In music, a note is either a unit of fixed pitch that has been given a name, or the graphic representation of that pitch in a notation system, and sometimes its duration, or a specific instance of either, so one can speak of "the second note of Happy Birthday" for example. The general and specific meanings are freely mixed by musicians, although they can be initially confusing: "the first two notes of Happy Birthday are the same note", meaning, "the first two sounds of Happy Birthday have the same pitch." A note is a discretization of musical or sound phenomena and thus facilitates musical analysis (Nattiez 1990, p.81n9).


Note names

In English, the notes are given 7 letter names: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G (in order of rising pitch). These letter names repeat, so that the note above G is A (an octave higher than the first A) and the sequence continues indefinitely. Notes are used together as a scales or tone row. However, because there are actually 12 notes needed by diatonic music, the 7 letter names can also be given a modifier.

The two main modifiers are sharps and flats which respectively raise or lower the pitch of a note by a semitone. These are used to create the additional five notes necessary to complete the chromatic scale. The sharp symbol is ♯ (similar to the pound symbol, #), the flat symbol is ♭ (similar to a lower-case b). These accidentals are placed before the note symbol in music notation, but after the note name in writing; for example A♯ represents the note A sharp. Other accidentals include double-sharp, double-flat, and natural. The key signature may also affect the pitch of a note.

Continental note names

Another style of notation, rarely used in English, uses the suffix "is" to indicate a sharp and "es" (only "s" after A and E) for a flat, e.g. Fis for F♯, Bes for B♭, Es for E♭. In German print, the letter H is sometimes used instead of B, in which case B represents B♭.

Note name example

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 the musician and allows him or her to know at a glance the proper pitch to play on his or her instrument 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.

The approximate frequencies of the notes above are:

  • C: 262Hz
  • D: 294Hz
  • E: 330Hz
  • F: 349Hz
  • G: 392Hz
  • A: 440Hz
  • B: 495Hz
  • C: 524Hz

The frequency of a note doubles per octave—note that the upper C has a frequency double that of the lower C.

History of note names

Music notation systems have used letters of the alphabet for centuries. The 6th century philosopher Boethius is known to have used the first fifteen letters of the alphabet to signify the notes of the two-octave range that was in use at the time; it is not known whether this was his devising or common usage at the time; nonetheless this is called Boethian notation.

Following this, the system of repeating letters A-G in each octave was introduced, these being written as minuscules for the second octave and double minuscules for the third. When the compass of used notes was extended down by one note, to a G, it was given the Greek G (Γ), gamma. (It is from this that the French word for scale, gamme is derived, and the English word gamut.)

The remaining five notes of the chromatic scale (the black keys on a piano keyboard) were added gradually; the first being B which was flattened in certain modes to avoid the dissonant augmented fourth interval. This change was not always shown in notation, but when written, B♭ (B flat) was written as a Latin, round "b", and B♮ (B natural) a Gothic b. These evolved into the modern flat and natural symbols respectively. The sharp symbol arose from a barred b, called the "cancelled b".

In parts of Europe, including Germany, the natural symbol transformed into the letter H: in German music notation, H is B♮ (B natural) and B is B♭ (B flat).

Note value

A written note can also have a note value, a code which determines the note's relative duration. These note values include quarter notes (crotchets), eighth notes (quavers), and so on.

See also


External links

Template:Musical notationcs:Nota da:Node de:Note (Musik) es:Nota musical eo:Tononomo fr:Note de musique he:תו (מוזיקה) is:Nta (tnlist) it:Nota musicale ja:音符 nl:Muzieknoot pl:Nuta ru:Ноты


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