Lesson 3: Naming the Notes and Navigating the Keys

Lesson 3: Naming the Notes and Navigating the Keys

You have eighty-eight shiny ivory and black keys glistening under your hands right now.  That much you might have known.

Now what?

The very basic building block of learning how to play the piano is figuring out the names of the notes and how to navigate the keys.


No, I’m not being sarcastic.  This is much easier than it seems.  Once you’ve learned this, you’ll wonder why you thought it was so hard to begin with.

Let’s start with the naming.

The Musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet begins with C.


And then it repeats.

That’s pretty much it.

So it goes on C-D-E-F-G-A-B- C-D-E-F-G-A-B- C-D-E-F-G-A-B- C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Just like that.

These keys are all of the white keys.

What about the black keys?

If you are moving UP towards a black key, (up is to the right on the piano), then you call the note SHARP (# is the symbol for sharp). So, if you are moving up to a black key from D, you’ve moving to D Sharp (D#).

If you’re going down (down is to the left) on the piano to a black key, the note is then called FLAT (b is the symbol for flat.) So if you are moving down to a black key from D, you’ve moving to D Flat (Db).

High, low, up, down

Some basic terminology:

High refers to notes that are lighter in sound; the more you move on the right side of the piano, the higher the notes get. Think soprano.

Low refers to those rich bass sounds. Find these low notes towards the left.

Going up means go to the right.

Going down means move to the left.

Piano Navigation

Let’s have a look-see at our map, shall we?

You’ll see a grouping of two black keys and then a grouping of three black keys. You’ll see these all the way up and down the piano.

Starting from the first white key on the left, we start our musical alphabet:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B- and ultimately ending with C

C is always, always, always located at the bottom of that first set of two black keys.

When in doubt about your whereabouts, always go back to C.

Or look at the handy-dandy cheat-sheet map here.


Not only do you now know the names of the notes and how to navigate the piano, you can also play your first scale of the piano—the C scale.  Play the musical alphabet in order CDEFBABC and then come back from whence you came.

A great song to use up a lot of C scale notes is Joy To The World! It starts at the high C on the C scale and moves down and uses up all the notes of the scale.

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