This series of Piano Basics is intended for parents to help their beginning piano students practice.  For parents who do not have know background in music, these posts will help you understand what your child is working on at the piano.  Check out all of the posts in this series to learn the basics.

For someone who doesn’t play the piano, a keyboard might look like a confusing collection of black and white keys.  Fortunately, they are organized in a way that is very easy to understand.

When we sit at the piano, the low keys are to the left and the high keys are to the right.

The first and most obvious observation is that some keys are white and some are black.

Let’s look at the black keys first.  You’ll quickly notice that they follow a pattern – a group of 2, a group of 3, a group of 2, a group of 3, etc.  At the very bottom of the piano (the left side), there is an incomplete group of 3, so there is 1 single black key.

For now, it isn’t important to know what the black keys are called, just that they follow this pattern of 2, 3, 2, 3.  Most beginning piano methods, including my favorite, Piano Adventures, begin with students playing simple songs on black keys.

There is a diagram on the top of the page showing which black keys to use, and which fingers to use.  Usually, you will find instructions that tell where on the piano to play (low, middle or high).

Black keys are a good starting point for beginners because they are such easy landmarks on the keyboard.  Once students have the hang of playing the on the black keys, they move to the white keys.

The white keys are named after letters A-G.  The lowest white key of the piano is an A, followed by B, C, etc.  After G, you’re back to A and the pattern repeats all the way up the piano.

You’ll notice that the white keys have their own landmarks, based on how they fall between black keys.

C is always at the bottom of the group of 2 black keys.

D looks like dog in a doghouse. 🙂

E is at the top of the group of 2 black keys.

F-G-A-B surround the 3 black keys.

Handy Houses is a great little book that reads like a story but teachers students to find landmarks on the piano. It’s a very efficient and memorable way to learn the keys!

Parents, for young children trying to learn the names of the white keys, turn it into a game.  There are a lot of simple ways to help a child get to know the keys:

  • Name the keys all the way up the piano, starting at the bottom.
  • Have your student play each letter, ie play all the C’s, all the D’s, etc.  Ask them to count how many there are of each note.
  • Place an object like an eraser, a coin, game piece, or small toy on each letter.
  • Play a key and ask your student to name it.

Teachers, what are some tricks you use to teach young students to navigate the keyboard?

Read more about piano basics here:

Learning finger numbers

The very first “song” students learn on the white keys

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