Half Steps and Whole Steps on the Piano

Steps on the Piano

Let’s look at half-steps and whole steps on the piano. This concept might seem basic at first, but it’s fundamental to understanding every future concept we’ll cover about the piano.

Understanding the Piano

Understanding how the notes are related will help you understand the piano as an instrument all by itself (not just an instrument used to read and play sheet music). When you understand how the notes are related on the piano, it will help you play creatively since you won’t be dependent on sheet music!

It’s kind of like understanding why ingredients work they way they do when you follow a recipe. You could just keep following the recipe over and over, never understanding the purpose for the baking powder or eggs. But if you understand why those ingredients are there, and how they interact, you can begin creating your own recipes.

Creating piano music is similar. You could learn to read and play sheet music and enjoy it very much, but creating your own music will require understanding the piano as an instrument all by itself, separate from sheet music.

Learn Piano Chords printable pdf chart

Learn Piano Chords Printable

Get started learning piano chords with this 36-page PDF. These charts will lay a great foundation for you at the piano, and will be referenced again and again!

Half Steps & Whole Steps

A half step on the piano is the distance from one key to the very next (whether black or white, up or down).

When steps move up, they are moving to the right on the piano. When steps move down, they are moving to the left.

If you were to start on a B and play the note 1/2 step up, you would play a C (and 1/2 step down from a C is a B). This applies whether the notes are black or white, so 1/2 step up from a C is the black key just to the right of C. 1/2 step down from a B is the black key just to the left of B.

A whole step is two half-steps (that makes sense). So a C to a D is one whole step up (and D to a C is one whole step down).

Take a look at the piano graphic and notice B and C are 1/2 step apart, and C and D are one whole step apart (remember we are counting both black and white keys when we count steps):

label the piano

Make it Happen

The best way to understand half steps and whole steps at the piano is to start practicing. (If you don’t have a piano or keyboard, check out this post on my top reasons to get a piano, or this post on my top reasons to get a keyboard.)

You can practice by finding notes 1/2 step up, and 1/2 step down from different starting points. Then practice finding notes one whole step up, and one whole step down from the same starting points (just count two half-steps).


Learning half-steps and whole steps on the piano will help you build piano chords. Piano chords are an amazing way to learn the piano! Chords give you so much freedom and flexibility, and allow you to play creatively. You’re on your way!

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  1. Phyllis David

    I’ve loved your weekly lessons. I changed cells and email and lost a ton of stuff. Yours included except the last couple months. Is there a place I can go get these lessons again? Thank you!!

  2. Ivy Musicgny

    Very informative Julie, thank you for this. This is very helpful. Can you also share some tips on adult piano learning?

    • Julie Swihart

      You’re welcome, I’m glad it’s helpful! Yes, the best thing to do would be to read through the posts in order under the “Start/Learn Piano” tab in the menu. This information walks progressively through the theory concepts that apply to learning the piano with chords.

  3. Bipsha Roy

    Mam I am beginner and I found your teaching style extremely easy. I think I can master that in a very short time… Thank you so much….

    • Julie Swihart

      You’re welcome, I’m so glad it’s helpful!

  4. Yasmine

    Thank you for us to have a chance to learn piano. you are such a good teacher. Thank you

    • Julie Swihart

      Thank you so much for the kind words!

  5. Darnell M Francis

    I am am considered an immediate piano player and I love your teaching style. You lay the foundation .

    • Julie Swihart

      I’m so glad to hear that, thank you!

  6. Connie

    I like your teaching style. You teach the basics very simply with good explanation but you also teach why it’s important to know the basics so your students are motivated to learn. Good analogy about baking too!

    • Julie

      Thanks for the encouraging words!

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