The piano keyboard is not nearly as complicated as it first appears.

Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, there are plenty of great “virtual keyboards” on-line. One I use a lot is virtualpiano.net. Unlike other virtuals, this one is “plain” like a real keyboard. Others have the key names written on the keys. While this appears to be helpful it’s like having “L” and “R” painted on your shoes and will actually slow down your learning.

Don’t dismiss virtual pianos as “toys”. Grab a load of this (of course, it helps if you can sing) …

Getting back to what we were dong, stand back and take a look at the keyboard. Notice that there are only black keys and white keys.

Look especially at the black keys. They repeat in groups, 2, then 3, then 2 then 3, etc. This is fundamental to ALL types of keyboard. The picture below shows how the black keys relate to the “Do, Re, Me, …” pattern we discussed earlier. Follow the blue lines for each of the half-steps that we skipped over on the way up.

Octave

 
Yes, that’s all that those black keys do. They “fill in the gaps” to make a complete suite of every half-step in the entire tetrachord.

Remember the tetrachord [2, 2, 1]? Remember the pair of tetrachords [2, 2, 1], 2, [2, 2, 1]? Do you notice that adding up all these “half-notes” gives you a total of 12 “half-notes”?

Count all the keys in the keyboard group, black ones and white ones. There are 12. That’s not a coincidence. The piano keyboard is just a batch of “half-notes”.

Find the white key just to the left of the 2 black keys. Play that key and the next 3 keys, 4 keys in total, one after the other. Do you recognise it? It’s the tetrachord.

Return to the white key just to the left of the 2 black keys. Play that key and the next 7 white keys to the right, 8 keys in total, one after the other. Do you recognise it? It’s the octave.

 

There are various ways to name these keys. Only the white keys have names. There are 7 of them in the group. Right now you can call them Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Te.

One of my instructors uses numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Professionals give them letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, G).

I’ll discuss all these methods in a moment.

Meanwhile, look closely at the group. Notice that the keyboard is just a series of copies of this group.

Keyboard2

Depending on the size of your keyboard there will be varying numbers of these groups, usually an odd number (3, 5, 7). The keyboard gets bigger and bigger, but there are no more notes than the 12 you began with.

Remember that these groups are all IDENTICAL. Every group is EXACTLY the same as any other group. The groups to the right go sequentially higher in tone and the groups to the left go sequentially lower in tone.

But EVERY one is built from the tetrachord.

Depending on how your brain works there are a number of ways of looking at this. If you just played all the white notes in the group you will have noticed that there were only 7 white keys. Alternatively you could have noticed that there are a total of 12 keys in the group.

Either way, the common perception of “8 notes in an octave” is somewhat unhelpful

Right now, you have absolute total understanding of the keyboard and the sounds it can make and the total range of music that can be played.

I did tell you that it was way simpler than you could ever imagine. You now know everything there is to know.

All the rest is “frills”.

When buying a piano or a keyboard the “size” will be stated as the “number of keys”. This will, logically, always be a multiple of the number of keys in the block, plus there will always be one more key, an extra “Do” to complete the final octave.

You will always get the middle block, plus one or more each side.

Thus:

  • a “1 octave” keyboard will have (1 x 12) + 1 = 13 keys
  • a “2 octave” keyboard will have (2 x 12) + 1 = 25 keys
  • a “3 octave” keyboard will have (3 x 12) + 1 = 37 keys
  • a “4 octave” keyboard will have (4 x 12) + 1 = 49 keys
  • a “5 octave” keyboard will have (5 x 12) + 1 = 61 keys
  • a “6 octave” keyboard will have (6 x 12) + 1 = 73 keys

The next size would, normally, be “7 octave” and would have (7 x 12) + 1 = 85 keys. But this size is an oddball. It becomes what’s called a “full size” keyboard and actually gains 3 extra keys before the extreme left group, making 88 keys in total. You’ll hear this keyboard referred to as “full size” or “88 key”.

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