Why Middle C Isn’t Middle C (on the piano)

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about Middle C. But middle C isn’t middle C! What am I talking about? Have I gone off the deep end? No, and I’m going to prove it to you right now!

The exact middle of the keyboard actually falls on the E and F above middle C.

That is the middle of the piano. Did you ever realize that? Well, middle C is the middle C of the piano, right? Actually, no! There are 8 Cs on the piano. So, middle C and the C an octave above are technically both middle C’s, aren’t they? So what is going on here? Why do they call this middle C when it’s not the middle of the piano, and it’s not the middle C of the piano? While it’s not technically the middle of the piano, and it’s not technically the middle C on the piano, it is about the middle of the piano where the closest C occurs. So it kind of is middle C.

Modern pianos have 88 keys. But if you go back to the 1870s, the piano had only 85 keys.

Back then, the highest note on the piano was A below the highest C on modern pianos. On an 85 key piano, middle C would be in the middle of the keyboard! But if you ever thought that middle C is the middle of the modern piano, you might want to adjust where you sit. You should be sitting with the E and F centered in front of you. This doesn’t make a big difference. But it could make a little bit of a difference lining yourself up between E and F, because indeed, this is the middle of your piano!

How do you feel about this? Did you realize this before? I’m interested in your comments here on LivingPianos.com and YouTube! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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4 thoughts on “Why Middle C Isn’t Middle C (on the piano)”


 
 

  1. I’ve certainly noticed that it’s not the middle key of the piano, but slightly off-centre. I was taught early on to sit in front of that key so it felt a bit strange that it was a bit to the left. It’s never bothered me that it’s not the middle C, though.

  2. 2023.01.16
    Dear Robert,
    I realized all this about “Middle C” years ago.
    And just like you, I started sitting in front of the E-F above middle C.
    It is funny that “Middle C” is “Middle C”, and at the same time isn’t “Middle C!”
    Thanks for your clarifying video.
    Sincerely,
    Charles Beck in Albuquerque

  3. I thought it referred to the “middle” between the treble and bass clefs – the pivot point one ledger line above the bass clef and one ledger line below the treble clef.

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