The guitar and the piano are ultimately different from each other. For one, the guitar is a stringed instrument, whereas the piano is like a mixture between a stringed instrument and a percussion instrument. But are the keys the same?
Generally, the guitar and the piano are in the key of C, but both can be played in multiple keys. Ultimately, they differ in how they produce notes. On a guitar, the same pitch can be played in multiple locations across the fretboard, whereas each note on the piano corresponds to a unique key.
Additionally, the guitar is a stringed instrument that can be tuned in a number of different ways. The piano, on the other hand, is always tuned the same way according to whole-tones and semi-tones. Both the guitar and piano can be played in pretty much whatever key the player decides.
Guitars vs Pianos – Key Signatures and How They Differ
In the key of C Major, the player only has to use the white notes on the piano, and as long as the tonal center is C, then it’s in the key of C. The tonal center is the note the rest of the music revolves around.
Commonly, a song in a particular key will circle around one note, which means the song will have the tendency to come back to that note frequently. In many instances, the song might even start and end on the note of the key signature, however, this isn’t always the case.
I’ll explain it another time for added clarification:
Ultimately, asking the question, “is the guitar in the same key as the piano,” is wrong right off the bat, because both instruments can be played in any key.
If you want to play the two instruments in the same key signature, it’s really not that difficult, however, you will have to figure out the notes of the frets as well as the keys.
Learning the keys of the piano doesn’t take that much time in comparison to the guitar.
Thankfully, this is one of the great things about the piano.
Due to the way the instrument is designed, the piano’s keys are laid out evenly and horizontally in such a way where everything is easily identified. Moreover, the white keys and the black keys have different purposes.
For instance, the white keys are notes that don’t have a sharp or a flat, whereas the black keys are always either sharp or flat. Additionally, the notes are the same all the way up and down on the piano.
It simply repeats itself over and over but in different octaves, which is another way of saying that the notes are the same but they’re just higher or lower in pitch.
This makes understanding the notes of the piano a lot easier and is probably one of its greatest features, depending on who you ask.
This is completely different from the guitar, where a note of the same pitch can be played at a different part of the guitar. For instance, the 7th fret E on the A string (5th string), is the same note and pitch as the 2nd Fret E on the D string (4th string).
The 12th fret on the low e-string (6th string) is the same note and pitch as the 7th fret on the A-string (5th string).
With that said, it’s worth mentioning that due to the string’s thickness, the tonality and feel of the note, while it is the same note and pitch, will sound just slightly different.
The vibrations of a thicker strong tend to have a much warmer sound than higher strings.
This is part of what makes the guitar a much harder instrument to play than the piano which I’ve talked about before in my guide all about this, and it also makes it an instrument that’s much less conducive to songwriting and composing.
Most of the greatest songwriters of all time can play the piano, and most music producers and composers use the piano because it’s much easier to compose melodies on it – which you can learn how to do with PianoForAll, by the way – (one could say this is entirely up to preference, but I would argue that most musicians would agree with this).
For example, the structure of the piano makes creating unique and sophisticated chord voicings a lot easier.
The guitar is quite limited in its ability to create different voicings because only one hand is fretting, and the other hand is used for plucking on the strings with the right hand (unless you’re left-handed).
Regardless of these differences between the piano and the guitar, it’s still possible to play the guitar and the piano in the same key, because the key signature is determined by the note choices of the player.
Putting it simply, whether or not the player is in the same key does not depend on the innate structure of the instrument.
There are some instruments, however, whose structure does determine its key, for example, a harmonica. But a piano and a guitar are not like this, so you don’t have to worry.
Now we’re going to explore how to play the piano and the guitar in the same key signature (more on keys in my other guide).
How To Play The Guitar And The Piano In The Same Key Signature
Like I mentioned above, if you want to play the guitar and the piano in the same key, you just have to know the notes of both instruments.
Learning the keys of the piano may only take you a week to memorize due to the repetition I explained above.
Using the key of C, for example, just play all of the white keys on the piano and revolve your playing around a C note, which is the very first key on the left-hand side of the piano. It looks like the image shown below:
On the guitar, playing in the key of C is a lot more complicated. There are dozens of ways of playing the key of C.
You could start playing the guitar on the 8th fret of the low E-string (6th string), or you could start playing in the key of C on the 3rd fret of the A string (5th string). You could also play in the key of C starting on the 1st fret of the B-string, (the 2nd string).
How you want to play in the key of C on the guitar is going to be incredibly different depending on what string you want to play on.
You could even play in the Key of C on just one string, and go all the way up and down the neck while still using the same scale.
Here is what playing in the key of C on the guitar can look like on the fretboard.
And here is the way you could play in the key of C on the piano
You’ll notice that on the guitar, it looks way more convoluted and sophisticated because it is.
The piano is way simpler and easier to understand, due to the repetitiveness of the instrument that I keep mentioning.
So, if you want to play the guitar and the piano in the same key, you have to first figure out the notes of the scale in that key, what those notes are on the guitar, and what they are on the piano.
I’ll give you a 5-step process for figuring out how to play the two instruments in the same key.
1) Understand What Key You Want to Play In
Most musicians don’t actually decide on a key signature before they start playing unless they need to come up with another section to a song that is already in a particular key – you can learn the song structure of some of the most popular songs of all time with Guitar Tricks.
Composers may decide on a key signature before they start because of the reason I just mentioned above, but most people don’t do this kind of thing unless it’s for a learning exercise.
With that all in mind, you’re going to need to figure out a song’s key signature, which isn’t that hard, although, admittedly, I struggled with figuring this out for years, because nothing ever clicked for me.
My way of determining a song’s key is actually quite a bit different from most musicians. If you want to figure out how I go about doing it, I suggest you check out my article here.
Explained briefly, I basically use the Major Scale and all of its mode-shapes to figure out a song’s key. I find this is the best way, but how you go about it may be different.
2) Find the Key Signature to Determine its Notes, i.e, Eb Major
I believe this one is self-explanatory, but the website piano-keyboard-guide.com is a great website to go for explanations of key signatures and how they look on the piano.
He even includes all of the chords that belong to the key.
3) Write The Notes Down on a Piece of Paper or in a Word Document
This is only for people who don’t have the notes of a key signature or a scale memorized.
The Circle of Fifths is a great way to remember these things, including the acronyms for the order of sharps and flats, such as Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle, and BEAD-GCF, etc.
I’d recommend learning the aforementioned acronyms for getting a better understanding of the order of sharps and flats in a key signature.
This is going to come in handy in the future, and it’s definitely worth taking the time to figure out. Additionally, it’s worth remembering that many of the scales that belong to a key signature have the same notes, but their tonal center is different.
For instance, A minor has the same notes as C Major, but the tonal center of the two scales are different, which is ultimately what gives it its different sound and quality.
4) Figure Out What Those Notes Look Like on the Guitar
Similar to step-2, you just have to google what the particular scale looks like on the guitar. For instance, if you wanted to play in the key of A Minor, you would just have to Google “Notes of A-Minor on Guitar.”
Assuming you’re a guitar player and not a pianist, it’s going to take some time to figure out all of the ways in which A Minor can be played on the guitar.
With that said, with some work and practice, eventually, you’ll figure it out. Eventually, you won’t have to Google anything because you’ll know how to figure it out on your own by just starting the same scale pattern but on a different part of the instrument.
5) Figure Out What Those Notes Are on the Piano
And then from there, you can jam on the two instruments in the same key.
The more you practice this exercise, the better you’ll get at it, so just be patient and keep practicing.
It’s not going to come super easy right away, but with a month of consistent practice, you’ll have a solid understanding of how to apply what you know on the piano to the guitar, or vice versa.
However, it takes quite some time to develop the hand-eye coordination necessary to play the guitar.
Other Articles You May Be Interested In
- Should You Learn Guitar Or The Piano?
- Should I Play the Guitar or the Piano? [ANSWERED]
- Is Piano Harder Than Guitar? [ANSWERED]
- Tuning A Guitar With the Piano (Altered Tunings Included)
- How To Use Guitar Chords On The Piano
- Can Guitar Chords Be Used For Piano?
YouTube Video Tutorial
In summary, the guitar and the piano can be played in the same key signature, but neither instrument is constructed in such a way where the design thwarts you from playing in any key.
Although a guitar can be tuned to more specific pitches with a tuner, for instance, rather than going down one semi-tone, you could go down a quarter tone.
The same thing could be said about a piano, however, most people don’t know how to tune a piano, and even for the people that do, it’s a very time-consuming process to go through and tune every string on the instrument.
Perhaps, there are people out there who tune the piano in a different way than the standard tuning, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing this.
Anyway, make sure to share this on social media with some of your friends who are just getting started.