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John » Blog Archive » Music Theory 101: The Musical Alphabet

Music Theory 101: The Musical Alphabet

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In this article, we’ll be discussing the actual notes that make up the music that you play. Here are some music vocabulary words to look out for:

  • natural
  • sharp
  • flat
  • half step
  • whole step

I know some of you are thinking “This guy has to be kidding. He’s teaching A-B-Cs?” That’s right ladies and gentlemen. I am here to teach you the ABCs of music. For some people this is going to be slow, boring, and completely useless, but I recommend that you read it anyway; you might just see something explained in a way you never thought of before. For the rest of you, let’s dig right in.

The musical alphabet is made up of seven letter names: A B C D E F G. It’s not quite that simple though. In Figure 1 I have shown what I’m talking about. The lone letters (C, D, F, A…) are called natural notes. They don’t have anything done to them, therefore they are natural. Above each of the natural notes is a sharp(#) note. It is simply a half step sharper (or higher in pitch) than their natural equivalent. Below each of the natural notes is a flat(b) note. As you can probably guess, these notes are a half step flatter (or lower in pitch) than their natural equivalents.

Musical Alphabet

Figure 1.

At this point you’re probably saying “What are half steps?” The change in pitch from one note to an adjacent note (for instance, E -> Eb, or A ->A#) is a “half step.”

*In Figure 1, some of the notes were highlighted in blue. This is to show that B -> C is a half step and E -> F is a half step. There are no sharps or flats between them.*

As you can probably guess, a “whole step” is simply two half steps. Think of whole steps as being the difference in pitch between any note and any second note away (for instance, Eb -> Db, or A -> B).

Some people work better with a piano keyboard, so here is a figure of how these notes would line up:

Musical Alphabet on Keyboard

Figure 2

Hope this helped some of you. As always, if you have any questions about this or anything else, feel free to email me:

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