When learning the piano, you’ll need to know where middle C is located. On your own piano, you’ll come to recognise middle C, but on unfamiliar pianos, it might not be quite as easy.
Middle C is also called C4 because it’s the fourth C on a regular 88-key piano. If you use MIDI with a silent piano system, middle C is note 60. It has a frequency of 261.6 Hz, although some inaccurate instruments (such as inexpensive electronic keyboards) may not produce a ‘true’ middle C at this precise frequency. On a piano, middle C is always exactly the same pitch, assuming the instrument has been recently tuned.
It’s important to know where middle C is if you’re learning, because you need to be able to play every piece in the right pitch. Grand pianos have more keys, so if you show up to a music exam without a good grasp of where middle C is, you might play your pieces in the wrong octave.
Not only will it sound strange if you don’t play in the right place, you may ‘run out’ of keys mid way through a piece. Also, middle C is usually in the middle, as you’d expect; sitting in the wrong position at a piano can be uncomfortable after a while.
Here’s how to find middle C with ease – even if you can’t really play the piano yet.
Most modern pianos have 88 keys. Some have fewer keys. The 88-key piano became the norm in the late 19th century, and it’s thought that it became common because the pianist could echo practically any instrument in an orchestra.
The white keys are referred to as ‘naturals’, while the black keys are ‘sharps or flats’ depending on the key/scale of he music. There are 36 black keys, and they form a distinct pattern, with a group of two, then a group of three, then a group of two, and so on.
The trick to finding middle C is to locate the middle of the piano. Look for the group of two and three black notes at the centre.
Middle C is the white note directly to the left of the first sharp in the group.
Once you’ve learned to locate middle C, you’ll easily be able to locate the rest of the C keys on your piano. On a standard 88-key piano there are 8 C notes. One is the very last key.
Two octaves up from middle C, you’ll find C6. C6 is referred to as top C, and it’s useful to know how to locate it if you’re working with a choir. That’s because sopranos tend to sing around this range.
On some grand pianos, there are extra notes extending beyond C1 at the bass end. The Boesendorfer 290 Imperial has 97 keys; the extra keys are finished in black and were originally added to mimic organ pipes. For most players, the extra keys are never used but add richness to the tone of the piano when it is played.