Why Do Pianos Have Black And White Keys?

Piano Black Keys

We sometimes get caught up in a world of absolutes, where everything is either right or wrong, black or white. The truth is, though, that much of the world is somewhere in between … a shade of gray. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions and one of those happens to be something SoCal Pianos knows a thing or two about: Piano Keys. Specifically, black and white piano keys. One of the frequent questions we get about piano keys is: why are they black and white?

That’s an interesting question and one which can be answered in a few ways. The first is the aesthetic answer, that is, the visual reason why they are black and white. Simply speaking, there is no greater contrast than black alongside white and if you are looking for two colors that stand starkly apart … well, there you go. This allows pianists to play more naturally because the black and white keys are easily discernible. It just would not be the same if the keys were red and green or blue and yellow. Then, there is the historical perspective: black keys were traditionally made from ebony and white keys from ivory.

The practical answer to the question is that black keys represent one thing and white keys another, in terms of sound and function.

  • WHITE KEYS. White keys are referred to as the naturals. In other words, when the keys are struck this is how the notes sound in their natural states. So, when a D or C note white key is struck, we can explain the sound to others as D natural. There are 52 white keys on a full-sized piano, which gives it a noticeable majority on an 88-key keyboard.
  • BLACK KEYS. Black keys are usually described as sharps or flats. They alter or accent the naturals. Check out the black key next to a C natural; when it is played the note becomes C sharp. Go the other direction below it and the black key would result in C flat. There are only 36 black keys on a keyboard, but they are integral in allowing the pianist to determine the proper pitch. 

Pianists are able to utilize the combination of the keys in patterns called octaves. There are seven octaves. For every seven natural white keys, there are five accompanying black keys that help players determine tonal signatures and these seven notes make up a scale.


That’s a quick overview of why piano keys are black and white and how they can be used on the keyboard to make beautiful music. If you are interested in acquiring your own piano so you too can make beautiful music, give us a call today at our Ontario, CA location. We specialize in sales and service of both new and used pianos and carry many models, from Bosendorfer to Yamaha. We are also a go-to source for all your potential piano students in search of a good instructor and we offer the largest selection of teacher references in Southern California. Call today to find out more about this and all SoCal Piano’s services!