The ABC’s of the Musical Alphabet | Hub Guitar

The ABC’s of the Musical Alphabet

A New Alphabet

Play the note on the first fret of the B string. This note is C, a wave that vibrates at a frequency that you hear as pitch. Pluck the same string at the thirteenth fret. Again, you hear what sounds like the same pitch, but it’s higher. That’s because the sound wave is vibrating twice as fast. This can be expressed as a ratio of 1:2, which is so perfect that we hear the two notes as having the same identity. If two different instruments play the same C at the same pitch, the ratio is 1:1, and this is called a unison.

You can visualize this with the notes from the Ist fret of the guitar up to the XIIIth fret, and try playing a C major scale. On the graph below, the note of the Ist fret would be the leftmost C. The note from the XIIIth fret would by the rightmost one. All other notes in between are unique notes, but once they reach “C” again, the sequence repeats, forever, at least until notes exit the range of human hearing.

The 12 Notes

C
C
D
D
E
F
F
G
G
A
A
B
C

Intervals

An interval is the distance between two notes. The interval from a low “C” to a higher “C” is an octave. The octave is the basic source of pitch, with all other pitches created by dividing it into smaller pieces, called steps. A half step is a movement of one block, from C to C♯. A whole step is a movement of two blocks, from C to D. Most modern music divides the octave into twelve slices, just as you see above. You can play this sequence of notes by starting at the Ist fret of the B string and moving up one fret at a time, playing each fret until you reach C again at the thirteenth fret. Name each note out loud as you play it.

Together, all twelve of these notes form the chromatic scale. A scale is a sequence of notes in which no note is repeated and all notes are played in ascending order from lowest to highest.

The 7 Letters

If you look at this scale carefully, you will notice two interesting things.

First, seven of the notes—C, D, E, F, G, A, B—have unique letter names. These notes are called natural notes. Five of the notes do not have unique names, but are instead named for where they fall in relationship to these seven. Notes like C♯ (C sharp) or G♭ (G flat) are called accidentals. Second: two pairs of notes do not have a note between them: pair E and F, and pair B and C.

Key Tasks

  1. Memorize the 7 letters of the musical alphabet: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C.
  2. Memorize the 12 chromatic notes.
  3. …ascending: C, C♯, D, D♯, E, F, F♯ G, G♯, A, A♯, B, C.
    …descending: C, B, B♭, A, A♭, G, G♭, F, E, E♭, D, D♭, C
  4. Be able to name and play the 12 notes on the B string of your guitar.
  5. Memorize the two pairs of natural notes that have no accidentals between them: … pairs E and F. (There is no E♯ or F♭)
    …pairs B and C (There is no B♯ or C♭ )

Key Terms

Be able to define the following terms.

  • natural
  • scale
  • accidental
  • step
  • interval

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