If you are a music lover, you have probably heard the word “octave” before, most likely, about the vocal range of a singer. However, an octave is not just about that. It is a fundamental part of music theory. It is especially important for someone who would like to learn how to play the piano.
Today, we will be learning what piano octaves are, how to play them, and what they are used for. Let’s get started.
What Is a Piano Octave?
If you are a beginner in playing the piano, you are faced with lots of terminologies to remember and learn. However, once you begin learning them, you will realize that they are quite simple and easy to understand.
Octaves are simply a group of eight white notes (also known as natural notes) on the piano. If you count the black keys (the sharp and flat keys) in that set, then you have twelve. An octave starts from C and ends in C.
Look at the image above. The natural notes in an octave are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. Another thing that you might notice is that the shape of the key that the first C note is on is similar to the shape of the one at the end. The “L” shape on the piano keys that are bracketing the first two black keys will always represent C.
However, an octave does not always start with C. An octave can start on any note. As long as you play 8 notes above it, you will still be playing an octave. For example, if you start on D, you will be playing the notes E, F, G, A, B, C, and back to D.
Try and think about the Solfeggio. With the solfeggio (1), we start with Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, and then back to Do. The same concept is applied when talking about an octave.
How Many Octaves Does A Piano Have?
A standard piano has eighty-eight keys. It has fifty-two white keys and thirty-six black keys. An 88-key piano has a total of seven octaves and two lower notes namely B, B flat, and A.
Chances are, not everyone’s hand can span the beginning and end of an octave. Some people have shorter fingers and smaller hands than others. You might be wondering how you can play the piano properly or add in some bass notes if you cannot even span an entire octave.
It would indeed be nice if you can span an entire octave. However, it is not necessary at all. There are several other options that you can try to enrich your sound.
One of them is by playing only one of the two bass notes. Even though it is not the same as playing both, there will still be a bass sound to accompany your melody.
Secondly, you can simply alternate between the two notes. It can even be your style of playing!
Last but not least is a more advanced approach. You can opt to play chords and their inversions instead!
Even if you have smaller hands than the average person, you can still play the piano with lots of depth and nuance.
If you are a beginner, you probably find chords much easier to play. That is fine, as chords sound good even on the piano. Unfortunately, you cannot simply play an octave with chords and expect it to sound good.
So, how do you play piano octaves when you are used to chord-based piano playing? Here is how:
First, you want to pull up the song you want to play along with its chord notation. When you look through the chords that you will be playing, know that you are going to be using your right hand to play them. Your left hand would be doing nothing in this case and that is not ideal at all.
So instead of leaving your left hand stagnant, you can make use of it instead. For every chord you will be playing with your right hand, all you have to do is match the root note with your left hand on the bass line.
If you remember from our basic chords lesson, a root note is a note that the chord is named after. For example, if you are playing an A Major chord, the root note is A. All you have to do is press both A notes in an octave and you are good to go.
Just by playing two notes at a time, you are already improving your sound quality. It is just that simple when it comes to playing octaves with piano chords!
The Uses of Piano Octaves
While it is true that you do not technically have to learn how to play octaves to play the piano, learning to use it is especially useful if you are a beginner. As a beginner, it can be frustrating to wait for your skills to get better. You really want to play that one song but you just cannot make it sound good enough!
That is when playing octaves can come in handy. When you play the piano, playing more than one note makes your music sound much better than playing one note at a time. Once you play the same note with one of them being high pitched and the other being low pitched, you are already adding some depth to your playing.
Once you progress into playing chords, you will find that it sounds a little bit awkward on the piano if you only played the melody using your right hand. The piano is made to be played by two hands that is why it uses a grand staff.
You will find that without bass notes to play, your music would simply feel bland and boring. To remedy this, you can always use octaves to accompany your piano chord melody. Go ahead and try it! You will immediately see some improvement.
Other Uses of Piano Octaves
One of the most important uses of knowing how to play piano octaves is the fact that it can help you memorize the notes on the piano very early in your studies.
Look at it this way, memorizing all eighty-eight keys on the piano sounds like a daunting task. Many beginners get scared away just by the thought.
What you can do instead is use the sectioning method.
The sectioning method is as simple as grouping the keys on your keyboard together to form a single pattern. Let us take a look at a keyboard real quick.
It is not obvious when you look at the whole picture. However, when you section them, the pattern begins to show.
This pattern of keys and notes repeats over and over throughout the piano. Again, if you remember, an octave begins from one note and ends in the same note but higher in pitch. If you start at C, you also end at C. The notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B are the only notes you need to memorize.
If you are wondering why that is because the same group of notes is simply repeated throughout the piano. The piano IS composed of octaves! As soon as you memorize the notes within an octave then you will have memorized the entire piano already. Is it not easier to simply learn eight or twelve keys instead of eighty-eight?
Octaves make learning your piano keys a lot easier and a lot simpler.
That is the end of the article! Now you know what octaves are and how you can play them. It does not matter if you have smaller than average hands, you can still use octaves with piano chords. Additionally, you can even help your early piano studies by using octaves as a guide to memorizing your notes.
It is easy to take your playing to the next level simply by adding depth. All you have to do is make use of your piano octaves! It is as simple as playing the chords of the song using your right hand and using your left hand to play the root note of the chord you are playing. You can now gain the ability to improvise and turn the music into something that is unique. Check out my guide to chord inversion to learn more.
If you need more in-depth lessons in playing the piano, don’t forget to check out my article on the 8 best online piano lessons with an online piano learning app!
Ultimate Guide to PIANO OCTAVES: What Is It & How To Play It