Musical Notes

Musical Notes

Every song or music piece you hear is a combination of various musical notes. To give a short definition,  notes are the name given to the different pitches associated with a specific audio frequency.

According to western music, there are 12 standard notes, also known as the chromatic scale. These are C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# & B. We will continue all subsequent articles with these chromatic scale notes.

The Cycle of Notes

Let us take this below picture for reference.

The cycle of notes

Let us start with the note C. We that there are 7 standard full tones, C > D > E > F > G > A > B.  Now we have some notes in between them. These are called the semitones or half-notes. Now we say that between C & D, there is a note C# (C sharp). This note has the same pitch as that of Db (D Flat). However, they are used as per the key you are playing. For example, the pitch C# is heard in A major scale & is called C#. The exact same pitch is also heard in Bb minor scale. However, here it is called Db.

We also see that there are no notes between E > F & B > C.  This is because these semitones don’t exist. There is no identified pitch between these notes in our current system.

If you would have ever seen a piano or a synth, you may have observed that it consists of white & black keys. White keys are the tones & the black keys are the semitones.

We are calling this the cycle of notes because if you start from C & complete all the 12 notes, you will land back to the C note. However, it would be a different octave.


  In every instrument, the notes are spread across different octaves. Octaves exist in both physics & music. For understanding octaves, you need to know the difference between pitch & frequency. When we start with the note C, play all the 12 notes & return back to C. Now, this C will have the same pitch but different frequency.

However, in simple musical terms, we can say that octave is the distance between one note (suppose C) and the next letter of an exact identical pitch. Now the following note can be either of higher frequency or lower frequency. If it has a higher frequency, we call it a higher octave & vice-versa.           

We will learn more about octaves & specifically about the octaves in guitar in the next article.

Concert Pitch

The note ‘C’ does not sound the same for all instruments. Therefore, most instruments are tuned to concert pitch. Note ‘C’ sounds the same in all instruments when they are in concert pitch. The piano & most of the stringed instruments are tuned to a concert pitch. Even some flutes & percussions are tuned in concert pitch.

The human voice is also in concert pitch. Hence singing to an acoustic guitar sound sounds awesome.

Musical Note Duration

Now we are going to read about the nomenclature of note-duration. This will help you understand the subsequent articles & also learn your music better.

Now, when we are playing an instrument or reading musical notation, every note has a different duration. For example, if you are playing a classic musical piece, every notation will have a different timing & it is this timing that creates the music. In Western music, the sheet is divided into measures, which contains 4 beats.

Understanding the nomenclature:

  • Whole Note: A whole note means that the note is covering the whole of the 4 beats.
  • Half Note:  A half note means that the note is covering half of the 4 beats.
  • Quarter note: When the note covers 1/4th of the whole beat or 4 beats.
  • Eighth Note: When the note covers the 1/8th of the 4 beat measure, it is called an eighth note.
  • Sixteenth Note: As the name suggests, when a note covers 1/16th of the default 4 beats, measure, it is called a sixteenth beat

I hope you have understood the basic musical note structure.  This is the first step towards learning music & of course, the most important of them. Understanding the structure of musical notes will make it easy for you to understand, play & compose music in the near future. We are going to understand the analogy of the fret board, along with the notes & octaves in the next article.

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