James Tauber : The Naming of Musical Notes, Part IV

James Saiz

journeyman of some

The Naming of Musical Notes, Part IV

In Part III, I introduced what I called absolute note names and relative note names.

I'd like to introduce a third possibility now which is the approach underlying much of Western music note naming. I'll call it fixed note naming.

The fixed note name of a note is what the relative note name would be if we were in the key of <1>-major.

So with fixed note names, we are still naming based on a diatonic scale (and so will have to use + and - to get the chromatic notes) but the diatonic scale we are using might not be the diatonic scale of the key we are in.

Let's use parentheses to indicate fixed note names. And so a <3>-major scale in each of our note naming systems would look as follows:

<3> <5> <7>  <8> <10> <12> <2'>
{1} {2} {3}  {4} {5}  {6}  {7}
(2) (3) (4+) (5) (6)  (7)  (1'+)

The third note is (4+) because <7> is not part of the <1>-major scale. Why didn't we use (5-) which also maps to <7>?

Well notice that

(2) (3) (4+) (5) (6) (7) (1'+)

has the nice property that each number appears exactly once. This property is a convention we adopt. This way, the scale can be thought of in terms of how each note in the <1>-major scale gets modified.

If all this seems too abstract, you can think about the example above in terms of the D-major scale:

D E F# G A B C#

Note that this Western choice of note naming is what I've called fixed note naming in that the notes of the scale have been named based on modifications to the C-major scale under the convention that each letter appears exactly once.

This is one way of thinking about why the third degree of the D-major scale is F# and not Gb. There are other approaches that come to the same conclusion which we'll explore later on.

I'll finish this part, though, with a final thought. It is possible to have a Gb in a piece in D-major. But it is a flattened 4th and is not the same as F# even though in 12-ET the pitch is the same. In absolute note naming, they are both <7> (if <1> = C). In relative note naming (specific to D-major), Gb would be {4-} whereas F# would be {3}.

Categories: music_theory

Trackbacks (0)

Comments (2)

Tim on Friday 17 February, 2006:

Can you elaborate on why Gb is different to F# even though they have the same pitch?

James Saiz on Friday 17 February, 2006:

In the context of the melody and/or harmony, the major third is functionally different from a flattened fourth. In some contexts, it will actually sound different. I hope to elaborate on this in some detail in further posts.

Add a Comment

What is 47+8?
Comments are text only.
The math question is to ensure you are a human!
This page last modified Monday 13 February, 2006 by James Saiz
Content made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license