What are white keys on a piano called?

If you’re a piano master and you can’t stop looking for them, you’re in the right place. The question that’s on many of our minds when we hear a White Piano (or at least something similar) on the stereo, is, “is the piano being played by the white keys the pianist is hearing, and if so, can the piano be modified to play different melodies and a different tonality? There’s a tonality-tuning process, which will help you to tell whether or not a Piano White Key is being played, but it doesn’t tell us about the underlying mechanics.

Here’s a little story to help illustrate what you hear the first time.

Recently I had played a new piece by pianist Robert Glasper, and on a couple of notes I would feel the piano white keys go up and down. The first time, it almost seemed like I was the only one hearing the piano in white. I knew that wasn’t right; one pianist can often hear it for themselves, but my ear told me that another piano might be playing in the background. So then I started to play it again and again and still the white piano would feel like I wasn’t the only one hearing the piano – so as I learned my way along, I made sure I heard the white keys go up and down, but with an accent of a higher pitch.

Eventually, I realized that every time the piano White Key was sounded, the entire piano had to be tuned!

To really know what the piano was doing here, you have to look at the tuning of any given key. And you’re right, there are no mechanical or tunational differences between white keys on a piano, and indeed in many cases the White keys on the piano would actually sound similar if one piano were playing them in that key and another piano playing a different key. The only mechanical difference is in the sound (the pitch change) of White keys.

So what happens when two pianists hear the same sound in White with different key? As you might imagine, it would be an interesting conversation. I didn’t want to start with you, as this isn’t the piece you’re thinking of, but if you’d like to hear one piece (or indeed two pieces, or the piece where they played White) using this approach then feel free to have a look at the video. I haven’t had the time to work out the tuning but if you do, let me know and I’ll