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In music, the term note has two primary meanings:
- A sign used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound;
- A pitched sound itself.
The term note can be used in both generic and specific senses: one might say either "the piece 'Happy Birthday to You' begins with two notes having the same pitch," or "the piece begins with two repetitions of the same note." In the former case, one uses note to refer to a specific musical event; in the latter, one uses the term to refer to a class of events sharing the same pitch.
Note name Edit
- See also: Key signature names and translations
Two notes with fundamental frequencies in a ratio equal to any power of two (e.g. half, twice, or four times) are perceived as very similar. Because of that, all notes with these kinds of relations can be grouped under the same pitch class.
In traditional music theory within the English-speaking and Dutch-speaking world, pitch classes are typically represented by the first seven letters of the Latin alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G). A few European countries, including Germany, adopt an almost identical notation, in which H is substituted for B (see below for details). However, most other countries in the world use the naming convention Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si, including for instance Italy, Spain, France, most Latin American countries, Greece, Turkey, Russia, and all the Arabic-speaking or Persian-speaking countries .
The eighth note, or octave is given the same name as the first, but has double its frequency. The name octave is also used to indicate the span between a note and another with double frequency. To differentiate two notes that have the same pitch class but fall into different octaves, the system of scientific pitch notation combines a letter name with an Arabic numeral designating a specific octave. For example, the now-standard tuning pitch for most Western music, 440 Hz, is named a′ or A4.
Accidentals EditLetter names are modified by the accidentals. A sharp
12-tone chromatic scaleEdit
The following chart lists the names used in different countries for the 12 notes of a chromatic scale built on C. The corresponding symbols are shown within parenthesis. Differences between German and English notation are highlighted in bold typeface. Although the English and Dutch names are different, the corresponding symbols are identical.
|English||C|| C sharp|
| D flat|
| German |
(used in DE, CZ, PL, HU, NO, FI)
| Dutch |
(used in NL, BE, and sometimes in Scandinavia after 1990s)
| Neo-latin |
(used in FR, IT, ES, Latin America, and many other countries)
|Do|| Do diesis|
| Re bemolle|
|Byzantine||Ni||Ni diesis||Pa||Pa diesis||Vu||Ga||Ga diesis||Di||Di diesis||Ke||Ke diesis||Zo|
|Pa hyphesis||Vu hyphesis||Di hyphesis||Ke hyphesis||Zo hyphesis|
|Japanese||Ha (ハ)|| Ei-ha|
|Ni (ニ)|| Ei-ni|
|Ho (ホ)||He (ヘ)|| Ei-he|
|To (ト)|| Ei-to|
|I (イ)|| Ei-i|
|Indian (Hindusthani)||Sa||Re Komal||Re||Ga Komal||Ga||Ma||Ma Teevra||Pa||Dha Komal||Dha||Ni Komal||Ni|
|Indian (Carnatic)||Sa||Shuddha Ri||Chatusruti Ri||Shatsruti Ri||Antara Ga||Shuddha Ma||Prati Ma||Pa||Shuddha Dha||Chatusruti Dha||Kaisika Ni||Kakali Ni|
Note designation in accordance with octave name Edit
The table of each octave and the frequencies for every note of pitch class A is shown below. The traditional (Helmholtz) system centers on the great octave (with capital letters) and small octave (with lower case letters). Lower octaves are named "contra" (with primes before), higher ones "lined" (with primes after). Another system (scientific) suffixes a number (starting with 0, or sometimes -1). In this system A4 is nowadays standardised to 440 Hz, lying in the octave containing notes from C4 (middle C) to B4. The lowest note on most pianos is A0, the highest C8. The MIDI system for electronic musical instruments and computers uses a straight count starting with note 0 for C-1 at 8.1758 Hz up to note 127 for G9 at 12,544 Hz.
|Octave naming systems||frequency|
of A (Hz)
|subsubcontra||C͵͵͵ – B͵͵͵||C-1 – B-1||0 – 11||13.75|
|sub-contra||C͵͵ – B͵͵||C0 – B0||12 – 23||27.5|
|contra||C͵ – B͵||C1 – B1||24 – 35||55|
|great||C – B||C2 – B2||36 – 47||110|
|small||c – b||C3 – B3||48 – 59||220|
|one-lined||c′ – b′||C4 – B4||60 – 71||440|
|two-lined||c′′ – b′′||C5 – B5||72 – 83||880|
|three-lined||c′′′ – b′′′||C6 – B6||84 – 95||1760|
|four-lined||c′′′′ – b′′′′||C7 – B7||96 – 107||3520|
|five-lined||c′′′′′ – b′′′′′||C8 – B8||108 – 119||7040|
|six-lined||c′′′′′′ – b′′′′′′||C9 – B9|| 120 – 127|
up to G9
Written notes Edit
A written note can also have a note value, a code that determines the note's relative duration. In order of halving duration, we have: double note (breve); whole note (semibreve); half note (minim); quarter note (crotchet); eighth note (quaver); sixteenth note (semiquaver). Smaller still are the thirty-second note (demisemiquaver), sixty-fourth note (hemidemisemiquaver), and hundred twenty-eighth note (semihemidemisemiquaver).
When notes are written out in a score, each note is assigned a specific vertical position on a staff position (a line or a space) on the staff, as determined by the clef. Each line or space is assigned a note name. These names are memorized by musicians and allow them to know at a glance the proper pitch to play on their instruments for each note-head marked on the page.
The staff above shows the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
and then in reverse order, with no key signature or accidentals.
Note frequency (hertz) Edit
- Main article: Mathematics of musical scales
The note-naming convention specifies a letter, any accidentals, and an octave number. Any note is an integer of half-steps away from middle A (A4). Let this distance be denoted n. If the note is above A4, then n is positive; if it is below A4, then n is negative. The frequency of the note (f) (assuming equal temperament) is then:
Finally, it can be seen from this formula that octaves automatically yield powers of two times the original frequency, since n is therefore a multiple of 12 (12k, where k is the number of octaves up or down), and so the formula reduces to:
yielding a factor of 2. In fact, this is the means by which this formula is derived, combined with the notion of equally-spaced intervals.
The distance of an equally tempered semitone is divided into 100 cents. So 1200 cents are equal to one octave — a frequency ratio of 2:1. This means that a cent is precisely equal to the 1200th root of 2, which is approximately 1.000578.
For use with the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard, a frequency mapping is defined by:
Where p is the MIDI note number. And in the opposite direction, to obtain the frequency from a MIDI note p, the formula is defined as:
For notes in an A440 equal temperament, this formula delivers the standard MIDI note number (p). Any other frequencies fill the space between the whole numbers evenly. This allows MIDI instruments to be tuned very accurately in any microtuning scale, including non-western traditional tunings.
History of note names Edit
Though it is not known whether this was his devising or common usage at the time, this is nonetheless called Boethian notation. Although Boethius is the first author which is known to have used this nomenclature in the literature, the above mentioned two-octave range was already known five centuries before by Ptolemy, who called it the "perfect system" or "complete system", as opposed to other systems of notes of smaller range, which did not contain all the possible species of octave (i.e., the seven octaves starting from A, B, C, D, E, F, and G).
Following this, the range (or compass) of used notes was extended to three octaves, and the system of repeating letters A-G in each octave was introduced, these being written as lower case for the second octave (a-g) and double lowercase letters for the third (aa-gg). When the range was extended down by one note, to a G, that note was denoted using the Greek G (Γ), gamma. (It is from this that the French word for scale, gamme is derived, and the English word gamut, from "Gamma-Ut", the lowest note in Medieval music notation.)The remaining five notes of the chromatic scale (the black keys on a piano keyboard) were added gradually; the first being B
In Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Romanian, Greek, Russian, Mongolian, Flemish, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Bulgarian and Turkish notation the notes of scales are given in terms of Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si rather than C-D-E-F-G-A-B. These names follow the original names reputedly given by Guido d'Arezzo, who had taken them from the first syllables of the first six musical phrases of a Gregorian Chant melody Ut queant laxis, which began on the appropriate scale degrees. These became the basis of the solfege system. "Do" later replaced the original "Ut" for ease of singing (most likely from the beginning of Dominus, Lord), though "Ut" is still used in some places. "Si" or "Ti" was added as the seventh degree (from Sancte Johannes, St. John, to whom the hymn is dedicated). The use of 'Si' versus 'Ti' varies regionally.
The two notation systems most commonly used nowadays are the Helmholtz pitch notation system and the Scientific pitch notation system. As shown in the table above, they both include several octaves, each starting from C rather than A. The reason is that the most commonly used scale in Western music is the major scale, and the sequence C-D-E-F-G-A-B (the C-major scale) is the simplest example of a major scale. Indeed, it is the only major scale which can be obtained using natural notes (the white keys on the piano keyboard), and typically the first musical scale taught in music schools.
In a newly developed system, primarily in use in the United States, notes of scales become independent to the music notation. In this system the natural symbols C-D-E-F-G-A-B refer to the absolute notes, while the names Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti are relativized and show only the relationship between pitches, where Do is the name of the base pitch of the scale, Re is the name of the second pitch, etc. The idea of so-called movable-do, originally suggested by John Curwen in the 19th century, was fully developed and involved into a whole educational system by Zoltán Kodály in the middle of the 20th century, which system is known as the Kodály Method or Kodály Concept.
See also Edit
- Music and mathematics (Mathematics of musical scales)
- Diatonic and chromatic
- Ghost note
- Grace note
- Money note
- Musical temperament
- Note value
- Piano key frequencies
- Universal key
- ↑ Nattiez 1990, p.81n9
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 is = sharp; es or s = flat
- ↑ diesis = sharp; bemolle = flat
- ↑ diesis (or diez) = sharp; hyphesis = flat
- ↑ 嬰 (Ei) =
- ↑ Boethius. De institutione musica. Book IV, chap. 14. Ed. Friedlein, 341.
- Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1990). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 0-691-02714-5.
- Converter: Frequencies to note name, +/- cents
- Note names, keyboard positions, frequencies and MIDI numbers
- Music notation systems − Frequencies of equal temperament tuning - The English and American system versus the German system
- Frequencies of musical notes
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