A step describes the distance between notes. Piano keys that are next to each other are a half-step apart. For example, E to F is a half-step because there’s no key between them. Another half-step occurs from B to C. Because this pattern of piano keys/notes repeats along the entire piano keyboard, the same is true everywhere on the keyboard. There is always a half-step between E and F and between B and C. Another name for half-step is semitone.
When piano keys have an additional key between them, the keys are a whole step apart. For example, C to D is a whole step because there’s a key (a black key in this case) between them. F to G is another whole step. Another name for whole step is whole tone or sometimes just tone. The following figure shows where half-steps and whole steps are for the natural (white) notes.
There is a half-step between E and F and between B and C. All other natural notes are a whole step apart.
The Black Keys
The black keys represent accidental notes (notes with the accidentals – ♭ and ♯). A flat (♭) lowers the pitch of a note a half-step while a sharp (♯) raises it a half-step. For example, C♯ is a half-step higher than C and A♭ is a half-step lower than A.
Notice that each black key has two different names. It can either be named for the white key to its left getting sharped, or for the white key to its right being flatted. Either way, it’s a single pitch with two different note names.
Note names that refer to the same pitch are called enharmonic. For example, C♯ and D♭ are enharmonic because they are two different names for the same pitch. Which name you decide to use is usually determined by the key of the song. We’ll talk about song keys later.
White keys can also have enharmonic names. For example, while there’s no key between B and C (they are a half-step apart) if you raise B by a half-step, you get C. So, B♯ is enharmonic to C. Similarly, if you lower C a half-step, you get B. So, C♭ is enharmonic to B.
Answer the following questions.
Indicate if the notes are a half-step or a whole step apart. You may want to use the previous piano key diagram. Choose your answer from each drop-down menu next to the notes.
Provide an enharmonic note name for the following. Choose a note name and then choose flat or sharp if appropriate.