Natural and Accidental Notes of the Piano

Child's hands on a piano keyboard.

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White piano keys are called "naturals." They sound a natural (♮) note when pressed, as opposed to a sharp or flat. There are seven naturals on the keyboard: C-D-E-F-G-A-B. After the B, the scale repeats itself on the next C. This means you only have to memorize seven notes.

Looking at a piano keyboard, you'll see the alphabetical order of the notes from left to right. There is no H note on the keyboard. After G, the letters start back at A.

Find a C note on your keyboard, and identify each white key until you reach the next C. Do this until you feel comfortable enough with the keyboard to name the notes in random order. Some Northern European countries use H to signify a B natural, and B to signify B flat.

Accidentals on the Piano

Black piano keys are called accidentals; these are the sharps and flats of the piano.

On the keyboard, there are five black accidentals per octave. They can be either sharp or flat and are named after the notes they modify.

  • Sharp (♯ or #)

A sharp makes a note a half step higher in pitch. On the keyboard, a note’s sharp is the black key directly to its right. Try it by finding a C note on your keyboard and identify its sharp.

  • Flat (♭ or b)

A flat makes a note a half step lower in pitch. On the keyboard, a note’s flat is the black key directly to its left. Try it by finding a D note and identify its flat on the keyboard.

B and E notes aren't followed by a black key, so the white note that follows each acts as its accidental. This is because the keyboard layout is based on the C major scale, which contains no sharps or flats. When notes go by more than one name, it’s called "enharmony."

Memorizing the Notes

  1. Identify the white keys individually, and practice naming them until you can find each note without counting from C.
  2. You don’t need to memorize each sharp and flat by name just yet, but remember how to locate them on the keyboard using the natural keys.

Standard Range

A standard 88-key piano contains just over 7 octaves, made up of 52 white keys and 36 black keys. Its notes range from A0 to C8.

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