Lesson #1: Notes on a Piano – Accidentals – The Major Scale

Welcome to my very first post on this new blog!

Today we will be going over learning the notes on a piano, as well as a brief introduction to major scales.

The first thing we have to know is our Musical Alphabet.

Music uses a specific set of letters that repeat infinitely.

They are the first 7 letters of our normal alphabet:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G, after G we go back to A.

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A (So on and so fourth)

As we ascend/go up, the letters they go up alphabetically, but when we descend/go down, the letters go backwards through the alphabet. So as we ascend/go up/to the right on a piano they go alphabetically.

Then as we descend/go down/to the left on a piano they go backwards through the alphabet.

You can see an image here:

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So when we first look at a piano we notice 2 distinct things about it.

It has 2 sets of keys on it, White Notes, and Black Notes.

The White notes are as mentioned above the normal letters from A-G.

Then we have the Black Notes.

The Black notes go in groups of 2-3, 2-3, 2-3 and also repeat, there are black notes between:

A-B, C-D, D-E, F-G, & G-A.

There are NO black noes between B-C & E-F.

This bring us to the concept of Half Steps & Whole Steps.

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These “steps” describe the distance between notes.

A Half Step is when you go to the next closes note on the right or left, either black or white.

A Whole Step is when you skip over the next closest note on the right or left.

So using our white notes only we have these steps/distances:

Ascending/going up/to the right:

A-B = Whole Step

B-C = Half Step

C-D = Whole Step

D-E = Whole Step

E-F = Half Step

F-G = Whole Step

G-A = Whole Step

These work backwards as well:

Descending/going down/ to the left:

B-A = Whole Step

C-B = Half Step

D-C = Whole Step

E-D = Whole Step

F-E = Half Step

G-F = Whole Step

A-G = Whole Step

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Now let’s take a look at our black notes.

So these black notes are still notes on the piano, but instead of calling them by only a letter name, we will call them a letter name and add something to new them.

What we are going to add are called accidentals, an accidental is a symbol in music that helps us understand the notes more specifically. There are 3 main types of accidentals (but many more) these main three accidentals are the natural, the sharp, and the flat.

Here is an image with the symbols and their names

The natural means the natural letter without any accidentals, so just the musical alphabet. Then we have a sharp, which means to raise any letter by a half step. Then we have the flat, which means to lower ay letter by a half step.

This means from C-C# is a half step, D – Db is a half step.

E-F# is a whole step (as we skip over F), F#-G# is a whole step (as we skip over G)

All black notes will have 2 names to them, this is because each black note is touching 2 separate lettered notes. So for example the first black key in between C and D can be called C sharp, or D flat (C#, Db)

Here is another image of a piano with all the letters and accidentals on the black notes.

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Finally we get to our major scale.

The major scale is a big and important thing in music. A lot of music uses this scale, and a lot of other musical ideas can be related back to the major scale.

What is a scale?

A scale is any set of musical notes ordered by pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, and a scale ordered by decreasing pitch is a descending scale. Often, especially in the context of the common practice period, most or all of the melody and harmony of a musical work is built using the notes of a single scale.

So we have 12 different notes on a piano, therefore we can have 12 different major scales.

We can build these scales starting on any of the 12 notes, and all 12 scales will be unique from one another, none of them will use all of the same notes/pitches, as the other.

We won’t build all 12 scales here today, but we will build 3 different scales.

To build a scale we will use a formula, similar to math, we follow this formula for every major scale.

This is the formula:

1,W,W,h,W,W,W,h

1 – means any note we chose/start on.

Then we move up in order of those types of steps.

Our scales will always go in alphabetical order and will usually not skip over any letters.

So if we have a scale that starts C it will go up all the letters from C up to itself without skipping over a letter, we also usually don’t want to have the same letter twice in one scale, with or without an accidental. So for example, a scale usually won’t have a D, and a D# and/or a Db. We would use a different accidental to name that note into a different letter. So how C# and Db are the same note, this concept is called an “enharmonic” So if we need D and D# we would call that D# note an Eb instead, so it goes up a letter instead of using the same latter twice.

So the easiest, and first scale, we will learn and formulate will be our C Major Scale.

So we start on C, then move up a whole step to D, up a whole step to E, up a half step to F, up a whole step to G, up a whole step to A, up a whole step to B, and finally up a half step to the note we started on but one octave higher (octave meaning some note/tone but higher or lower in sound/position).

So our C Major Scale is

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, we would then play these notes backwards, or back down, to play the descending version of the C Major scale.

C-B-A-G-F-E-D-C.

Here’s an image of our C Major Scale on the piano.

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Now we’ll build to more scales, the G Major scale, and the F Major scale. These 2 scales would be the next 2 easiest scales, as they both only contain one accidental within them.

So we start on G, go up a whole step to A, up a whole step to B, up a half step to C, up a whole step to D, up a whole step to E, up a whole step to F#, and finally up a half step to G.

G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G (so the G Major scale has 1 sharp, and that sharp is F#, we will not call it Gb because we need to call it a type of F to stay alphabetical, F# is Gb’s enharmonic)

Here’s an image of our G Major Scale on the piano.

Finally we’ll build a major scale on F.

F, up a whole step to G, up a whole step to A, up a half step to Bb, up a whole step to C, up a whole step to D, up a whole step to E, and finally up a half step to F.

F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F (so the F major scale has 1 flat, and that flat is Bb, we will not call it A# because we need to call it a type of B to stay alphabetical, Bb is A#’s enharmonic)

Here’s an image of our F Major Scale on the piano.

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Hopefully this is a good start to understanding the piano, it’s 12 notes, accidentals, and major scales. Try building some major scales on other notes to practice and learn more.

Our next lesson we will learn how to start reading music, all 12 of our major scales, we will also learn about “keys/key signatures” and how they relate to reading music, and understanding of scales.