Music Notes

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Music Pitch

When discussing pitch, the terms high and low are used to describe a particular tone's general placement in the entire range of tones. In the Pitch Example applet that follows, click the "Play Ascending" button to hear the C major scale played with each successive tone rising in pitch, or getting higher in pitch. Click the "Play Descending" button to hear the scale played with each successive tone decreasing in pitch, or getting lower in pitch.

Pitch is defined as the position of a tone in a musical scale. There are two types of pitch:

  • Relative Pitch
  • Absolute Pitch

Relative Pitch is the comparison of one note's pitch to the pitch of another note. In the Pitch Example applet above, when the scale is played ascending, each note is higher in pitch than the notes preceding it. That is, each note is higher in pitch relative to the pitches of the notes played before it. When the scale is played descending, each note is lower in pitch then the notes preceding it. Like with ascending, each note is lower in pitch relative to the pitches of the notes played before it.

Intervals are used for determining the position of a note using relative pitch.

Absolute Pitch is a note's absolute position in the entire range of notes. The following example illustrates four A notes, each with a different pitch. The pitch of the specific note is numbered according to its position. Here, the A2, A3, A4, and A5 notes are played on the guitar. There are also A0, A1, and A7 notes but they cannot be played on a standard tuned guitar.

Different pitch positions of the note

Each instrument has a certain spectrum of pitches it is capable of producing. The bass, for example can produce lower pitches than a guitar. The guitar, in turn, can produce higher pitched notes than the bass. Drums, believe it or not, produce pitches lower than that of a bass. The pitches are so low they don't have any sustain (the length of time a note sounds from being struck once before it fades to silence). Musical groups consist of multiple instruments in order to fill as much of the musical spectrum as possible.

Note Names

Music consists of twelve notes divided into two categories:

  • Natural Notes
  • Enharmonic Notes

Natural Notes
There are seven natural notes. Each natural note has a single alphabet name starting with A and continuing through G.

The Natural Notes: A B C D E F G

The natural music notes

The natural notes are the original music notes of the ancient Greeks. Since then, musicians have discovered notes whose pitch is between that of the natural notes. These additional notes are named enharmonic notes.

Enharmonic Notes
There are five enharmonic notes. Each enharmonic note has a single alphabet name starting with A and continuing through G, excluding B and E, followed by a sharp (#) or flat (b) symbol. Each enharmonic note has two names, a flat name and a sharp name.

  • A sharp (#) symbol means raise the pitch of a note one half-step
  • A flat (b) symbol means lower the pitch of a note one half-step

The Enharmonic Notes (sharp): A# C# D# F# G#

The Enharmonic Notes (flat): Bb Db Eb Gb Ab

  • A# and Bb are the same note
  • C# and Db are the same note
  • D# and Eb are the same note
  • F# and Gb are the same note
  • G# and Ab are the same note

Enharmonic music notes

The A#/Bb enharmonic is between the A note and the B note. This makes sense because A# is higher in pitch than A and Bb is lower in pitch than B. The C#/Db is between the C note and the D note and so on. Notice there are no B#/Cb or E#/Fb notes.

Notes: A A-sharp B-flat B C C-sharp D-flat E F F-sharp G-flat G G-sharp A-flat

It is important to memorize all the note names and their order. An easy way to do so is to recite the notes in ascending and descending order using the sharp enharmonic name for ascending and the flat enharmonic name for descending.

Note Names Ascending: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#

Notes - ascending

Note names ascending with sharps

Note Names Descending: A Ab G Gb F E Eb D Db C B Bb

Notes - descending

Note names descending with flats

Timbre

Music notes are the same on every instrument. An E note played on the guitar is the same as an E note played on a piano, violin, or trumpet. Only the sound of the instrument is different. These are sometimes difficult distinctions to make. The reason you can tell the difference between the sound of a piano and a guitar is the timbre of the instrument, that is, the unique sound of the instrument. So even though an E note played on a piano sounds like a piano and an E note played on a guitar sounds like a guitar, the E note itself is the same.

The timbre of the instruments adds to the richness of the listener's experience by adding additional tonal qualities to the sound of the notes.

Notes as Sound Waves

The musical spectrum consists of notes whose frequency is between 60 hertz and about 16 kilohertz. Each note produces a unique sound wave that is repeated at different frequencies. For example, the fifth string A note is 440 cycles per second. The octave at the twelfth fret is an A note of 880 cycles per second.

The difference between a musical sound and a non-musical sound is the form of the sound wave generated. Musical sounds have symmetric wave patterns. Noise and non-musical sounds have erratic, unsymmetrical wave forms.

Noise and music sound waves

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