Musical notes and their names

There are in total twelve tones (or notes), but at the same time seventeen note names. The reason behind this is that five of the tones could be referred to two different names.

List of all the notes

C# and Db, D# and Eb, F# and Gb, G# and Ab, A# and Bb are actually the same notes. The names differ, though, depending on the musical context. Read on and you will understand how it all functions.

The picture below explains the relationship between the notes on a keyboard and where each note belongs.
tones on keyboard with names

Short explanation of every note

C: is played on the white key on the keyboard, positioned before the two following black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves (the interval between two notes of the same kind); therefore you can play C on many keys – how many depends on the size of the keyboard.

The note is preceded by B and followed by C# / Db on the keyboard. A whole step up the would lead to the D note.

C# / Db: these are actually the same notes, but are named differently depending on the musical context. If the C is raised one half-tone it should be referred to as C# and if the D is lowered one half-tone it should be referred to as Db.

D: is played on the white key on the keyboard positioned between the pair of two black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves; therefore you can play D on many keys on the piano.

The note is preceded by C# / Db and followed by D# / Eb on the keyboard. A whole step up would lead to the E note.

D# / Eb: these are the same notes and named differently depending on the musical context. If the D is raised one half-tone it should be referred to as D# and  if the E is lowered one half-tone it should be referred to as Eb.

E: is played on the white key on the keyboard positioned after the pair of two black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves; therefore you can play E on many keys on the piano.

The note is preceded by D# / Eb and followed by F on the keyboard. A whole step up would lead to the F# note.

F: is played on the white key on the keyboard positioned before the three following black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves; therefore you can play F on many keys on the piano.

The note is preceded by E and followed by F# / Gb on the keyboard. A whole step up would lead to the G note.

F# / Gb: these are the same notes and named differently depending on the musical context. If the F is raised one half-tone it should be referred to as F# and  if the G is lowered one half-tone it should be referred to as Gb.

G: is played on the white key on the keyboard positioned between the first and second of three black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves; therefore you can play G on many keys on the piano.

The note is preceded by F# / Gb and followed by G# / Ab on the keyboard. A whole step up would lead to the A note.

G# / Ab: these are the same notes and named differently depending on the musical context. If the G is raised one half-tone it should be referred to as G# and  if the A is lowered one half-tone it should be referred to as Ab.

A: is played on the white key on the keyboard positioned between the second and third of three black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves; therefore you can play A on many keys on the piano.

The note is preceded by G# / Ab and followed by A# / Bb on the keyboard. A whole step up would lead to the B note.

A# / Bb: these are the same notes and named differently depending on the musical context. If the A is raised one half-tone it should be referred to as A# and  if the B is lowered one half-tone it should be referred to as Bb.

B: is played on the white key on the keyboard positioned after the group of three black keys. The note is repeated in several octaves; therefore you can play B on many keys on the piano.

The note is preceded by A# / Bb and followed by C on the keyboard. A whole step up would lead to the C# note.

Musical notes on different instruments

You may change instrument, but you would still use the same note. At least some of them – numerous instruments do not include all notes. A harmonica, for example, are in some cases tuned in a specific key and, in addition, does only include notes of a diatonic scale.

With instruments such as piano and guitar, on the other hand, you could play all notes chromatically (i.e. in succession), if you wish.