Keyboard Layout: The Four “Middles”

Did you know that there are four “middles” on an 88 key keyboard?

Let’s take them one by one and discuss why understanding where these “middles” are is so important to your piano technique.

A Typical 88 Key Keyboard

Before we talk about the four “middles” let’s remind ourselves that a standard 88 key keyboard has 52 white notes and 36 black notes…

88 piano keyboard

Middle C

The first “middle” is middle C, the C closest to the middle of the keyboard and probably the very first note that every beginner learns…

piano keyboard showing the location of middle c

But did you know that middle C is not quite in the physical center of an 88 key keyboard?

The Nameplate

The second “middle” is where the name of the piano maker is located. In this case, notice that the center of “Kawai” is just left of the crack between middle D and middle E…

piano keyboard showing the location of the nameplate

Note: The advice of some teachers to sit in the center of the nameplate should be taken with a grain of salt because the nameplate location may vary from one piano maker to another and follows no particular standard except to be somewhere close to the middle.

The Crack between Middle E & Middle F

The third “middle” is the crack between E and F jus above middle C…

piano keyboard showing the location of the crack between middle e and middle f

Did you know that the precise middle of an 88 key keyboard is the “crack” between E and F above middle C? Prove it to yourself by counting the number of white keys on either side of the crack (26). It’s also the exact center point in terms of number of keys on an 88 key keyboard–44 keys to the left of the crack and 44 keys to the right.

Middle D

The fourth middle is middle D, which has a very special property: the keys are perfectly symmetrical (a mirror image) as you go from middle D in either direction: up or down…

piano keyboard showing the location of middle d

Prove this to yourself by playing middle D with both thumbs, then work right with your right hand while going left with your left hand one key at a time. You’ll find the exact same sequence of white and black keys in both hands.

That bit of trivia aside, the real reason middle D matters is this: It’s good practice to routinely center yourself–both physically and mentally–on middle D every time you sit down to play. Doing so serves at least three purposes: (1) It puts your body in a comfortable central location for playing most kinds of music, (2) It gives you a repeatable position for developing visio-spatial awareness of the keyboard in your mind’s eye, (3) It cultivates a consistent sense of where your body is in relation to the piano keys.

And so the takeaway is this: Unless a particular piece of music compels you to sit farther left or right, center yourself–physically and mentally–on middle D. Doing so gives your proprioception and muscle memory a solid point of reference to work from.

(By the way, don’t think you must sit rigidly aligned there… It’s OK to lean left or right as needed in order to play in very low or very high registers.

learn more… Prepared or Unprepared Attack?

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