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Learning The Basic Musical Alphabet & Intervals

Updated on July 14, 2015

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The Letters

Pitch in music refers to the highness or lowness of a sound and is named by using the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D E, F, and G. These are known as the natural notes. They will keep repeating themselves as the sound gets higher: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C etc., or lower G, F, E, D, C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C, B, A etc. until they are out of the range of the instrument or our hearing.

Intervals: 1/2 Steps & Whole Steps

The term interval refers to the distance between two pitches, the most basic interval being the half-step:

On the guitar and all fretted instruments, each fret is a half-step. On a piano playing every key is a half step.

and the whole-step:

On the guitar and all fretted instruments, every two frets is a whole step. On a piano playing every other key is a whole step.

Here are the intervals between the natural notes starting on C:

C -whole step- D -whole step- E -half step- F -whole step- G -whole step- A -whole step- B -half step- C

The octave is the interval of 12 half-steps.

Natural Notes On Piano

Sharps & Flats

Although there are only seven letters used, there are actually a total of 12 different sounding pitches that make up the “musical alphabet” and 21 possible names for these twelve pitches because of sharps(♯) and flats(♭).

Sharp means raise the sound of the natural (♮) note by 1/2 step (On a guitar 1 fret toward you and on a piano the very next key to the right after each white key),

Flat means lower the sound of the natural note by 1/2 step (1 fret away from you).

So we can take the natural notes: A B C D E F G, and lower them a half-step to get:

A♭ B♭ C♭ D♭ E♭ F♭ and G♭,

or raise them a half-step to get:

A♯ B♯ C♯ D♯ E♯ F♯ and G♯

for a total of 21 pitch names.

(There is also something known as the double sharp, and the double flat, which is raising or lowering the natural pitch by a whole-step)

Five of the sharps (ACDFG) can also be renamed as flats (BDEGA) or vice-versa. For example: A raised a 1/2 step (A♯) is also the same as B lowered a 1/2 step (B♭)

When 2 notes are the same pitch but written differently they are known as enharmonicpitches.

A♯ = Bb, C♯ = D♭, D♯ = E♭, F♯ = Gb, G♯ = A♭

The natural notes, E and B can be raised a half-step to become E♯ = F and B♯ = C.

The natural notes, F and C can be lowered a half-step to become F♭ = E and C♭ = B.

Notes on the Guitar

BEADGCF Exercise for the guitar


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    • Lorne Hemmerling profile image

      Lorne Hemmerling 2 years ago from Oshawa

      Hi Mark. If you want to insert the right symbols for sharps and flats, find the special characters menu item (in Google Chrome it is under the edit menu). You should be able to insert musical symbols from there. Great post, my friend!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 19 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      A very useful hub for any beginner learning the guitar.

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