Why Are Piano Keys Arranged a Certain Way?

Bay Area Yamaha Piano Store Unravels the Mystery

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Investing in a new piano may provide years of joy as well as the ability to pass on a legacy for musical expression to the next generation. However, those new to the piano may notice something intriguing about the keys. Regardless of piano type, the keys always follow a specific pattern of white and black. Before you start “tickling the ivories” – or getting piano lessons for your children – take time to understand this curious pattern.

Generally, modern, standard pianos feature 88 keys in total. The keys follow a pattern with black, raised keys separating the white keys in increments of 2 and 3 black keys to 3 and 4 white keys. This effect allows for two white keys to be completely aligned intermittently.

If you look at a standard instrument – a Yamaha piano, for instance — you will see the same pattern. The keys are structured in increments of black and white to provide pianists with a visual cue for certain notes. Without black keys, pianists would have difficulty finding middle C or any other note. The particular pattern structure is an historical artifact – early piano makers evolved that pattern, and craftspeople just copied it over the years. Pianos need to be standardized so that pianists can move from instrument to instrument easily. Hence, we see the peculiar, but ubiquitous key pattern.

The black keys send out sharp and flat notes, and white keys emit a natural note. Additionally, black keys have a dual role as a sharp of one natural note and a flat of another. Overall piano key structure allows pianists to read compositions and play simultaneously without difficulty.

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