Lesson: The Musical Alphabet

Level: Beginner

This article presents an introduction to the way musical notes are named and referred to. If you already know even a little music theory, this may seem pretty basic for you, so you may want to skip ahead or come back for more advanced lessons. If you’re a “play by ear” musician, you may not see the need to learn any theory at all. In many ways, music theory is giving names and complicated explanations to things we already know instinctively. Still, the next time you’re jamming and someone asks you to play an A sharp, it would be good to understand what that means. In addition, this lesson provides a base for later, more interesting, lessons.

Even those who have never studied music or an instrument can appreciate that music is made up of different notes, different pitches. The musical “alphabet” has twelve notes. All of the music that we care about can be spelled using these twelve notes. There are twelve notes on a guitar fretboard (and a piano keyboard, and a flute). Twelve unique notes, that is, that repeat themselves at higher and lower pitches. This distance of twelve notes is called an octave. I’ll discuss in a future lesson why it’s twelve and not some other number, but for now, just remember that there are twelve notes in the musical alphabet.

Now here’s where things get kooky. -- continue reading at guitarator.com


  • I always thought it a bit strange that it's all based on a C scale. Like, why C? What's so special about that letter? Why not start on A?
  • Haha, you're guess is as good as mine! I'm sure there's a lot of history involved there. And keep in mind most of this was not originally done in English, so it may have made better sense in the original language.
  • ya, some countries don't use letters at all. they say do re mi etc.
    also, you're assuming the major scale is the most important. the A natural minor scale has no sharps or flats either. and I think at one time A was the lowest note used in music
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