What are the music note names used in Western music?
In Western music, we can distinguish 12 different notes. Every song or piece of music is made of only those 12 different notes.
The easiest way to show the 12 notes is on a piano keyboard. On the keyboard, you can see a repetitive pattern of white and black keys.
One such a pattern consists of 12 keys,
7 white keys:
and 5 black keys:
Those are exactly the 12 different notes in Western music we spoke of above.
The note names of the white keys
This might sound funny, but to find the names of the white keys, look first at the black keys: they come in groups of 2 black keys and 3 black keys. Just at the left of a group of 2 black keys you can find the note C.
To find the names of the other white keys, just go up alphabetically to G as in the next figure.
Now, we have to name 2 more white keys. Notice that we’ve used the letters C to G in alphabetical order, but we haven’t used the 2 first letters of the alphabet yet. So, let’s use them for the 2 missing keys, as follows:
The note names of the black keys
Do you remember that we had to look at the black keys first to find the names of the white keys? Well, let’s reverse the roles now: to find the names of the black keys, we have to look at the white key names first, since the names of the black keys are derived from the white key names.
As you can see, a black key is always situated between 2 white keys. The black key indicated by the arrow in the figure below is for example between the C and the D. As this note is higher than the C, but lower than the D (the pitch of the notes gets higher when you go from left to right), we call this note C sharp, or D flat. So, sharp means: the note just at the right, and flat means: the note just at the left. We write C sharp as C# and D flat as Db.
So the black keys actually have 2 names, the name of the white key at the left with a sharp (#) sign, or the name of the white key at the right with a flat (b) sign.
In the next figure, you can see all the names of the notes on a piano keyboard.
As you can see, this is a pattern of 12 different notes (represented on the piano by 7 white keys and 5 black keys) that repeats itself.
Double sharps and double flats
Btw, notice that on the right side of the B and on the right side of the E, there is no black key. So you could call the C also B#, and the F an E#. Or, in the same way, you could call the B a Cb and the E an Fb. In music theory, this is sometimes needed (the 7th note in the F# major scale is an E#, not an F, even if it is exactly the same note). It is even possible to have double flats (bb) or double sharps (##). For example, a C## is raised 2 times, so this is equivalent to a D. A shorter writing for double sharp looks a bit like an x (see figure below), so Cx would be the same note as C## or just simply D.
Two notes that are written differently, but that are actually one and the same note, are called enharmonic equivalent notes.
C# and Db are for example enharmonic equivalent notes: they are written differently, but are the same note.
- A# and Bb
- E# and F
- F## (or Fx) and G
- Bbb and A
After this lesson, you should be able to recognize the keys of the piano and know the names of the corresponding notes. In the beginning, you will probably not remember every note and every key on the piano, so just practice 5 minutes a day and you will see: in no time you will master it.
The exercises that are accesible via the links below will certainly help you to practice the notes.
Recommended exercises for music note names
Which note is played on the piano?
Place the note on the right key of the piano
Did you already know the note names and/or the corresponding keys on the piano? Did this lesson help you to learn the notes and keys on the piano? If so, please leave a comment below.