Numerals and Alphabet
Look at your keyboard. It has black keys and white keys. Easy enough so far. Now, look at the black keys. The black keys go along in sets of two and three. They look like they should go inbetween every white note, but there’s two black keys “missing”, so the pattern is two then three then two then three…
You don’t have to think about it at this stage or know why, just know there are a lot of keys you can play.
Ok, now some numbers. Most music happens on a rhythm of four beats. So we’ll try that first. Count out loud to four and repeat, keeping to as best a rhythm as you can.
“One, Two, Three, Four, One, Two, Three, Four…”
While you’re counting, hit random keys on the keyboard, black or white, anywhere. Just make it in time to what you’re counting. Hit a note every time you say a number.
Try different things. Try going back to the same note every time you say “One”, but with different notes for the “Two, Three, Four”. Just play random notes and get a feel for the rhythm.
Now try counting to three instead, and play a note every time you say a number.
“One, Two, Three, One, Two, Three, One…”
Try the same note always on One, and on different notes.
This will get you a feel for what the different notes sound like, and will give you a sense of rhythm.
Now try counting to different numbers, try Two, or maybe Eight.
This is the ABC you’re about to learn. In music, though, there’s only seven letters in the alphabet. A, B, C, D, E, F and G. These are repeated across the white notes. Take a look at this part of the keyboard:
My kids call this the “Doggy”, and I was told it was the “Donkey” when I was a kid myself. It sort of looks a bit like a white donkey with two black ears.
This is where the note called “D” occurs (D is for Donkey!). Everywhere on the keyboard you those two black keys, the middle white one will be “D”. Now you know forever! Knowing that the musical alphabet only goes up to G, you should be able to fill all the missing notes yourself. Like this:-
Nice. So now you know the names of all the white notes on a piano keyboard. What’s next? The Black keys.
The black keys (or accidentals, in muso-speak) are named after the note they sit next to. If it’s a black note to the right (or higher), it’s called “Sharp”. If it’s to the left (or slightly lower), it’s called “Flat”.
So the black key inbetween C and D is called C-sharp. It’s also called D-flat. So D has a D-flat next to it and a D-sharp (which is also called E-flat). You don’t have to know which one to call it by at this point, so if it helps, call them all by their sharp names, or their flat names. You won’t need to decide whether you call it a flat or a sharp until you’re writing musical scoresheets, and everybody will know what note you mean anyway.
Just to get a feel for it, try writing words with the keys. Some good words are F-A-C-E, C-A-B-B-A-G-E, and D-E-A-F. What other words can you make from ABCDEFG? Try writing some and playing them.
The notes ABCDEFG are repeated over and over again. Every time it’s repeated it’s called an Octave. (A to A is eight white notes, and oct- means eight). Middle C is the “C” note round about the centre of a normal piano keyboard. So if I said to you “Play the note “C” – an octave up from middle-C” you would know what I mean, same as if I said “play two ‘A’ notes an octave apart”. In case you’re lost, here’s a link to a Wikipedia file of Middle C played as a pure tone:
Middle C is also called C4, making C3 the octave below and C5 the octave above – you’ll find this the norm if you work with midi software. Confusingly, the octave numbering system runs from C to C, going … C3, D3, E3, F3, G3, A3, B3, C4, D4, E4, F4, G4, A4, B4, C5.
Incidentally, my tuning fork says on it, A4:440. What this means is it has been set to shake 440 times a second, or 440Hz, making the tone for the note A4, or the A above middle C. This is the standard international concert pitch and is the default tuning for all digital instruments, so if you have a guitar or other instrument you want to play along with, tuning it to A4:440 means tuning to standard concert pitch. You don’t need to know this, so don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense.
- Rhythm is counting steadily to 4, or 3 (or 8, 16 etc!)
- The music alphabet is ABCDEFG
- D is for Donkey – The two black notes on their own have a white “D” note between them.
- A black note has two names! To the left of a white note is flat. To the right, it’s sharp. Those two black notes around the white “D” are “D-flat” (also called “C-sharp”) and D-sharp (also called “E-flat”).
In the next lesson, we’ll be restricting notes into scales, so before that happens, have fun counting to four (or three) and playing any notes you like, black or white. Try and learn their names while you do…