On a recent television quiz show, a contestant was asked what was the middle note on a piano. The contestant answered, “Middle C,” and was awarded a correct answer. It is a widely held belief that Middle C is the middle note on a piano, but that is technically incorrect. It also is not the middle “C” on the piano either. That is, of the “C’s” on a piano, it is not the “C” that is in the middle. As your piano Tuner Wilmington DE, also serving portions of PA, MD and NJ, I’d like to shed some light on this subject for you.
Let’s talk about the middle note on a piano first, then talk about what is the middle “C”. A modern piano has 88 keys, or notes. Since there is an even number, there can be no middle note. There are 44 piano keys to the left of a space between two keys, and there are 44 keys to the right of the space between those two keys. The two keys on either side of that space are E and F just to the right of middle C, a major third and a fourth above middle C. These two notes are designated, E4 and F4.
Likewise, a modern piano has 8 “C’s”, so there can be no middle C. There are 4 C’s below E4 and F4, and there are 4 C’s above E4 and F4.
How did middle C get to be called “Middle C” then? Pianos did not always have 88 keys. In the late 19th century, most pianos had 85 keys, including only 7 C’s. In that era, what we call middle C would have been the C that was the middle C, but was still not the middle note on the piano. That is, there would have been 3 C’s below middle C and three C’s above middle. Of the C’s, it would be the one in the middle, but the middle note on the piano was Eb above middle C.
Why is middle C called “Middle C” then? Middle C is important, because it is a landmark for children who are just beginning to learn to play the piano. Most initial pieces of music for children are written in the key of C because it is the easiest key in which to play. It is easiest because the key of C has no sharps of flats, so the child does not have that extra complication to take into account. They can start and end on C and only play white notes. As a result, children are usually taught to find the landmark “Middle C” to start playing. It is always the C that is closest to the decal on the key cover, even though it is not the middle note on the piano.
No matter what question you might have about your piano or your piano tuning needs, you can feel free to give us a call at Kenneth Keith Piano Services and we’ll be happy to help you out. With our years of experience as your Delaware piano tuning service, we’re sure to have the answers for you.