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music theory for piano

This article is especially written for pianists (students or beginners) and is about all basic notions in musical theory.

Names of notes and positions on a piano


The names of the musical notes, from low to high, are: C D E F G A and B. And from highest to lowest, are: B A G F E D C

Here are the positions of the musical notes on a piano keyboard:

notes names on a piano keyboard

And of course, this scheme is repeated all over the keyboard of the piano:

notes names on a piano keyboard

You must memorize the order of the names of the musical notes: C D E F G A B and the reverse order.

Learn more: Music note names

Names of notes and positions on the staff


High-pitched notes are on top of the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom), and low-pitched notes are on the bottom of the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom).

If there is no more lines or space to draw music notes, ledger lines are used.

staff and ledger lines

Learn more: The staff (stave)
Game for Learning music theory: Note Reading Game for Pianists

Clefs used for the piano

Clefs are reference points for positioning the notes on the staff, and to play the piano you will need the treble clef (G-clef) and the bass clef (F-clef).

The treble clef, the pianist's right hand

Most of the time, the pianist's right hand plays notes written in treble clef. The treble clef determines the position of the G note, and all other notes will be placed according to this reference.

Below are more music notes in treble clef:

Notes positions in treble clef

The bass clef, the pianist's left hand

Most of the time, the pianist's left hand plays notes written in bass clef. Pianists must be able to read two clefs at the same time... The bass clef determines the position of the F note, and all other notes will be placed according to this reference:

Below are more music notes in bass clef:

Note positions in bass clef


Read more about clefs: Clefs, Treble clef, Bass clef
Game for learning music theory: Sight Reading Game for the Piano

Relation between treble clef and bass clef

These two C notes have the same sound and are played on the same key on a piano keyboard, it's easy to recognize because that they have the same pitch because visually one is below the the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom) and the other is above:

Relation between treble clef and bass clef

Read more about the relation between treble clef and bass clef: Relation between clefs

Whole steps & half steps united states of america (tones & semitones united kingdom on a piano

Another essential point in music theory is the notion of whole steps & half steps united states of america (tones & semitones united kingdom).

Below is a example written in treble clef, but it is the same in bass clef:

Tones and semitones in the C Major scale

In other words, there is only one half steps united states of america (semitones united kingdom) between E and F, and only one half steps between B and C

Read more: Whole steps & half steps (Tones & semitones)
Music theory game: Half steps (Semitones) game

Accidentals on a piano keyboard

Accidentals are very important in music theory: An accidental is a sign to raise or to lower the pitch of a note. And accidentals are always written before the note.

Sharp

When added to a note, a sharp (♯) raises the note by a half step united states of america (semitone united kingdom).

Flat

When added to a note, a flat (♭) lowers the note by a half step united states of america (semitone united kingdom).

Natural

When added to a note, a natural (♮) cancels the previous accidentals.

Bellow are accidentals on a piano keyboard:

Accidentals on a piano keyboard

Below is the chromatic scale written in treble clef:
Accidentals in chromatic scale in treble clef

And the chromatic scale written in bass clef:
Accidentals in chromatic scale in bass clef

Accidentals only affect on the current bar:


Accidentals affect key signature

Accidentals affect the key signature.

In this example (below), This key signature means that all E notes are E flat (E♭) and that all B notes are B flat (B♭). But the accidentals affect the key signature:



Read more: Accidentals, Flats order, Sharps order, Key signature
Game to learn music theory: Half steps (Semitones) game

Note and rest values

In music theory, notes have a pitch but also a duration.

SignsNames
double-whole note (breve)united states of america Double-whole note
united kingdom Breve
whole note (semibreve)united states of america Whole note
united kingdom Semibreve
half note (minim)united states of america Half note
united kingdom Minim
quarter note (crotchet)united states of america Quarter note
united kingdom Crotchet
Eighth note (Quaver)united states of america Eighth note
united kingdom Quaver
sixteenth note (semiquaver)united states of america Sixteenth note
united kingdom Semiquaver
thirty-second note (demisemiquaver)united states of america Thirty-second note
united kingdom Demisemiquaver
sixty-fourth note (hemidemisemiquaver)united states of america Sixty-fourth note
united kingdom Hemidemisemiquaver
one hundred and twenty-eighth note (semihemidemisemiquaver)united states of america One hundred and twenty-eighth note
united kingdom Semihemidemisemiquaver


And below are note signs equivalences

Note signs equivalences

And when music use silences, composers use rest value:

SignsNames
double-whole rest (breve rest)united states of america Double-whole rest
United kingdom Breve rest
whole rest (semibreve rest)united states of america Whole rest
United kingdom Semibreve rest
half rest (minim rest)united states of america Half rest
United kingdom Minim rest
quarter rest (crotchet rest) or quarter rest (crotchet rest)united states of america Quarter rest
United kingdom Crotchet rest
eighth rest (quaver rest)united states of america Eighth rest
United kingdom Quaver rest
sixteenth rest (semiquaver rest)united states of america Sixteenth rest
United kingdom Semiquaver rest
thirty-second rest (demisemiquaver rest)united states of america Thirty-second rest
United kingdom Demisemiquaver rest
sixty-fourth rest (hemidemisemiquaver rest)united states of america Sixty-fourth rest
United kingdom Hemidemisemiquaver rest
one hundred and twenty-eighth rest (semihemidemisemiquaver rest)united states of america One hundred and twenty-eighth rest
United kingdom Semihemidemisemiquaver rest


Read more about: Note values, Rest values, Relations between note and rest values
Game to learn music theory: Fill the bar (rhythms game)

Increase the duration of a note

In music theory, the ways to increase the duration of a sound or of a rest are: Dots, ties and fermata:

Dots (augmentation dost)


Dots (augmentation dost)

A dot placed to the right of the note-head or to the right of a rest, increases its time-value by half.

Examples:

Dotted Whole Note (Dotted semibreve)


united states of america A dotted whole note is equivalent to a whole note and a half note.
united kingdom A dotted semibreve is equivalent to a semibreve and a minim.

Dotted eighth rest (dotted quaver rest)


united states of america A dotted eighth rest is equivalent to a eighth rest and a sixteenth rest.
united kingdom A dotted quaver rest is equivalent to a quaver rest and a semiquaver rest.

Ties


Tie

Ties merge multiple notes of the same pitch:

Tie examples

Ties can be used across bars united states of america (barlines united kingdom) :

Tie example

Fermata


The fermata, also called hold or bird's eye, is a semicircle containing a dot which may lie above or below a note or rest or over a bar united states of america (barline united kingdom). The fermata indicates that the note (or rest) should be prolonged beyond the normal duration.

Examples:


Read more: Dots and Ties

Tempo


Tempo refers to the speed at which a piece of music will be played.

The tempo is always perfectly regular like a clock, and a beat is a regular pulse which may be dictated by a metronome. Here are two examples of the same piece in different tempos:



Read more: Tempo

Measure united states of america (bar united kingdom)


Below is an example of empty measures united states of america (bars united kingdom)

measures (bars)

Just after the clef is the time signature, and bellow are some common time signatures:

time signature 4/4 means that there are 4 beats per measure and that one beat has for value quarter note (crotchet ) (quarter note united states of america / crotchet united kingdom)

time signature 3/4 means that there are 3 beats per measure and that one beat has for value quarter note (crotchet ) (quarter note united states of america / crotchet united kingdom)

time signature 2/4 means that there are 2 beats per measure and that one beat has for value quarter note (crotchet ) (quarter note united states of america / crotchet united kingdom)

time signature 4/4 is the is the abbreviation of time signature 4/4

time signature cut time is the is the abbreviation of time signature 2/2 and means that there are 2 beats per measure and that one beat has for value half note (minim) (half note united states of america / minim united kingdom)

Read more: Time signature

Repeat bars united states of america (Repeat barlines united kingdom)


Repeat bars are used to repeat a segment of the score:

Repeat bars (repeat barlines)

Repeat signs with first and second endings:

Repeat signs with first and second endings

- First ending is used the first time
- Second ending is used the second time (after you go back to the start repeat)

Read more: Measure (Bar), Repeat signs

Special musical symbols for the piano

Some musical symbols are specifics to the piano and others are quite often used to be described here:

The Glissando

Glissando

The Glissando indicates that it is necessary to play from the first note to the last and to play all the notes which separate them:


The Arpeggio

Arpeggio

The Arpeggio indicates that it is necessary to play the notes of the chord separately, starting from the lowest note:


Sustain pedal symbol

sustain pedal on the piano

The first symbol indicates that you have to press the sustain pedal and the second one to release the pedal. Sometimes you'll find the Piano Pedal symbol sustain pedal on the piano , which indicates that you have to press the pedal for the duration of the symbol:


Learn to read music to play the piano

If you have read all this, you understand that the pianist must learn Treble clef and Bass clef, here are some games to learn how to read music note:

- Sight Reading game for Piano
- Notes reading game in treble clef (beginner) for the right hand of the pianist
- Notes reading game in bass clef (beginner) for the left hand of the pianist


All music practice games: Let's play to our free games
All music practice games


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