88 labeled piano keys:
- 61 piano keys labeled
Here is a diagram showing 61 labeled piano keys:
- 36 piano keys labeled
Here is a diagram showing 36 labeled piano keys:
Should you label your piano keys?
There is some debate amongst piano teachers whether students should label piano keys. In short, labeling the piano keys makes it easy for you to play piano at the beginning. You should label them, memorize them, and remove the labels as quickly as possible.
Labeling your piano keys is a great way to get a head start to memorize your piano notes. No matter which way you choose to label them, it is always best to start from middle C and work your way out through the white keys and the black keys. If you need to label every octave, go ahead and do that!
Remember, the best musicians often make copious notes on their sheet music so they don’t forget in the heat of the performance. Why should learning the piano be any different? Make it easier on yourself, not uselessly difficult. And remember that Skoove is here to make your musical journey all the more satisfying. Sign up today and watch your piano playing take off!
In case you have some more questions, here are some further answers.
Taking the time to label the keys for yourself is the best method. That way you make the connection yourself with the note names and piano keys. It does not matter which physical medium you use to label the keys, as long as you label them accurately.
Ideally, a beginner would have 88 keys on their piano. However, anything with at least 4 octaves (36 keys) will work.
Practice! Labeling the keys will help you to memorize the keys, but you need to practice!
Author of this blog post
Eddie Bond is a multi-instrumentalist performer, composer, and music instructor currently based in Seattle, Washington USA. He has performed extensively in the US, Canada, Argentina, and China, released over 40 albums, and has over a decade experience working with music students of all ages and ability levels.