Letter notation
In music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, letter notation is a system of representing a set of pitches, for example, the notes of a scale
Musical scale
In music, a scale is a sequence of musical notes in ascending and descending order. Most commonly, especially in the context of the common practice period, the notes of a scale will belong to a single key, thus providing material for or being used to conveniently represent part or all of a musical...

, by letters. For the complete Western diatonic scale
Diatonic scale
In music theory, a diatonic scale is a seven note, octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps...

, for example, these would be the letters A-G, possibly with a trailing symbol to indicate a half-step raise--(a sharp ), or a half-step lowering (flat). This is the most common way of specifying a note in speech or in written text in English or German. In some European countries H is used instead of B, and B is used instead of B.

Western letter pitch notation has the virtue of identifying discrete pitches, but among its disadvantages are its occasional inability to represent pitches or inflections lying outside those theoretically derived, or (leaving aside chordal and tablature
Tablature is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches....

 notations) representing the relationship between pitches--e.g., it does not indicate the difference between a whole step and a half step, knowledge of which was so critical to Medieval and Renaissance performers and theorists.


The earliest known letter notation in the Western musical tradition appear in the textbook on music De institutione musica by the 6th-century philosopher Boethius. A modified form is next found in the Dialogus de musica (ca. 1000) by Pseudo-Odo, in a discussion of the division of the monochord
A monochord is an ancient musical and scientific laboratory instrument. The word "monochord" comes from the Greek and means literally "one string." A misconception of the term lies within its name. Often a monochord has more than one string, most of the time two, one open string and a second string...

.Sargam notation of India is a form of letter notation.

Guitar chords

Letter notation is the most common way of indicating chords for accompaniment, such as guitar chords, for example B7. The bass note may be specified after a /, for example C/G is a C major chord with a G bass.

Where a capo
A capo is a device used on the neck of a stringed instrument to shorten the playable length of the strings, hence raising the pitch. It is frequently used on guitars, mandolins, and banjos. G.B...

 is indicated, there is little standardisation. For example, after capo 3, most music sheets will write A to indicate a C chord, that is, they give the chord shape rather than its pitch, but some specify it as C, others give two lines, either the C on top and the A on the bottom or vice versa. A few even use the /, writing C/A or A/C, but this notation is more commonly used for specifying a bass note and will confuse most guitarists.

Sharp, or flat?

In the context of a piece of music, notes must be named for their diatonic functionality. For example, in the key of D major, it is not generally correct to specify G as a melodic note, although its pitch may be the same as F. This is normally only an issue in describing the notes corresponding to the black notes of the piano; There is little temptation to write C as B although these are both valid names of the same note. Each is correct in its context.

Note names are also used for specifying the natural scale of a transposing instrument
Transposing instrument
A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which written notes are read at a pitch different from the corresponding concert pitch, which a non-transposing instrument, such as a piano, would play. Playing a written C on a transposing instrument will produce a note other than concert C...

 such as a clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

, trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...

 or saxophone
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

. The note names used are conventional, for example a clarinet is said to be in B, E, or A (the three most common registers), never in A and D and B (double-flat), while an alto flute
Alto flute
The alto flute is a type of Western concert flute, a musical instrument in the woodwind family. It is the next extension downward of the C flute after the flûte d'amour. It is characterized by its distinct, mellow tone in the lower portion of its range...

 is in G.


Note names can also be qualified to indicate the octave in which they are sounded. There are several schemes for this, the most common being scientific pitch notation
Scientific pitch notation
Scientific pitch notation is one of several methods that name the notes of the standard Western chromatic scale by combining a letter-name, accidentals, and a number identifying the pitch's octave...


Scientific pitch notation is often used to specify the range of an instrument. Where sharps or flats are necessary for this, these are related to the natural scale of the instrument if it has one, otherwise the choice is arbitrary.

Other note naming schemes

Tonic sol-fa
Tonic sol-fa
Tonic sol-fa is a pedagogical technique for teaching sight-singing, invented by Sarah Ann Glover of Norwich, England and popularised by John Curwen who adapted it from a number of earlier musical systems...

 is a type of notation using the initial letters of solfege
In music, solfège is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable...


See also

  • Abc notation
    Abc notation
    ABC notation is a shorthand form of musical notation that has been in use since at least the 19th century, In basic form it uses the letters A through G to represent the given notes, with other elements used to place added value on these - sharp, flat, the length of the note, key, ornamentation...

    , a letter notation based file format for computer storage of music
  • Helmholtz pitch notation
    Helmholtz pitch notation
    Helmholtz pitch notation is a musical system for naming notes of the Western chromatic scale. Developed by the German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz, it uses a combination of upper and lower case letters , and the sub- and super-prime symbols to describe each individual note of the scale...

  • Musical notation
    Musical notation
    Music notation or musical notation is any system that represents aurally perceived music, through the use of written symbols.-History:...

  • Solfege
    In music, solfège is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable...

  • Swara
    The seven notes of the scale , in Indian music are named shadja, rishabh, gandhar, madhyam, pancham, dhaivat and nishad, and are shortened to Sa, Ri or Re , Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni and written S, R, G, M, P, D, N. Collectively these notes are known as the sargam...

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