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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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