I can't really think of a way to phrase it to fit in the title, but seeing as there are 12 semitones in an octave, why are there 8 notes, and why are they the ones they are? What is special about an A as opposed to an A#? Is it just that most scales are 8 notes, and we chose c major as a sort of standard scale? Why is it that some notes are one semitone apart and some two, and why are they the ones they are, or is it all just arbitrary?

It's probably a really stupid question, but I'm just starting to learn theory, and it really bothers me that I can read all these guides to tell me how to use intervals for various things but I don't know why the 8 notes have the intervals they do....

Thanks,
Ollie
What do you mean 8 notes? You mean just the 8 basic letters? As far as I can tell it's just down to tradition

EDIT: Re-read OP. Basically the same way every part of music theory is worked out. Someone works out something that sounds good and comes up with rules to re-create that sound
.
Last edited by Nietsche at Jul 28, 2009,
We choose C major scale because it has no sharps or flats, it makes things simpler.
As far as semitones between notes I think some smart guy came up with it and the musical world just took his word for granted.

We choose notes that are in scales because each scale as a different uh, pattern of notes so to speak. If each scale had the same pattern then they'd all be the same.
Quote by guitar-guy01
do what this guy says, he is wise
Last edited by dma529 at Jul 28, 2009,
Quote by OllieH
I can't really think of a way to phrase it to fit in the title, but seeing as there are 12 semitones in an octave, why are there 8 notes, and why are they the ones they are? What is special about an A as opposed to an A#?

Beyond our notation bias that makes A simpler to represent, nothing.

Quote by OllieH
Why is it that some notes are one semitone apart and some two, and why are they the ones they are, or is it all just arbitrary?

Frequency ratios, or approximations thereof, that were found to sound generally pleasing. Every note has neighboring semitones, though.

Quote by OllieH
It's probably a really stupid question

Not at all!
Quote by Nietsche
What do you mean 8 notes? You mean just the 8 basic letters? As far as I can tell it's just down to tradition

Sorry yes I mean the letters... :P

Quote by dma529
We choose C major scale because it has no sharps or flats, it makes things simpler.
As far as semitones between notes I think some smart guy came up with it and the musical world just took his word for granted.

We choose notes that are in scales because each scale as a different uh, pattern of notes so to speak. If each scale had the same pattern then they'd all be the same.

But a C major scale has no sharps or flats because of the intervals of the letters... Thanks, I guess it is just tradition :/
Quote by dma529
We choose C major scale because it has no sharps or flats, it makes things simpler.

I think it was more like we defined the major scale with no sharps or flats in it to be C major. We could've called it A major just as easily. There have been times and places in which what we'd now call a C was an A.
Quote by dma529
We choose C major scale because it has no sharps or flats, it makes things simpler.

What he means is why do we say C,C#,...A,A# and not A first... and also why is the C maj scale no sharps or flats and not the A maj scale...

I was wondering... why have B and E without sharps (or flats for F and A) why not just get rid of G and G# and have a B# and E# (or F flat and A flat)?
basically: C,C#,D,D#,E,E#,F,F#,,A,A#,B,B# which is a lot f***ing easier
Quote by theogonia777
and then there's free jazz, which isn't even for musicians.

Quote by Born A Fool
As my old guitar teacher once said: Metal really comes from classical music. The only difference is pinch harmonics, double bass, and lyrics about killing goats.
Quote by Dream Floyd
What he means is why do we say C,C#,...A,A# and not A first... and also why is the C maj scale no sharps or flats and not the A maj scale...

I was wondering... why have B and E without sharps (or flats for F and A) why not just get rid of G and G# and have a B# and E# (or F flat and A flat)?
basically: C,C#,D,D#,E,E#,F,F#,,A,A#,B,B# which is a lot f***ing easier

Yep, these are exactly the kinds of things I was wondering xD
Quote by OllieH
Yep, these are exactly the kinds of things I was wondering xD

Wow, I've got 6 years of theory and still think like a beginner
Quote by theogonia777
and then there's free jazz, which isn't even for musicians.

Quote by Born A Fool
As my old guitar teacher once said: Metal really comes from classical music. The only difference is pinch harmonics, double bass, and lyrics about killing goats.
Quote by Dream Floyd
What he means is why do we say C,C#,...A,A# and not A first... and also why is the C maj scale no sharps or flats and not the A maj scale...

It could've been the A major scale. That was arbitrary.

Quote by Dream Floyd
I was wondering... why have B and E without sharps (or flats for F and A) why not just get rid of G and G# and have a B# and E# (or F flat and A flat)?
basically: C,C#,D,D#,E,E#,F,F#,,A,A#,B,B# which is a lot f***ing easier

Or you could just have A B C D E F G H I J K L.

The circle of fifths isn't a circle at all; it's an endless spiral. What we've done in recent centuries is temper that spiral to a what looks like a circle, though it's still that same spiral, just overlapping itself. We can only use a finite portion of that spiral, and the A-G letters were assigned to the pitches from six fifths pulled from that spiral. This predates modern temperament, when choosing twelve names would make more sense. Our musical conventions were developed from diatonic scales. This could be undone, but it'd be difficult. Not that we shouldn't try.
Last edited by Dodeka at Jul 28, 2009,
We use this system because it makes sense. It's down largely to equal temperence and the maths behind that.
In times past music would not have been conceptualised in such a way (i.e. before equal temperence).
We have all the note names we have because they are all used; contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, the notes B# and E# do exist in certain circumstances such as in the key of C#.
Quote by Cyberbob
We use this system because it makes sense. It's down largely to equal temperence and the maths behind that.

This system predates equal temperament. Had it been otherwise, it could've been very different from what we have.

this should help to explain

interesting enough it was pointed out to me the other day that the lowest note on a piano is almost always an A not a C
The only 6 words that can make you a better guitarist:

Learn theory
Practice better
Practice more
Last edited by doive at Jul 28, 2009,
Quote by Dream Floyd
What he means is why do we say C,C#,...A,A# and not A first... and also why is the C maj scale no sharps or flats and not the A maj scale...

I was wondering... why have B and E without sharps (or flats for F and A) why not just get rid of G and G# and have a B# and E# (or F flat and A flat)?
basically: C,C#,D,D#,E,E#,F,F#,,A,A#,B,B# which is a lot f***ing easier

Ab exists, I see it all the time in my sax music. You'd run in to trouble when you had a scale with B then B# instead of C.
Quote by Fat Lard
Why would you spend tens of thousands of dollars to learn about a language you already speak? It was over before it even started dude

Quote by captainsnazz
brot pls
you must have definitions before you can draw relations between them. You could equally ask why is A defined as 440Hz (in most music before you flame me MT) it just IS. you could define it as anything but you must define it as something.

The same is true in science, you can define the metre or the second however you like then you can build from there to work out the speed of light is 3*10^8m/s. you could equally say it's 1.8*10^12 furlongs per fortnight. The important thing is you define them so then you can relate them.

There are only 5 concepts in the world that really exist outside of definition. Pi, e, 1, 0 and the radian. Although they are defined by textbooks etc. they are fundamental properties and so are the same everywhere no matter how they are measured
The only 6 words that can make you a better guitarist:

Learn theory
Practice better
Practice more
Last edited by doive at Jul 28, 2009,
Not sure about the letter assignment and how it came to be but the explanation of why not just sequences of #'s and Flats of the same "letter" would probably have to do with "whole" and "half" step frequency differences. IE for a "visual" example....as you wind your guitar string tighter to bring it up to tune maybe it takes longer to tighten from a C to a D than it does to tighten from an E to an F. Not necessarily how many times you have to wind the tuning key but think of it as all 12 tones are on a string.... and that string represents the frequency waves of C to C. And the gaps between the "whole" and "half" steps are different. So to easily identify which ones those are in "notation" you assign letters in sequence so that there's no need for # and flat notation between them. In between a whole step is a "usable and fitting tone.... IE # or Flat. But inbetween the "half" steps there is not so they skip straight to the next Letter.

Just a guess though.
96 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop
95 Strat w/ Lindy Fralins
Ibanez JS1000
Vox AC30
Blue Alnico Cab
Budda Wah
Barber Tone Press
Keeley NOVA Wah
Pederson Strobo
Keeley TS-808
HBE Chorus
T-Rex Delay
Red Witch Moon Phase
You think to much about it dude.
Quote by doive
you must have definitions before you can draw relations between them. You could equally ask why is A defined as 440Hz (in most music before you flame me MT) it just IS. you could define it as anything but you must define it as something.

The same is true in science, you can define the metre or the second however you like then you can build from there to work out the speed of light is 3*10^8m/s. you could equally say it's 1.8*10^12 furlongs per fortnight. The important thing is you define them so then you can relate them.

There are only 5 concepts in the world that really exist outside of definition. Pi, e, 1, 0 and the radian. Although they are defined by textbooks etc. they are fundamental properties and so are the same everywhere no matter how they are measured

That is just semantics;

An hypothetical alien might call the mathematical relationship of Pi, "zungeuh" or w/e.

What you mean is mathematical relationship, which is pretty much everything that we see around us.

Ts wants to know why A is not the starting number, and why A to A# is not called A to B.

TS;

It is what it is, but I'm sure, that they written it this way, because it's more logical when used in explanations of music theory.

The "Re-incarnation of Plato" Award 2009
(most intelligent)
The "Good Samaritan" Award 2009 (most helpful)

[font="Palatino Linotype
Who's Andy Timmons??
Last edited by xxdarrenxx at Jul 29, 2009,
Quote by xxdarrenxx
That is just semantics;

An hypothetical alien might call the mathematical relationship of Pi, "zungeuh" or w/e.

What you mean is mathematical relationship, which is pretty much everything that we see around us.

Ts wants to know why A is not the starting number, and why A to A# is not called A to B.

TS;

It is what it is, but I'm sure, that they written it this way, because it's more logical when used in explanations of music theory.

it doesn't matter what pi is called, it would be defined the same way regardless of the number system used. Musical notes have no inherent definition, they are just defined by convention to be what they are. There is no reason to go A A# B C C#...G# over A B C D...K they have just been called that by convention. German music for example can sometimes use H instead of Bb (i think, it's been a long while since i spoke german...)

It's only in english that the scale goes from C D E F G A B C. in other languages and cultures the system is different. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Note#Accidentals for other language note naming)

There is no specific reason for it, it is just an arbritary standard which has been adopted by the general musical world over a period of a couple of hundred years.

EDIT: on an relevant note however, the pentatonic scale can be considered the main heritage of music since it is common across all musical systems, while it is still defined, it is no coincidence that the notes of the pentatonic are the black notes on a piano (the sharps and flats). We normally think of the sharps and flats as notes in between the natural notes, but in fact from a pentatonic standpoint it is easier to view the naturals as the notes in between a pentatonic.
The only 6 words that can make you a better guitarist:

Learn theory
Practice better
Practice more
Last edited by doive at Jul 29, 2009,