You have probably heard the term octave before if you’ve taken music classes or have sung in a choir. But what exactly is an octave, and why do they matter? If your child is taking piano lessons in Denver or wherever you live, they might already have the answer. This article will cover everything you need to know about octaves and provide some helpful tips for playing them.
What is an octave?
If you or your child is new to the piano, you may be wondering what an octave is when your private piano teacher talks about it. Octave comes from the Latin root “octo,” meaning eight. An octave represents the interval from one musical pitch or note to another. It is the distance from one note to the next note of the same name. It takes eight white keys to get to the next latter-named note, hence why we call it an octave.
When you look at the keys on the piano, you will notice the reoccurring pattern of letter named notes. If you start at C, you can count eight notes to get to the next C, whether it’s higher or lower. The distance is always the same when you’re playing an octave.
If you play both C keys at the same time, they sound the same, but one is higher, and one is lower. Higher notes are played at a higher frequency, meaning the sound waves move faster than lower notes. When you play a C octave, the higher C’s sound waves move twice as fast as the lower C pitch.
How many octaves does a piano have?
A standard, full-sized piano has 52 white keys and 36 black keys, 88 keys total, which gives us seven full octaves. While playing an octave means playing the white notes, or major keys, it also includes five black keys, which are the minor notes within an octave. If you need to get a piano for your child to play at home, check out our blog on finding the best piano for a beginner.
Keep in mind that while the piano or keyboard you have has seven octaves, you will find that most songs don’t use all of these octaves. You’re likely to play songs with notes that stay toward the middle of the piano. Few songs use the lower or higher notes.
Do octaves matter?
If your child is just now starting to play the piano, they probably will not need to learn how to play an octave initially. Some people would argue that you don’t have to learn to play an octave at all! However, playing octaves makes whatever you play sound better.
You may start to have your child incorporate octaves in their playing when they can play more than one note. You could even have them start practicing playing octaves as they learn to play one note at a time. By playing octaves, your child can instantly add depth to the song they are learning. Octaves round out the tune of a song by adding a higher or lower pitch to the music played. So, how can your child learn to play octaves?
How do I play octaves?
Memorize the notes in one octave.
Let’s face it, if you’re new to playing the piano, looking at the whole set of keys is overwhelming. And it’s intimidating to think about memorizing every single note. But you can make it easier for your child. Remember that the same notes are repeated on the piano. You can remove a lot of pressure on your child by encouraging them to memorize the notes within one octave. That’s eight white keys and five black keys. If they can memorize these notes and their pattern, they will have no problem with the whole set of keys.
Stretching your hand and fingers seems so simple, but it really helps — even if you have small hands! Have your child practice stretching their hands whenever they think about it. It’s also helpful to have them practice stretching their hand across an octave and rest their thumb and pinky on the first and last notes within the octave (so a low C and the high C within one octave).
Practice, practice practice.
Alternate between playing a low note within an octave with your thumb and the higher note using your pinky. Start at a slow pace, then begin to increase the speed between playing. Practice playing both notes at the same time. When your child is ready, have them practice playing other octaves by moving their hand up or down one note. It can be challenging to play octaves quickly. Encourage your child to lead their thumb to move to the correct note (if playing with the right hand) while keeping their fingers spread the same distance over the octave.
What if I still need help?
Sometimes it’s better to learn the piano by playing instead of reading articles about how to do it. And it definitely helps to learn to play with a tutor, whether in-person or virtually. At Lessons In Your Home, we hire qualified and friendly instructors who are thoroughly vetted. Our teachers will come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. However, our online music lessons are being taught by local music teachers with live lessons tailored to your child! Contact us today to learn more.