The Musical Alphabet
A note is a specific pitch, a frequency of sound that our ears can hear. Since music is made up of all different combinations of notes we must give names to them to tell them apart. Here are seven different notes, each taking a different letter from our alphabet. These are called our natural notes:
A B C D E F G
These notes are also referred to as the musical alphabet and memorizing it is easy—just think of the first breath when singing you’re ABC’s! There are pitches found in-between some of these notes, but before we get into that let’s get some terminology straight.
A half step (also called a “semitone”) is the distance of one fret on your guitar: 1st fret to the 2nd, 2nd to the 3rd etc. A whole step in the distance of two half steps, or two frets on your guitar: 1st fret to 3rd fret, 3rd to 5th etc. There are 12 half steps before we hit an octave, which is where the same notes begin repeating, but in the next register up. Since our musical alphabet is only seven notes, and there are 12 different (half-step) notes before they begin repeating, then we have five more notes to give names to. Here are all 12 notes in our music system:
A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# (A)
You will notice that our natural notes from above are all present alongside some notes with a “#” sign. This # sign (spoken “sharp”) means to raise our note one semitone higher. For example, A# means to play our A note one fret higher than an A, spoken as “A sharp.” This structure of 12 neighboring half steps forms what is called a chromatic scale. There are only 12 notes in our western music system. Pretty good to know, right?
So what does all this mean? Well, for now it gives you a foundation to understand musician jargon and get the most from your lessons, but it will also prepare you for music theory down the road.
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