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Thread: Question: So... who decided that 'C' is 'C'?

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    Default Question: So... who decided that 'C' is 'C'?

    I've read various articles about how the concept of tuning developed in the 17th, 18th century. But I wonder who decided that 'C' is 'C'? I assume that the first organs were the first instruments with repeatable fixed pitches, right?

    Even though they may have been lower than today, the pitches were still in the same ballpark. So... who/how did they decide the vague idea of 'A' or 'C' when they were creating the original keyboards?

    Does it have something to do with the original 4' or 8' pipes?

    TIA

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    And on a similar note, why in the world isn't A the "first" or simplest key - I mean the one with no sharps or flats rather than C? There must be some kind of carry over from the modes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    And on a similar note, why in the world isn't A the "first" or simplest key
    Exactly. My WAG was always that basically -everything- had -something- vaguely to do with 'organs'... something mundane like, the Flemish Plumbers Guild made tin pipes in a certain length... and the first organs were made from those pipes at the medieval version of home depot... so that became the standard.

    But over the years, whenever I ask anyone... colleagues, teachers, etc... they look at me like... 'WHAT A STUPID QUESTION'.

    They can tell ya what kind of fried chicken Beethoven liked, so there has to be an origin story for all this.

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    Wiki as ever.>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    Wiki as ever.>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Well.... sort of...

    Maybe I missed something, but Boethius or Ptolemy used ABCDEFG... etc. but then that implies an Aeolian 'mode' as a starting point... why?

    And so 'C' and solfeggio derives from -that- somehow... and then became 'major'.

    But that still doesn't answer my original question... ie. why was 'A' 440? or 'C' 261ish. I mean, in the broadest sense, people as far back as 'Ptolemy' seem to have had a common idea that 'A' was a certain pitch... in the sense that 'red' is 'red' all over the place.

    I understand it's a broad topic, but it seems like an interesting thing. 'Red' is (apparently) a biological universal. But few of us seem to have perfect pitch... so... how did 'C' in Turkey end up the same as 'C' in Scotland... I mean going back to Ptolemy.

    OR... I'm wondering if a lot (or most) people hundreds of years ago actually -did- have something like perfect pitch?

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    Ah. the 440hz A is part of the 1953 standard. Wiki on Concert pitch is weak pre 1800. The article on eight foot pitch gives you details on organ pipes. This article points out that early tuning were all over the shop and that's without mentioning temperament. This article covers much of the same ground and plugs a book "The Story of A" by Bruce Haynes which looks as if it was written for you.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    Ah. the 440hz A is part of the 1953 standard. Wiki on Concert pitch is weak pre 1800. The article on eight foot pitch gives you details on organ pipes. This article points out that early tuning were all over the shop and that's without mentioning temperament. This article covers much of the same ground and plugs a book "The Story of A" by Bruce Haynes which looks as if it was written for you.
    Ahh, Taggart, such subtlety. That's just a nice way of saying "Go read a book!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    Ah. the 440hz A is part of the 1953 standard. Wiki on Concert pitch is weak pre 1800. The article on eight foot pitch gives you details on organ pipes. This article points out that early tuning were all over the shop and that's without mentioning temperament. This article covers much of the same ground and plugs a book "The Story of A" by Bruce Haynes which looks as if it was written for you.
    Cheers for that. That 'Eight Foot' article is interesting.

    But there still seem to be gaps in all this (or I'm getting even thicker as I age.) So 'C' is an 8' pipe. And 'C' is related to 'A', which has some cosmic significance according to Boethius or Ptolemy.

    Sadly, that Bruce Haynes book is $87 on Amazon which is about... (carry the 2...) $85 more than I'm willing to pay for this hidden knowledge. I asked my library to get it from special loans... we'll see.

    When I was a kid there was this weird guy with glasses on BBC who did these hour long stories where he'd link together all these seemingly unrelated science things and show they all fit together in a 'fun' way.... James something? I think this is one of those deals.

    I appreciate yer taking the time. It's funny that I've spent 40 years 'studying' music and never
    gotten into this crap before.

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    Thanks for that.

    The thing about C and A is that the A above middle C starts the next round of notes. Nothing exactly special about that. Then you get into musical tuning and all the physics about stopped strings, interval ratios, stacked fifths abd temperament. Enjoy.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by suntower View Post
    But there still seem to be gaps in all this (or I'm getting even thicker as I age.) So 'C' is an 8' pipe. And 'C' is related to 'A', which has some cosmic significance according to Boethius or Ptolemy...It's funny that I've spent 40 years 'studying' music and never
    gotten into this crap before.
    A lot of this is just plain arbitrary. If you have a logical mind, follow the logic, and forget the rest (after you understand it enough to know that it is arbitrary.)

    For instance, the key signature sytem is arbitrary (especially to non-pianists) because it's based on diatonic 7-note scales, and this is related to the physical layout of the keyboard (not the guitar neck, or the neck of a vocalist).

    To be a scale, you have to have 7 different letter names, with no repeats. That's why there is no key of "E sharp" or "F flat."

    A lot of this has to be cleared up by reading several sources.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    To be a scale, you have to have 7 different letter names, with no repeats. That's why there is no key of "E sharp" or "F flat."

    A lot of this has to be cleared up by reading several sources.

    7 different consecutive letter names ideally with the minimum number of accidentals in the key signature. E# major would go E#, F##, G##, A#, B#,C##, D## which is enharmonically the same as F major but almost impossible to read on a staff. F flat major aka E major can be constructed on a similar basis: F flat, G flat, A flat, B double flat, C flat, D flat, E flat.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    That's just a nice way of saying "Go read a book!"
    Yup. Why come to TC when you can do it all in private?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Yup. Why come to TC when you can do it all in private?
    I see what you're getting at, but music theory is so involved that it's going to take actually reading some books.

    Besides, even if the correct information, there's always somebody who will argue with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    7 different consecutive letter names ideally with the minimum number of accidentals in the key signature. E# major would go E#, F##, G##, A#, B#,C##, D## which is enharmonically the same as F major but almost impossible to read on a staff. F flat major aka E major can be constructed on a similar basis: F flat, G flat, A flat, B double flat, C flat, D flat, E flat.
    Okay, seven consecutive letter names, and no double sharps or flats. Happy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Okay, seven consecutive letter names, and no double sharps or flats. Happy?
    Almost does it. The "ideally with the minimum number of accidentals in the key signature" is important too.That's why we prefer D flat to C#.

    That then leads us to another puzzle. Why is it F# major and not G flat major? Both have 6 accidentals so they should be equivalent. The main reason AFAIK is to avoid another messy major / enharmonic minor split. Remember that for flat keys, the key signature of the relative major is found by adding 3 to the number of flats whereas for sharp keys you subtract 3 from the number of sharps; and when it goes negative, that's the number of flats for the relative minor.

    So A flat (4 flats) would have a relative major of C Flat (7 flats) but it's easier to treat it as G# (8 sharps) having a relative major of B (5 sharps); so there is no A flat minor only G# minor. In the same way, D flat (5 flats) would have a relative major of F flat (8 flats) so it's easier to treat it as C# (7 sharps) having a relative major of E (4 sharps); so there is no D flat minor only C# minor.

    When we get to 6 accidentals, if it was G flat, it's relative major would have 9 flats So it's easier to treat it as F# with relative major A (3 sharps) and if we do that, why bother with G flat in the first place?

    That gives us that a scale is a series of seven consecutive letter names using the minimum number of accidentals to achieve the major intervals. If there is a case where the number of accidentals is equal, then the version with sharps is preferred because it is more likely to have a simpler minor scale.

    Now I'm happy.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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