Why Are Piano Keys Arranged The Way They Are? Secret of Piano Key Arrangement


If you are a piano or music keyboard lover, you must have seen and played the various black and white keys on the instrument. You must be wondering, why and how the keys are arranged in a piano or a similar musical instrument such as a harmonium or an accordion. The concept of white and black keys and its arrangement is the topic of discussion for this article.

Piano keys are arranged in the form of a 12 note arrangement system, otherwise called as the Chromatic scale. Based on rising frequencies of sound called as tones or pitches, the piano keys are arranged as whites and black keys with increasing order of their pitches or tones. The white notes arrangement is called a Diatonic scale while the entire black and white set is called a Chromatic Scale.

In this article, we are about to explore the piano keys segregation, arrangement and shall also understand about various scales, notes and pitches altogether.

Why are Piano Keys arranged the way they are?

The history of Piano dates back to the early 17th century with origins from Italy. Earlier used instruments were mostly the stringed instruments such as Harpsichord, Ancient guitars with 1,2 or 4 strings and were not standardized. These instruments did not follow a specific pitch or tone which was standardised across all countries globally.

Hence in the mid 17th century, Piano was a newly created musical instrument with hammers striking various strings arranged in an orderly fashion of the pitches. Each hammer was connected to a note or a key which upon striking generated the sound from the piano.

To understand why piano keys are arranged the way they are, we must first understand the following aspects on the key scales used in a piano:

Diatonic Scale arrangement system

  • The diatonic scale arrangement system refers to the White set of keys (C – D – E – F – G- A – B – C) placed sequentially one after another in a piano or a keyed musical instrument.
  • Only white keys were initially setup in older pianos and later gradually the black keys were added to create a variety and keyboard fingering advantage to the musicians.
  • The gap between two white notes is usually called a Whole Step when one black key is present between 2 white keys, so it is 2 semitones higher / lower usually.
  • The gap between two white notes is usually called a Half Step when both the 2 white keys are consecutively placed, so it is 1 semitone higher / lower usually.
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For example: C Note and D Note gap is a Whole Step with C# Black note in between both the notes. Hence C to D is 2 semitones / 2 pitches higher.

The below infographic shows how a diatonic scale keys are arranged in a piano with clear illustration of shole steps and half steps used in all pianos.

Chromatic Scale arrangement system

  • The Chromatic scale arrangement system refers to the entire set of White and Black keys (C – C# – D – D# – E – F – F# – G – G# – A – A# – B – C) placed sequentially one after another in a piano or a keyed musical instrument.
  • The chromatic scale covers all the required 12 pitches (aka 12 half steps) (7 white – Diatonic notes and 5 Black – Sharp Notes) to form a note set called as the OCTAVE.
  • Based on the size of the piano (76 key or 88 key) the OCTAVEs are repeated with higher pitch notes/sounds arranged sequentially.

The below infographic shows how the chromatic scale keys are arranged in a piano with clear illustration of natural white notes and black sharp notes used in all pianos.

How are Piano Keys aligned based on the Finger positions of our hand?

One of the most important aspects of learning and playing with a piano is the proper finger position, alignment with respect to the keys and scales. Without this playing complex chords, arpeggios, runs and performances would be a daunting task. There are many methods used by pianists and keyboardists to play music using both hands. We are going to illustrate some examples on the proper alignment of fingers and keys on a piano for our readers to understand and play with proper finger positions for playing any song.

  • In the above figure, as you can see there are 2 finger positions shown – one for Chromatic scale starting from F key and the other one is a C Diatonic Scale.
  • Piano keys are designed in such a way that they support the proper alignment of all our 5 fingers while playing on a diatonic scale or on a Chromatic scale.
  • The black and white notes are evenly distributed in the 12 note chromatic scale to support pianists to play the notes with ease.
  • Furthermore, the polarity of the right hand and left hand are just the reverse. The finger positions are supposed to be the inverse order for left hand when compared to the right hand.
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How to Learn about Piano Keys and Scales Easily?

Here are some of the tips to learn piano keys and scales easily

  • Focus on learning one scale at a time. Master a diatonic scale such as C Scale first, then progress for other scales one by one.
  • Concentrate on proper finger positions for both left and right hand playing. Do not deviate from the hand and finger position – thumb rules that have been used for playing the piano.
  • Fast track your learning with the help of a professional mentor who can guide you to learn piano step-by-step. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel rather follow a professional training to learn fast and correctly

Get our exclusive 10 Page E-BOOK on Piano Scales and Keys delivered to your mailbox. This e-book is your complete guide towards understanding the below artifacts:

  • Pictorial explanation of all the scales used in Piano
  • Hand and Finger positions for all 12 scales
  • Tips and Tricks on how to improve your keys knowledge about piano and music keyboards
  • QR Codes for all the essential videos on piano keys and scales from our website musicdetailed.com

For more details please click here to access the download link <Call to action>

Get this e-book worth 20 USD value absolutely free!!!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on piano keys and scales that we wish to put forward for our readers for better clarity and understanding of the subject.

1. How many scales I need to learn to understand Piano playing?

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To play songs properly on the piano, it is advisable to practice atleast in 3 Natural Scales (preferably C / F / A) and 3 Sharp Scales (C# D# G#). However, it is your personal choice to choose the 3 scales from the chromatic set of all scales.

2. Do I need to learn playing songs in all scales?

It is highly advisable to learn playing in all scales to master piano playing, so that you can pickup any song on any scale easily. It however, needs lot of practice, discipline and dedication to play piano perfectly in all scales.

3. How can I play any song on any scale easily on my piano?

First you need to make yourself perfect in one scale such as C or C# and then re-write notation aligned to the other scales and practice the songs. You are advised to take-up the 90-day piano course from our website while will enable you to play songs in any scale with easy notation conversion tips.
For more details click here for quick access to our 90 day Piano course .

4. Why are there 5 black and 7 white keys in an octave?

Piano designers and inventors have designed the chromatic scale in such a way that they are in perfect alignment with our 5 fingers. 5 black keys are sharp notes and 7 white keys are the natural notes. All together the 12 notes complement each other to form a set of notes called as on octave. All the essential pitches are covered by these 12 notes that are required to make a song or composition.

5. Is the key structure same for all pianos and other instruments with black and white keys?

Yes, for all pianos and other key based musical instruments they follow a standardized structure of keys and pitches worldwide.


We hope that our music enthusiastic readers have been able to get an eye view of how piano notes are arranged based on scales, tones and pitches. For more exciting articles on Piano, music theory, chords and scales – do visit the PIANO section of our website. Till then happy reading and playing music!!!

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