In this piano lesson, we are going to discuss one of the most basic concepts in music. What is an octave and what does it mean, and what does it look like on a piano?
Over the several hundreds of years the piano has taken to develop, the number of keys has changed dramatically, from as little as 32 keys when the piano was first developed, to up to 96 keys on a modern Bosendorfer Imperial. But why is this important to you when buying a piano today? Is it important to know how many octaves your piano has? Acoustic pianos usually all have the same amount, but when you're buying your first beginner piano for your kid you may only want a 61 key Keyboard instead of the full 88 key electric piano. There is no need for 88 keys until you or your child is more advanced. Those last 12 or so upper keys and 12 lower keys are rarely used except in classical music.
Generally, a piano has 7 and 1/4 octaves.
A standard modern upright, grand or digital piano has seven and a quarter octaves; seven full octaves, and three extra treble notes; B-flat, B and C. That's a total of 88 keys. There are variations, mainly in digital instruments, which we'll discuss in this article.
What is an octave?
An octave is defined as a series of eight; the term is derived from the Latin word "octo," meaning "eight." The same reason an octopus is called as such; because it has eight legs. See the image above to see how it looks on the piano keyboard.
You can easily identify the 7 octaves on any piano by looking for the pattern of 2 black keys followed by 3 black keys. That is where every octave starts and ends. The note C is to the left of the first group of 2 black keys and then it ends on the next C. That is a full octave. Every beginning piano lesson starts with that discovery.
The word "octave" can refer to two different things in music; an interval and a scale. An octave scale is a series of notes, iterating through the seven notes of any particular scale until you arrive on the note you started on, but one octave higher.
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.
You'll notice that we start on G, we iterate through all the notes of the G Major scale, and we finish on G. However, it's not the same G that we started on; it's the next G up on the piano.
We refer to this as being an octave higher; essentially it's the next occurrence of the note you start on. This also ties into the octave as an interval; in the same way that a fifth is five notes apart, and a fourth is four notes apart, an octave is eight notes apart.
On a modern piano, the very bottom note is A. There are seven more As on the piano, making for a total of 7 A octaves. Older pianos finished here and just had seven octaves; modern pianos have an extra three notes; a B-flat, a B and a C, to make seven octaves plus three notes.
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