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Middle Root Note Method


This method is designed for keyboard playing. It is suitable for Numbered Notation & Digital Common Notation. The main benefit is that all keys are played with the same fingering and all scales are on the white keys.

Inventor: Eric Chan, Sydney, Australia, 2008
Copyright - Public Domain


The method is so simple I suspected that it has been invented before; however, I could not find any reference on and off Internet. Please let me know if you have come across it before.


Background


Traditional piano was originally designed for C. Apparently, J.S. Bach was one of the earliest composers who popularised music in other keys. Playing C Major on traditional piano is easier than other keys such as Db etc.

A challenge of learning keyboard is the number of fingering that we have to master for all different keys.

It would be good if we could find a way to play different keys with the same fingering.

Then one day, it struck me that, perhaps, the problem comes from the fact the we start the key in a different location of a keyboard that is not designed for anything other than C in the first place.




Mapping of Major Keys on Keyboard


To understand the problem better and to identify any opportunities for improvements I mapped the major keys on a keyboard.

C_Major_on_Piano.jpg
All notes on the scale are white keys and evenly laid out.


G_Major_on_Piano.jpg
A black key appears on G scale which is further away than the other keys.

If we move the root note to where Middle C was, the scale is re-aligned. We now have similar fingering as if the music is in C.


Db_Major_on_Piano.jpg
Db is one of the more difficult key to play because there are many black keys and keys are not even. The second diagram shows that if we move the root note i.e. Db to where Middle C was, the scale is re-aligned once again. The fingering is now identical to that of C.

Note. We still have same number of flats or sharps; however, the accidentals are now white keys so they are easier to play. What we have done is changing the mapping of physical keys to notes so that it is easier to play. We are not transposing the music by doing that. This point is often misunderstood by people who have some formal piano training.




We can see that if we shift the root note of the keys to Middle C, our fingering becomes consistent. This is good news as we only need to learn how to play the keyboard with one set of fingering. The other benefit is that all notes on the scale are now white keys.



Mapping Chords of Major Keys on Keyboard


To understand the impact of shifting the root note on chord playing, I also mapped the chords as follows. The result is a nice surprise that the chords also become consistent and become easier.

C_Major_Chords_on_Piano.jpg
All major chords follow a nice simple pattern of "play one; skip one; play one; skip one; play one".



G_Major_Chords_on_Piano.jpg
All major chords follow a nice simple pattern of "play one; skip one; play one; skip one; play one". In fact, they are the same fingering as in C.

I will provide similar mapping for other chords in future. For the time being, it is suffice to say that the fingering is identical to that of C.



How do we shift the root note?


Most modern keyborads have the function of transposition. Generally, people think of transposition on keyboard as a way of playing a music in a different key. In fact, what transposition does is to change the mapping of the physical key to the note it produces i.e. literally moving notes around the keyboard.

To transpose the root note of the key to the location of Middle C on the keyboard, simply count the physical keys from Middle C to the new root note.

The following table shows you how many semitones you need to transpose.

Major Key
Minor Key
Accidential
Accidental Effect
Semitones to move Root Note to Middle C
Gb
Ebm
bbbbbb
Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb
+6
Db
Bbm
bbbbb
Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb
+1
Ab
Fm
bbbb
Bb, Eb, Ab, Db
+8 or -4
Eb
Cm
bbb
Bb, Eb, Ab
+3
Bb
Gm
bb
Bb, Eb
-2 (We go down octave to align with the Numbered Notation)
F
Dm
b
Bb
+5
C
Am
--
0
G
Em
#
F#
+7 or -5
D
Bm
##
F#, C#
+2
A
F#m
###
F#, C#, G#
+9 or -3
E
C#m
####
F#, C#, G#, D#
+4
B
G#m
#####
F#, C#, G#, D#, A#
-1 (We go down octave to align with the Simplified Notation)
F#
D#m
######
F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#
+6




Middle Root Note Method & Music Notation


We achieve consistent fingering by shifting the root note of a key to where Middle C used to be.

I would not recommend people to use the method if they play with standard notation because there will be confusion as where notes have been moved to. This is because the standard notation use fixed mapping. And the Middle Root Note Method uses relatively mapping.

The Middle Root Note Method is suitable for people using the standard notation only if the notation is actually transposed to C Major.

The problem is not an issue if the notation itself is also a relative notation. Numbered Notation and Digital Commmon Notation are 2 notations that do not care about the actual key names on the keyboard as they are relative notations.

Summary


Middle Root Note Method is ideal for playing music in Numbered Notation and Digital Common Notation on keyboards.

The main benefit is that all 12 keys are played with the same fingering and all scales are on the white keys.

Basically, we move the root note of a key to where Middle C used to be. After moving the root note, we play the music with same fingering as in C.

We move the root note by transpoing the keyboard with the number of semitones from Middle C to the new root note.

It is important to note that we are not transposing the music as we have the same number of flats and sharps as in the original music and it is still in the same key. What we have done is to move the scale to a more convenient location for us to play.