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Thread: Why are there only seven letter-names for notes?

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    Default Why are there only seven letter-names for notes?

    Why are there only seven letter-names for notes, A-B-C-D-E-F-G, and yet there are twelve notes? Watch out, it's a trick question.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Only scale members get their own names. I don't think that's unfair to chromatics, though they may be nursing hurt feelings.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Letter symbols were developed by medieval people using and theorizing about diatonic modal music. Of all the systems of letter notation used in early didactic texts to illustrate diatonic musical examples, those using the first seven letters of the alphabet proved most popular and efficient. Diatonic patterns predominated for centuries, so the seven letter names remained the basis for notation. Also, seven letter notation readily accommodated the solfege systems that were developing concurrently in choirs and singing schools.

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    It is a huge mystery to me. The whole of western music seems to have been built on an artificial construct. But I like it, so am glad someone thought it up, put it together, figured it out (whichever is applicable). But it does tend to make it rather difficult to understand music theory.
    “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!'" Matthew 25:41 (Christian Standard Bible)

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SixFootScowl View Post
    It is a huge mystery to me. The whole of western music seems to have been built on an artificial construct. But I like it, so am glad someone thought it up, put it together, figured it out (whichever is applicable). But it does tend to make it rather difficult to understand music theory.
    How could music NOT be an "art"-ificial construct?

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    I don't consider the way music is constructed as completely artificial, it is based off of natural harmonic properties relating to mathematical concepts derived from Pythagoras and the overtone series. Like the number Pi our musical system cannot be completely specific only approximated. We must compromise these numbers to a degree to make our system work. I think this is reflective of the fact we live in an imperfect world, but to say that these rules or constructs are completely arbitrary or artificial, I believe is false.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    I don't consider the way music is constructed as completely artificial, it is based off of natural harmonic properties relating to mathematical concepts derived from Pythagoras and the overtone series. Like the number Pi our musical system cannot be completely specific only approximated. We must compromise these numbers to a degree to make our system work. I think this is reflective of the fact we live in an imperfect world, but to say that these rules or constructs are completely arbitrary or artificial, I believe is false.
    Music has roots in perceptions of nature and in the way human cognitive processes and emotions are structured, so I agree that it isn't completely artificial. It seems unlikely that music would even exist if it didn't have such roots. But different types of music build on these natural foundations in such varied ways that I think we can say that musical styles or systems are predominantly artificial: they're collectively "invented" over time in particular cultural contexts. "Artificial" needn't imply "arbitrary."

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    I don't consider the way music is constructed as completely artificial, it is based off of natural harmonic properties relating to mathematical concepts derived from Pythagoras and the overtone series. Like the number Pi our musical system cannot be completely specific only approximated. We must compromise these numbers to a degree to make our system work. I think this is reflective of the fact we live in an imperfect world, but to say that these rules or constructs are completely arbitrary or artificial, I believe is false.
    I agree, although its naturalness for me also seems likely to be an artifact of its relationship to human speech performatively, structurally, and physiologically. A being capable of structuring coherent utterances and modulating tone and timbre in the creation of speech is inevitably going to play with those capabilities. The urge to sing would be irresistible. Or, as in the case of the lizard people of Proxima Centauri-B, whose vocal apparatus offers little scope for tonal language, the urge to create complex rhythmic patterns of clicks, pops, and whistles.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-30-2020 at 05:38.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    makes it easier to notate and work with. Say if you changed the names to give each of the 12 tones a different alphabet:

    A -> A
    A#/Bb -> B
    B -> C
    C -> D
    C#/Db -> E
    D -> F
    D#/Eb -> G
    E -> H
    F -> I
    F#/Gb -> J
    G -> K
    G#/Ab -> L

    instead of writing
    "C major scale" = C, D, E, F, G, A, B
    ...
    "A flat major scale" = Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G
    ...
    "E major scale" = E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#


    you would have to write:
    "C major scale" = D, F, H, I, K, A, C
    ...
    "A flat major scale" = L, B, D, E, G, I, K
    ...
    "E major scale" = H, J, L, A, C, E, G

    The same reason why there are only seven colors in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
    even if there are million rainbows, it changes nothing. They'll be all red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Watch out, it's a trick question.


    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Mar-30-2020 at 05:32.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    How could music NOT be an "art"-ificial construct?
    How could Moz-"art" NOT be "art"?

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    Senior Member senza sordino's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Why are there only seven letter-names for notes, A-B-C-D-E-F-G, and yet there are twelve notes? Watch out, it's a trick question.
    I don't know, but the number seven has had a special meaning since the beginnings of human civilization.

    Seven days of the week.
    Christ spoke seven words from the cross
    Seven celestial objects in the ancient world (Sun, Moon and five planets)
    Seven deadly sins
    Seven virtues
    Seven colours
    Seven Wonders of the World
    Seven hills of Rome
    Seven Dwarfs
    The Magnificent Seven

    But I don't know specifically the answer to your question.

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    If you count the notes from f to b chromatically, you get the number seven....uh oh.
    New website and some new music......www.mikehewer.com

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    If you count the notes from f to b chromatically, you get the number seven....uh oh.
    Trying to make trouble again, are ya?

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    The seven letter-names for notes are also reflected in the staff, in the way we notate music. The lines and spaces are not consistent, however: In C, the steps E-F and B-C are semitones, while the rest are whole tones. Why is this? Watch out, it's a trick question.

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    Senior Member TalkingHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The seven letter-names for notes are also reflected in the staff, in the way we notate music. The lines and spaces are not consistent, however: In C, the steps E-F and B-C are semitones, while the rest are whole tones. Why is this? Watch out, it's a trick question.
    I can't remember but I'm pretty sure this point was covered in the book "Music Theory for Dummies".
    https://www.amazon.com/Music-Theory-.../dp/1118990943

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