What You Need to Know About the Piano Keys Chart

Where does the music teacher keep her keys?

In the piano of course!

A full-size piano is made up of 52 white keys and 36 black keys [1]. Luckily for you, the same note names will continue to repeat themselves over and over.

A chart of all the keys is a powerful learning tool that can help you understand the theory behind the note names. Here we will cover what a piano keys chart is and how to read one.

Piano Keys Chart

First, you have to understand that a piano keys chart is a visual learning tool. For the purpose of learning the word, “keys” is strictly referring to the physical keys on a piano. Heres the piano keyboard layout for you to learn.

There are customized charts may start on another note to help you learn a new scale. In this article, we will use a standard chart that uses middle C as our starting point.

When you look at a standard chart you’ll see 7 white keys.

  • C
  • D
  • E
  • F
  • G
  • A
  • B

You will also find 5 black keys, each one representing 2 possible names.

  • C#/Db
  • D#/Eb
  • F#/Gb
  • G#/Ab
  • A#/Bb

Remember that the same notes repeat themselves on any size piano or keyboard. CDEFGAB repeats itself 7 times and that’s why a piano has 7 different octaves.

It’ll help you learn if you sit in front of a real piano or keyboard when looking at the piano key chart. Locate middle C and rest your right-hand thumb on top of it. Next, look at the C key (first note) on your chart.

Once you’re comfortable with finding middle C on the piano and then on the chart, do the next key. Continue to touch each physical key and then look at the key name on the chart.

Not only will you learn the key names, but you’ll also get to practice what it’s like to read music while playing.

Half Step or Semitone

Now we’ll explain the theory behind the names of the keys you just played. You start with C and moving up to the black key play a C# (or Db).

The distance between these 2 notes is called a semitone. Other names for this distance are half-tone or the more popular term half-step.

A semitone is the smallest interval you could possibly use in western classical music [2]. These half steps are used to create sharps and flats. Practice teaching yourself half steps by going through the entire chart in half-step intervals.

You don’t need to memorize anything, the practice alone will build the foundation you need. After you feel comfortable with half steps you can teach yourself the whole steps.

Say each note out loud as you play it on the piano and look at it on the chart. C (play), C#(play), D (play) and continue on until you’ve completed the entire chart.

This exercise helps you train your ear to hear the small semitone intervals.
With a little simple math, you can easily agree that 1/2 plus 1/2 equals one. Using what you just learned about half steps, see if you can find the whole steps on your chart.

A whole step from C (two half steps combined) is D. Do the same exercise for the whole steps as you did with the half steps. Once you feel you’ve mastered the two steps separately, mix things up.

Give yourself a pop quiz, play a whole step from an A# or a half step backward from a Bb. Integrating the different concepts will help you gain a better grasp on the music theory.

Sharps and Flats

Now you can begin to understand why certain keys have a # or b next to them. These symbols indicate whether a note is sharp or flat. Sharps and flats are created when you move one-half step (semitone) up from another note.

A sharp is indicated by the # sign and means to go one-half step up. A flat is notated with the b sign and means to go one-half step-down. That’s why one half step up from a D is a D# but one-half step down is a Db.

Look at the chart and find all of the sharps and flats. You’ll notice that the black keys are all sharps and flats. However, not all of the sharps and flats are black keys.

A complete standard piano keys chart will show some of the white keys with 2 possible note names. Earlier we listed the white keys like C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, but now we can go a little deeper.

The entire possible names for the white keys are:

  • C/B#
  • D
  • E/Fb
  • F/E#
  • G
  • A
  • B/Cb

D, G, and A only have one name because of their position on the piano.

Before we continue you’ll want to know that the keys of the piano aren’t the note. In other words, it can be very confusing if you are always thinking of C as 2 things (C or B#).

Instead, try to remember the theory behind how the notes are found. Remember that a half step means you’ll add a sharp and a half step down means you add a flat.

This method works better as you progress and start to practice playing in different keys.

Reading Musical Notes

Finally, you can combine your new knowledge with reading music. Find a basic C major scale notated on sheet music. You already know all of the notes, moving up from C they are: C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb,E,F,F#/Gb,G,G#/Ab,A. Where # is the sharp key and b is the flat key

Start with middle C, place your thumb on middle C and look at the sheet music. The note hanging below the lines with a line through it is middle C. The next note will probably be a whole step up (D).

How can you tell if it’s a whole step up? Remember if it’s a half step there will be a # or b next to it. If the note tells you to play a D#, locate D and go one-half step up.

Always Continue to Learn

You did it! You’re well on your way to reading a piano keys chart in your sleep.
Now you can explore the other fun, musical articles we offer.

Music Advisor is happy to help you with all of your music needs. Please visit our blog for more articles about everything music related. Or take a moment to check out our buyer’s guide, it’s free.

Stephanie Su

Started learning music when she was four years old, Stephanie is a music teacher and a music therapist who is highly proficient in Piano, Violin, Guitar, and Ukulele. She likes to learn, teach, and share her music playing experiences.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Jean-Charles - March 5, 2019

Hi Stephanie,
Thank you for sharing your knowledge in a simple way, which is very useful (I am a 60 years old learner…). If I understood correctly, there might be a typo error in the following paragraph taken from the above page: should C be followed by C#, and F be followed by F#, I wonder?
Reading Musical Notes
Finally, you can combine your new knowledge with reading music. Find a basic C major scale notated on sheet music. You already know all of the notes, moving up from C they are: C, D#, D, D#,E,F,G,G#,A.

    Stephanie Su - March 5, 2019

    Hi Jean, thanks for catching this. I edited the article just now.


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