Piano Note Names:
Learn the Names of the Keys

Knowing the names of the piano notes is very important for learning music. Here’s the good news: it’s really easy, once you know how. And that’s exactly what we’re going to learn right here.

Now that we have a clear understanding of the layout of the piano keyboard, let’s move on to learn the names of the keys. For right now, we’re just going to learn the names of the white keys, and a little bit later we’ll come back to the black keys (and once we know the white keys, learning the black keys will be a piece of cake).

Easy As ABC

Since you are reading this, I’m assuming you know the alphabet : ). In music, we use just the first seven letters of the alphabet to name the notes on the piano:

A    B    C    D    E    F    G

After we get to the note G, the next note up from there is A again, and the pattern keeps on repeating: …A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G…

From C to C

We just have to add one tiny wrinkle, though – instead of thinking of A as the first note, it’s more convenient to think of C as the first note. Why, you ask?

Take a look at this piano key diagram with the note C labelled:

In the last lesson, we learned that the layout of the piano keys basically consists of a 12 note-pattern that keeps repeating across the keyboard. As we see here, the note C is the very first piano note of our familiar 12-note pattern! So that’s why it’s more convenient to think of the order of the notes as C to C, instead of A to A, since that’s the easiest way to visualize it.

Keep in mind, though, there’s really no such thing as the “first note” or “last note” on the piano. Notes go on forever and ever in both directions, up and down, …D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F…

Okay, so to summarize, we’re going to think of the order of the piano notes as follows:


C    D    E    F    G    A    B

Then lather, rinse, and repeat, starting the pattern all over again from C.

Labelling the Piano

Here is a diagram with the notes of a single 12-note pattern labelled by name:

And here’s one with all of the white keys labelled across 3 octaves:

From The Keyboard To The Page

As we see in the pictures above, each white key on the piano corresponds with one of these seven alphabet letter names. These are the exact same 7 letters that are used in written music notation. In this way, the keys on the keyboard relate to the music notes on a piece of paper.

With just these 7 letter names, pretty much all the music in the world is made! That’s a whole lot better than having to memorize all 80,000+ characters in the Chinese language, isn’t it?

Direction of the Piano Notes

Here would be a great place to point out that the notes on the piano are arranged lowest to highest, from left to right. Meaning, the lowest  piano note is all the way on the left, and each note to the right is a little bit higher than the last.

Here’s how the keys sound, starting from the left side of the piano and going all the way to the right:

As we saw in the diagram above, the alphabet letter names of the keys also go from left to right in alphabetical order.

The Octave

From any note up to or down to the next note with the same name is called an octave. For example, from any C up to or down to the next C is an octave, and the same with any of the other notes (G to G, D to D, F to F, and so on).

Hmm, you’re probably wondering, why are we giving the same name to more than one piano note? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give every single note its own name?

The answer has to do with how octaves sound. Take a listen to this audio example of all the E’s on a piano being played, one after the next (starting from the lowest):

As we can hear, they all sound very much alike, except that each note sounds “higher” than the next.  In other words, they all sound basically like variations of the same note. And that’s why they have the same name!  As opposed to playing, say, an A and an F, which clearly sound like two completely different notes.

Octave Equivalence

This idea that notes an octave apart sound very similar is very important to the way we hear music. And if you think about it, it’s a bit mysterious why this should happen; if we start on any piano note and move upward or downward one note at a time, each new note has its own unique sound, but then all of a sudden when we reach the octave, it sounds very similar to the first note! While we may not know exactly why this happens, it’s just something we learn to accept, like the law of gravity. It’s simply the way we hear music.

This explains why our 12-note pattern keeps repeating itself across the 88 keys of the piano. While it’s true there are only 12 unique notes, by having them repeat in different octaves we can now play each of those 12 notes in whichever octave we choose, giving us much more freedom and flexibility. For example, we have a total of 8 different C’s to choose from on the piano! Which one we choose simply depends on how high or low we want it to sound.

Practice Tips & Exercises

Note Names Quiz

Test your knowledge of this lesson with the following questions:

Image Attribution:
in line by filtran ©2009 CC by 2.0
Music by MaxiuB ©2010 CC by 2.0
practice makes perfect.
 by Jukie Bot ©2013 CC by 2.0