At first glance, the piano seems like one of the easiest instruments to learn. You don’t have to tune it like a guitar. You don’t have to blow into it like a trumpet. You don’t have to hit it in a certain way like drums.
All you have to do is sit down and play the notes on the piano, right? Super simple.
In theory, yes it’s that simple. But, you obviously have to understand which notes to play on the keyboard in order to create the right sound. Memorizing the notes on the piano can take time and then you have to translate those notes to sheet music.
If you are just learning how to play the piano or are struggling how to remember piano notes, we’ve got some techniques to make it easier.
And once you can remember piano notes, there’s reading sheet music. So, we also look at the basics of reading piano sheet music and how that translates to the piano keys.
Why is it Important to Remember Piano Notes?
When you play the piano, you want it to sound as natural and flowing as possible. Being able to recognize notes means that you won’t be stumbling and stopping as you play a piece of music on the piano.
Reading notes on the piano and reading sheet music is like learning a new language. We are all fluent in our own language and so when we speak it flows easily and effortlessly. That is what you want to eventually aim for when you play the piano. Over time, as you start playing piano by ear and memorizing notes, your piano playing will sound effortless as you start to locate all the notes instantly.
Techniques for Learning Piano Notes
There are many methods and techniques that you can use to memorize piano notes. Which one you choose is down to personal preference. Some people find mnemonics really useful, while others prefer to use other forms of music theory for reading music.
Some piano teachers hate mnemonics and think of them as a lazy way to recognize notes and read sheet music. But provided you don’t rely on them too much, they are a great way to help you read notes.
There’s no right or wrong way for remembering piano notes, it’s whatever method you feel most comfortable with. After all, you are the one who wants to play piano, so it’s up to you to decide which technique works best for you.
To help you on your journey, we’ve put together some tips and techniques that you can use to memorize piano notes.
When you read music or play the piano, you might be surprised to learn that there are only seven notes. Each note is represented by a letter of the alphabet. The notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
Those seven notes keep repeating, and form an octave. An octave is actually 8 notes and includes the A of the next octave. When you look at a piano, you can split it into octaves. A standard 88 key piano has 7 1/4 octaves.
Labeling the Piano Keys
If you want an easy way to remember each piano key, you could buy some removable piano note key stickers. They are available on Amazon and will help you to easily locate the notes on the piano keyboard.
The best types of key stickers show the name of the piano key note, and also how the same note looks on both the treble and bass clef on sheet music, which enhances note recognition.
Key stickers are available for both adults and children who are learning to play piano.
Starting with Middle C
We have to start somewhere on the piano, and most piano teachers will tell you to start with middle C. This note is the center of the piano universe, the most common of landmark notes, and the foundation of piano study. Before you go any further, take a look at this YouTube video which explains how and where to find it on the piano.
When we look at a piano, there are a whole lot of C’s – a sea of C’s you might say! On an 88 key piano, there are 8 C notes.
Middle C is one of the landmark notes on a piano. Landmark notes help you to identify where other notes are on the piano, and on sheet music. It’s also the first note that a beginner will learn on the piano. Once you find it, you should be able to work out the other notes around it.
It’s called middle C not because it is in the middle of the piano keyboard, but because it is in the middle of the grand staff right between the bass clef and treble clef staff.
The White Keys
Once you can confidently locate the piano key that is middle C, you can start to learn the remainder of the white keys.
It’s important that you have a good understanding of the white keys before you even try to learn the black keys. In fact, it’s your knowledge of the white keys that will make learning the black keys so much easier.
Say the names of the white keys out loud
Looking at the piano keyboard, locate middle C and begin to work up and down from there. Start with the adjacent notes. The note B is on the left and D is on the right. If you know your alphabet, it will make learning notes a whole lot easier.
Use your index finger to play the white keys only and say the note names out loud as you go – C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Go up two octaves – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C and come back down. Start slowly, and as you learn notes with confidence, start to speed it up.
Say the names of the black keys out loud
Remember that the black keys are all sharps or flats. The black notes are grouped together in threes or pairs. The video below explains how to find and name the black keys.
If a black key is to the right of a white key it is the relative sharp of that note – the symbol for a sharp is #. If a black key is to the left of a white key it is the relative flat of that note -the symbol for a flat is b.
Now follow the same technique as you did for learning the white keys and travel up two octaves. As you play each black piano key speak the note out loud.
Play two octaves – C#, D#, F#, G#, A#, C#, D#, F#, G#, A#, C#
Once you are comfortable with the sharps, you can do the same again this time naming the flat notes. Remember that flat notes are to the left of the relative white key.
Play two octaves – Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db.
Finding random notes
Once you feel comfortable playing the notes and saying them aloud in their order, start to mix things up a bit. To help with your note recognition, write each note name on an individual piece of paper and pull them one at a time out of a jar. Identify the note on the keyboard and then play it, saying the name aloud at the same time. If someone is with you, ask them to say the name of the note and then you play it.
Playing games like this will help you with your note identification and sight reading abilities. You could take it one step further and write the same note on the treble or bass staff.
Listening and training your ear to hear musical notes will become easier the more you play the piano. Eventually, you will start to recognize and name the notes that you hear. Once you gain that skill (and it will happen without you realizing it) you will know instinctively whether you are playing the correct note just by listening to it.
It’s a good idea to practice recognizing notes. You can either ask someone to play a single note for you and guess which note it is or use one of the many apps that help you to identify notes on the piano from their sound.
Train Your Hands
As you get your ears used to hearing the notes, and your eyes can read notes on the piano keys, you also have to train your hands to play the correct note.
When you start playing the piano, our ears, eyes, and hands all work in unison together. There is only one way to do this and that is by the dreaded P word. Practice! After plenty of practice, your hands will eventually develop muscle memory and will remember where the notes are.
A great way to build muscle memory is by playing scales. Before you play anything on the piano, no matter how skilled you are, you should always practice your scales to warm your hands up and re-familiarize your fingers with the piano keys. Even professional piano players still practice their scales.
Learning to Read Sheet Music
Learning the notes on a keyboard or piano is relatively straightforward. The hard part is finding those same notes on sheet music and relating them to the piano keyboard.
There are a couple of ways that you can learn notes on sheet music, and we’re going to look at how to use mnemonics and labels.
When you look at a piece of piano sheet music, you will see two sets of lines. Each set consists of five lines and four spaces and is known as a staff. The top staff represents the treble clef and the bottom set represents the bass clef.
The treble clef
As a rule, you play the treble clef notes with your right hand and the bass clef notes with your left hand. The treble clef is also called the G clef because the treble clef symbol starts on the G note.
Starting with the treble clef staff, begin by labeling the spaces between the lines. This is where mnemonics come in. The spaces between the lines spell out F-A-C-E.
Next, label all of the lines in the treble clef staff. E-G-B-D-F, or a good mnemonic is “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge”, or “Every Good Boy Deserves Food”.
The bass clef
Once you have memorized your treble clef, it’s time to label the bass clef staff. The bass clef staff is also called the F clef because the bass clef symbol starts in the f note.
Labeling the bass clef is the same concept as labeling the treble clef. Begin by labeling the notes between the spaces. A-C-E-G, or “All Cows Eat Grass”.
The next step is to label the lines of the staff. G-B-D-F-A, or “Good Boys Do Fine Always”. You can of course make your own rhymes up but if you can remember your mnemonic sentences, you will be able to remember all of the lines on the treble clef and bass clef staff.
An alternate method for learning to read sheet music is to learn the landmark notes, then use that knowledge to help you read adjacent notes. Landmark notes are easily identified on the staff, and allow you to quickly figure out the adjacent notes.
Knowing When to Play the Bass Clef or the Treble Clef
When you look at a piece of sheet music and you identify a D note or an E note, for example. How do you know which D or E to play on the piano? After all, there is more than just one on a piano keyboard.
The clue is where the note is on the piano. Remember our middle C? Any keys to the right of C are treble notes and the keys to the left of C are bass notes.
When you look at your piano music, any notes on the bass clef staff are played with the left hand at the lower end of the piano. Notes on the treble clef staff are played with the right hand on the upper end of the piano.
Label your sheet music
Once you have identified your treble and bass staff, you can start to label the music. Begin by finding an easy piece of music that you want to learn.
Next, go through the piece and write all the letter names below the music notes. If you use a pencil you can rub the names out later. Start by labeling all of the white notes, and once you have learned them, you can move onto the black keys and label all of the sharps and flats.
We don’t recommend that you do this every time you learn a piece of sheet music, but there’s no reason why you can’t use this method when you first start learning.
Memorize Piano Notes
Once you have labeled your piano notes and your sheet music, it’s time to start to remember the notes. Eventually, you will have to remove the labels from your piano keys and stop labeling the treble or bass staff.
Obviously, that will all come with time and one day it will come naturally and you won’t even remember what it was like when you couldn’t remember notes.