I was going over quite a lot of answers that are already posted and I've figured out that I could ask this question anew. My perspective is that I have melodies coming to my head and I record them with my voice. I will be learning music theory, piano and Ableton Live.

There is basically C, D, E, F, G, A and H on a piano keyboard and there is these black keys, which are Sharps / Flats. I am wondering how any melody that can come to my head (I have like 12,000 recorded so far, for like 4 months) translates into this. Any of them can be always played on a piano keyboard? Are sharps / flats some secondary type of notes, or is this something like 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1 (12 sounds of equal importance) just layed out like this on a keyboard. And with this, there is no more sounds, they dont exist? So what exists in the end is these 12 and different octaves, which are on the keyboard (low to high). So there could be more octaves but no more than 12 of these sounds in each set? Or there can be, can there be like 15 or 17 or 30-something making up an octave? Do these 12 sounds translate somehow in any actual value (like Hertz)?

Just trying to understand - connect the music that comes or may come to my head with this piano keyboard. This is just "engraved in stone", that's how this is and it cant be different or what this is? I've always had an impressions that white keys are the main ones and the black keys are somehow secondary ones. I was watching some vids on Youtube and reading answers from here, but I don't get it yet.

  • Something along the line of "physics of sound", maybe some mathematics - what this really is scientifically (or at least based on the current knowledge that we have). This is what I am interested in.
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 19:52

3 Answers 3


Your question is very broad. It sounds like you are asking 'how does music work?' That can't be answered in a Q & A forum, but here are a few things I suggest you look into...

The basic Western music system uses 12 tones.

All 12 tones are called the chromatic scale. That will be all the keys on the keyboard.

But most music focuses on 7 of those tones called the diatonic scale.

On the keyboard the basic diatonic scale is all the white keys. Depending on which tone you start the scale you will get either a major scale or a minor scale (or one of several modes.)

In practice the diatonic scale mixes in the other 5 notes from the chromatic scale. Those will be the black keys on the keyboard. Melody and harmony then is a mixture of diatonic and chromatic sounds.

Regarding the pattern of black and white keys and this diatonic/chromatic system you must realize these elements can be transposed to 12 different starting notes. So, all the white keys on the piano are the diatonic scale. If you start that on C, you get the C major scale. But you can transpose that major scale to a different starting note like Db. When you do that the sequence of black and white keys will change, but the pattern will still be diatonic. The relative relationships stay the same. In the beginning this can be hard to understand, but it's a critically important aspect of music theory.

EDIT re. the scientific background.

This is in no way complete, but read these articles about why some pitch intervals seem more significant that others...

Also, here are a few articles about musical naming and labeling...

That's a lot of reading and a lot to thing about! It's probably best to stop at this point and give yourself time to digest all of those ideas. It's important to note there are philosophical debates on many of these topics. Don't approach them as absolute truths. Remember music is art. Beauty does not need to be reconciled with the harmonic series and such!

  • Thanks a lot for the info. Trying to start from "the bottom of this" mentally, something that "in fact" exists. Like a human can hear a range of sound (lets say 1 to 1000 Hertz or some other unit / number). Pitch is what divides this to human understanding and this can be divided into Pitch 1 to 1000, or something like that. It then translates onto a piano keyboard and this is this for this reason, and this is ths for that reson... Something like this. Still not sure why different pitches have the same names like c1, c2, c3 (like something in common, but would this be like physics of sound?)
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 21:39
  • Meaning, what is the scientific explanation of c1, c2, and c3 - something in common between them (tones on different scales, I think is the name).
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 21:40
  • I basically want to start like from the physics of sound then do the theory of music, then do the piano (not advanced, just what is needed for Ableton Live; like chords but not really some acrobatic things with the keyboard as this is not a needed thing, at least not now). Then kind of understand the synthesizers, all parameters of sound in a pc, anything like this. Understand. Also what are the rules of getting this together. Something like figuring this out for 10 years maybe, before starting to make my own songs. Maybe also playing a lot of already made songs (what I've liked).
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 21:43
  • This understanding can translate into the quality of music that I would produce. Easy to say, but this also takes time to complete... Again, sorry for bothering. I am kind of "hungry for info" but on a very beginner level of this. I am close to 40 years old and I want to learn like 3-5 new things (website programming, music, some sport, nutrition). Like starting all anew :) But yes, these melodies come to my head, I can make like 100 per hour or maybe more. Need to make a use of that, so I need to learn.
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 21:44
  • You would need to understand overtones and the harmonic series. You could start by reading up on the way a string oscillates.
    – PeterJ
    Dec 15, 2018 at 12:36

These are all question under the subject of Music Theory. If you're writing music in the Western Tradition, then 12 notes per octave will usually be sufficient. Your keyboard controller has a pitch bender that can get subtle pitches in between the notes of the keys.

If you're just starting out transcribing your own melodies, then an important early step should be determining if it has a Major or Minor kind of sound. Use your "do-re-mi" to find how the melody lays on the scale and if "do" is the tonal center then it's major, or if "la" is the tonal center then it's minor. The tonal center of a melody can usually be found if you sing the melody and play a bass note on the keyboard that sounds good with the last note of the melody. The bass note should feel like "home" if you have the right one.

If use the key of C for Major melodies and use the key of A minor for Minor melodies then you can (mostly, usually) stay on the white keys.

Bon chance!

  • So "pitch" is the only parameter that differentiates the piano keys? And with the above, I could ass well have 174 piano keys (88 times two) (meaning, the same range of sound as the 88 keys, but more accurate, more spread out)? I am a total novice so I need to learn these things here before bothering here. This is literally like my first day ever of looking into this.
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 20:14
  • Also kind of wondering what is the difference between a good song (hit) and a bad song or an average one. Meaning, to what extent this can be explained theoretically / scientifically (lets say with the computer "equipment" that we've had, like people were able to move forward with this knowledge, I am sure, meaning analyze / compare).
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 20:17
  • Yes, absolutely. The piano keys are just a selection of pitches that evolved in the 17th-19th centuries to make music in the Western Tradition. You could select different pitches and other traditions do. Dec 14, 2018 at 20:20
  • So what different peaches (assuming that they would be all unique) have in common as we have the various degrees of the same sounds (octaves) - like c, d, e, f, g, a h? Do they share something mathematically or physics-wise? Thanks a lot for the info, by the way. So I am assuming that a piano keyboard could also be 120 keys, and the sounds would also have repetitive names? Sounds like the division is based on what a human can differentiate... But again, different pitches but coming in the sets of 8. I think that this can be measured in some way (like more engraved in stone type of thing).
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 20:24
  • Like the range of what a human can hear is 1 to 1000 and we have these 100 sounds on a piano keyboard (lets say) and this is based on the fact that this is what a person can differentiate - like 1 and 10 sounds different to a human, but 1 and 3 sounds the same, hence the division. Kind of trying to get to the bottom of this, what this really is - like physics, mathematics. And also, how this gets translated onto the piano keyboard as this is the instrument that I want to learn (like the main one lets say, makes more sense, can use two hands and so on)
    – user54956
    Dec 14, 2018 at 20:27

Oner a long period of time, Western music has been adjusted as far as note pitch is concerned, so each octave (between any note and the one in the same place to the left or right) is divided into twelve. It's called 12tet, and is a little bit of a compromise for some notes, which can sound a touch out of tune. But it now means, on piano at least, that the same tune can be played in different keys and sound pretty good. Older tunings meant tunes sounded best in one particular key - on a well-tuned instrument - but sounded pretty awful in other keys.

The layout of pianos is more for convenience. A piano could have all 88 notes spread out left to right, but only people with exceptionally long arms would be able to play it. So, it's compressed into two layers - black and white keys. It would be ludicrous to have them alternating: you wouldn't be able to pinpoint which notes are which.

It just happens that the way they are placed gives key C an easy one to find. Starting on that C, the diatonic notes are in a particular pattern: TTSTTTS. That's T=tone, S=semitone spaces between successive notes.The black keys are just as important, they're for other musical keys.Let's start at E. Using TTSTTTS, those notes are now E F# G# A B C# D#, back to the next E.

There is no direct relationship between notes, keys on a piano and frequencies. If you are mathematically/scientifically minded, you can delve into the ramifications, but I don't think it will help with understanding what's going on, except to know that every octave is split into 12 equal parts. Taking A=440Hz, and its octave being twice that at 880Hz, divide the difference by 12, there are your note frequencies! Maybe that helps - I doubt it, somehow!

Back to your (many) tunes. By playing C E G before you try to play a tune, it will centre the ears on the key of C. Search amongst the white keys, find the appropriate start note, and away you go, using probably only white keys. If you play, for example, E G# B before you start, the ears are going to be in the key of E. Now, you may well have to use up to and including four black keys.

For simplicity's sake, I've only discussed diatonic notes - which a lot of tunes use exclusively - they're the seven specific to any key. In their easiest to understand form, they're the white keys - constituting key C on piano.

You ask about any other ways into which notes can be split or ordered. Yes, but to Western ears they often sound 'out of tune'. Oriental/Indian music uses different scales, which play notes that I call 'in the cracks' - which is where they could be found on a piano. Not quite as high as one key, but lower than the next... Although this is academically interesting, it may not help your quest to play your tunes on a piano.

  • Thanks a lot for the info. Like I said, I should not be bothering here before learning what the existing system is. Still thinking about it though. So, if I could ask a) piano keyboard is arbitrary - correct? It does not have to be this, it could be something else. To what extent this is arbitrary to you, 0% to 100%? B) there is a range of sound a human can hear; this can be divided into various degrees of pitch that a human can differentiate (lets assume there is no differences between humans); a question could be - what is the best unit to measure this (like from Physics, I think)?
    – user54956
    Dec 16, 2018 at 11:24
  • C) And then there is this repetition of pitches; they are of different pitch level (that we would want to measure as in the point B above), but they have something in common, so as an example we have these C1, C, c, c1, c2, c3 - totally different pitches but having something in common, so this is something that in fact exists (like in nature, non-arbitrary) - would this be correct? D) going further with this thinking, "from the bottom up" (I mean this is how I imagine this, it can be different) - what other layers of this could be. Let say I am interested in differentating the actual real
    – user54956
    Dec 16, 2018 at 11:27
  • aspects of this from the arbitrary aspects of this. Piano keyboard that we have today, starting from the basement, then floor 0, floor 1 - how this is mentally build? Not really this, more along the lines of a range of sound a human can hear, then differentiate - what this really is and not some historical progress of how this has evolved and why. What is REAL and not arbitrary with the sounds. The real aspects of organization of sound that can be created, but based on what actually exists (it seems like this can be bordering on something like "philosophy of music").
    – user54956
    Dec 16, 2018 at 11:29
  • @user54956 - for simplicity's sake, C1, C2, C3 etc are all different pitches of the same note name. Whatever the frequency of C1, C2 is double, and C3 double that. So, yes, there is a mathematical formula, and each octave (between C1 and C2, or C2 and C3, is divisible into 12 equal parts, giving the 12 semitones of the chromatic scale. There are plenty of questions and answers here already to enlighten you about this side of music.
    – Tim
    Dec 16, 2018 at 11:47

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