A quote from Salinger's Zooey:

He put his cigar in his mouth, and, with his right hand, up in the treble keys, he began to play, in octaves, the melody of a song called "The Kinkajou," which, somewhat notably, had shifted into and ostensibly out of popularity before he was born.

Does it mean that he struck two similar notes at the same time, with one note an octave higher than the other?

P.S. What if a player adds his second hand to strike four similar notes across four octaves, would that also be "playing in octaves", I wonder?

  • 2
    Yes, exactly, usually the thumb and little finger are spread so that they can strike these two notes an octave apart. Then keeping the fingers the same distance apart the player can play whole melodies in two octaves at once.
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


An octave is the note 12 semitones above or below any given note. So both the C above and below middle C are one octave from middle C. Similarly, both the C# above and below "middle C#" are one octave from "middle C#".

Playing two notes in octaves with one hand is a common technique in piano to express a single melody with more emphasis/volume. It is less common (but not unheard of) to play four octave notes using two hands.

If I was only asked to "play the melody in octaves" without any further instruction, I would assume two notes and most likely the right hand. If I was asked to "play the melody in octaves with both hands" I would understand that as playing four notes simultaneously.

If someone asked about my two-hand, four-note octave playing, "is he playing in octaves?" the answer could correctly be stated, "yes" or qualified "yes, with both hands!"

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