Piano Keys – Two Different Meanings
Good morning! This is Duane. Today I’d like to talk about the subject of piano keys.
Now there’s two meanings for piano keys. One meaning is these things on the keyboard. Those are called piano keys whether they’re black or white. For beginners, we’re going to go over that real quickly.
There’s another concept about piano keys you’re playing. When you play a song, you’re playing it in a particular key. You’re playing in the key of F, or you’re playing in the key of B flat, or you’re playing in the key of D or whatever. We’re going to talk about what it means to play in those keys. Let’s start off real simply and just talk about the piano keys, first of all, okay?
If I start at the far left end of my keyboard, and you can’t see that far down I don’t think, but that’s an A. The first white note is A, then B, C, D, E, F, G. Then it starts over again with A, B, C, D, E, F, G. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. A, B, C, and the top note is a C, okay?
There are seven octaves between the bottom note and the top key. An octave is an eight, like octopus, eight. An octave is where it encompasses from one letter to the same letter, like A to A, or B to B, or C to C. That’s an octave. There’s seven of those going from the bottom of the keyboard to the top. In total, there’s 88 keys counting all the black and white keys.
Now let’s talk about the black keys, okay? If this is C, that note is C sharp because I’m going up a half step above C, but it’s also called D flat. Every black key has two names. That’s called enharmonic notes. Enharmonic notes. They can function as a C sharp or a D flat. It depends on the situation in the song.
If that’s D, what’s that? D sharp. If that’s E, what’s that? E flat. Here’s F, so that’s F sharp or G flat. I can use it either way, can’t I? G sharp or A flat. A sharp or B flat. I think that’s as far as we’ll go in terms of piano keys.
There’s such a thing as double-flats and double-sharps, but I don’t think I’ll take that up here. Just to satisfy your curiosity, in music if you run into a B double-flat, it means to lower that B a whole step, not there but there. A B double-flat is the same as A. It’s enharmonic with A, but for reasons of key and music theory that I don’t want to explain, it would be notated on the sheet of music as a B double-flat. Okay, enough of that.
The second subject of piano keys is that you can play in a given key. Since there’s twelve different keys: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. There’s twelve different keys because if I go there, I’ve already played a C down here, haven’t I? There’s twelve different major keys I can play in. There’s also twelve different minor keys I can play in because every major key has a relative minor, a kissin’ cousin that uses the same scale.
When I play a song in the key of C … Let me play a song in the key of C. I’m basing my playing on that scale of C. If I play a song like this, I’m basing my playing on the key of D flat which goes like that. Okay? If I play a song in the key of D, I’m basing my playing on the key of D, which goes like that. We’ll talk about why it goes like that in a minute.
If I’m playing a song like this, I’m playing in the key of E flat, based on the scale of E flat, and so on. I can play in all twelve keys that way. Some are a little more difficult to play in, and some are easier to play in. You get used to playing in certain keys. Each key, incidentally, has its own sonority. It has its own feeling.
Some people argue that all keys are equal. If that’s the case, why do you think ‘Joy to the World’, for example, or the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ is played in the key of D? Because it’s a bright, bright key, okay? Handel knew that, and so that’s why he wrote it in that key. There’s a lot of songs that are very mellow that are in the key of D flat because it’s a mellow key. So each key has its own flavor. It’s mathematically almost exactly the same, but it has its own sonority.
If I’m going to play in the key of C, I’ve got to base my playing on the scale of C, which is not to say I can’t use other notes, but it’s based on this scale which goes like that. Now why does it go like that? Because there is a rule in music theory that after you pick the first note, the key you’re playing, you have to go up a whole step, and then a whole step, then a half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. Okay?
That’s easy to see in the key of C. That’s a whole step because I’m skipping that, right? That’s a whole step because I’m skipping E flat. That’s a half step because there’s nothing in the crack here besides dust. No, there’s no dust either. Okay, this is a whole step between F and G because it skips that F sharp or G flat. That’s a whole step because it skips that. That’s a whole step because it skips that, and that’s a half step.
The formula for a major scale is whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. Okay? Now that’s easy to see in the key of C because it’s all white, but let’s take another.
Let’s start on B this time. Where’s a whole step above B? It’s not here. That’s a half step. I have to go not to C but to C sharp. So the second note of the B scale is C sharp. Now I have to go up a whole step so that’s not there, is it? That’s a half step so I have to go up to D sharp, okay? Now a half step above that is E, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. In the key of B, I’m basing my playing on that scale which goes like this. It uses all the black keys, doesn’t it? Just two white keys. White, black, black, white, black, black, black, white. That’s the key of B. If I play in the key of B, I’m basing my playing on the scale of B.
Here’s the scale of B flat. Whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. Now notice I played B flat and E flat. In the key of B flat, there’s two flats, B flat and E flat. If you picked up a piece of sheet music in the key of B flat, you would see two flats in the key signature, B flat and E flat.
If I play in the key of E flat, there’s three flats: B flat, E flat, and A flat. If I played a song in the key of E flat, in the key signature it would have three flats: B flat, E flat, and A flat.
The flats always occur in the same order. In other words, if you have one flat in the song, it’s always B flat. If you have two flats, they’re always B flat and E flat. If you have three flats, it’s B flat, E flat, and A flat. If you have four flats, it’s B flat, E flat, A flat and D flat. Five flats is B flat, E flat, A flat, D flat and G flat. Six flats … Well, we won’t take it that far. We’ll just go to five flats because then we get into double-flats. That’s why we’re not going to take you that far, okay?
It’s the same in sharps. If you have one sharp in the key signature, it’s always F sharp. If you have two sharps, it’s F sharp and C sharp. If you have three sharps, it’s F sharp, C sharp, and G sharp. The order of the sharps is F, C, G, D, A, E, and B.
The order of the flats is B, E, A, D, G, C, F, and the order of the sharps is just backwards from that. Say the order of the flats backwards, and you’ll be saying the order of the sharps forward. Okay? Just a little introduction to piano keys. When you play in any key, look in the key signature to see if there’s flats or sharps.
If there’s no sharps or no flats, it’s either in the key of C or it’s in the key of A-minor, which brings us to the subject of relative minor keys. Every major key has a kissin’ cousin, a relative minor key that uses the same scale. The way you find it is, you go down a step and a half from the major key.
A step and a half. That’s a half step, and that’s a whole step, so a step and a half from C is A. Now A minor is related to the key of C because it uses the same scale. It just starts and ends on a different place. Instead of starting on C and ending on C, it starts on A and ends on A, okay? It has a different feeling. If you played chords on that, you’d have a different feeling. So every major scale has a kissin’ cousin.
Let’s do one just to make it clear. If I’m in the key of B flat say, I’m basing my playing on the key of B flat which has two flats. If I want to find the relative minor, I go down a step and a half from B flat, and that takes me to G. Now I play the B flat scale, but I play it from G to G. I come out with a different feeling.
When you learn minor scales in theory or music class, you’ll learn that there’s three kinds of minor scales. There’s a natural minor, which I just played. There’s a harmonic minor, and there’s a melodic minor. I’m going to leave it at that. Just take it by faith that if you want to get into that you’re going to encounter those scales. For the purpose of what we’re talking about today, I’m going to leave it right there.
Remember there’s twelve major keys you can play in based on the major scale. There’s twelve minor keys you can play in based on the relative minor scale. Okay?
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Here is the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA47bYYfSaE&feature=youtu.be