Fundamental Music Theory - Notes

Notes are the most fundamental building blocks of music. Any musician who aspires to write and compose original material should know his notes thoroughly. Following is a brief explanation about notes, aimed at making the topic clear to all beginners.

Have you ever wondered how musicians you idolize come up with all those innovative musical pieces and solos? Have you ever wondered what all the stuff on various music sites regarding scales, chords, cadences, rhythms comprise of? Have you ever felt like attending some music classes and actually learning and knowing all about the language for music, but do not know how to actually go about it? Here is a very basic guide to getting geared up to know about the very foundations of the universal language of music.

Notes in music

We have a set of 26 alphabets as the basic building blocks of the English language.
A book can be divided into pages, a page can be divided into paragraphs, a paragraph can be divided into sentences, a sentence can be divided into words, a word can be divided into alphabets. But can alphabets be divided into anything? No, because alphabets are the most fundamental entities in the language.

In a similar manner, notes are the fundamental entities of the language of music.
There are 7 different notes in music.

  • In the Indian music system, we call them 'Sa' 'Re' 'Ga' 'Ma' 'Pa' 'Dha' 'Ni'

  • In the Western classical music system, we call them 'Do' 'Re' 'Mi' 'Fa' 'Sol' 'La' 'Si'

  • In the Western non-classical music system, we call them 'A' 'B' 'C' 'D' 'E' 'F' 'G'

As you can see above, all the systems have 7 fundamental notes. Its just that their names are different in different systems. Its just like the case of the general name and scientific name of a tiger - its general name is 'tiger', but its scientific name is 'panthera tigris'. Though the names are different, they essentially mean the same thing.

For now, we shall stick to the Western non-classical system of representing notes.

So, we have the following fundamental notes -


Now, the above sequence is a cyclic sequence. This implies that after G, note A is present, then B, and so on. But this repeated sequence is of a higher level, which is called an octave. We shall deal with this concept of levels (octaves) at a later stage in a different post. For now, just keep in mind that it is a cyclic sequence, which continues endlessly.

So we have -
... A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D...

These notes are called pure notes, as they are independent and distinct from each other in all aspects.
Now, the first question that might crop up in your mind is this - "If these are pure notes, what are impure notes?"
To answer this question, we shall have a look at the number line in Mathematics.

We have -

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11.....

These numbers are pure numbers or whole numbers. Now consider the pure numbers 1 and 2.
There is a fractional (impure) number '1.5' which lies between 1 and 2.
Now we make the following observations -

  • 1.5 lies between 1 and 2.

  • It is related to 1 in this manner : 1 + 0.5 = 1.5

  • It is related to 2 in this manner : 2 - 0.5 = 1.5

  • To sum it up, 1.5 is related to both 1 and 2, as it lies in between 1 and 2

In a similar manner, consider the pure notes A and B. There lies an impure note between A and B, which is related to both A as well as B.

Since this note is related to A, it is called 'A#' (A sharp).
At the same time, the same note is related to B, hence it is called 'Bb' (B flat).

Now, this impure note lies ahead of A. You have to sharpen or raise A to reach A#.
Similarly, the same impure note lies behind of B. You have to flatten B to reach Bb.

The important point to note here is that A# and Bb are two names for the same thing. The impure note that lies between A and B is called A# or Bb.

Similarly, we have the following -

  • C# or Db lies between C and D

  • D# or Eb lies between D and E

  • F# or Gb lies between F and G

  • G# or Ab lies between G and A

These impure notes are also called semi-notes. So if we write all the notes - pure and impure - together we get -

A - (A#/Bb)- B - C - (C#/Db) - D - (D#/Eb) - E - F - (F#/Gb) - G - (G#/Ab) - A

In general,
The symbol '#' means 'sharp'
The symbol 'b' means 'flat'

If you notice, all adjacent notes have a semi-note between them, except between B and C, and between E and F. These are the only 2 pairs of notes which do not have a semi-note between them.

The next concepts of Fundamental Music Theory - Octaves and Chromatic Scale have been covered in a separate article.

That is it for now. Hope it helps you out. If you have any doubts, queries or questions, feel free to ask me by posting a reply.

Related Articles

Fundamental Music Theory - Octaves and Chromatic Scale

This topic covers the music fundamentals of the octave and the chromatic scale. Both of these concepts are the one of the most important basic concepts. The chromatic scale is the moulding block of all the other scales, which number in hundreds. Knowing the chromatic scale through and through ensures that your basics are strong, thus enhancing your ability to learn and compose music more efficiently.

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Guest Author: ANANDA REDDY19 Jan 2015

It is a simple but great explanation to any one who try to understand the notes of music.

Author: GV01 Apr 2015 Member Level: Bronze   Points : 0

Excellent, the way to share your knowledge is extraordinary

Author: Jeet Singh21 Apr 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

Nice article which is written in a manner that even a beginner can understand. However, I would like to mention some minor points here.

In western note as author has said it is called - DO,RE,MI,FA, SOL, LA, SI and in Indian note they are known as SA,RE,GA,MA,PA,DHA,NI. I would like to correct here that the western note "DO" start from the note "C" and not "A" as it has been mentioned in this article. So, seven notes in western style will be C,D,E,F,G,A,B and not A,B,C,D,E,F,G. C for DO/ D for RE/ E for MI/ F for FA/ G for SOL/ A for LA/ B for SI and this will continue octave by octave.

Music is played on with both ascending order and descending order, means lower note to higher note and then coming back from higher note to lower note. While doing ascending the sharp note comes and while descending the b flat note comes. Here A # (sharp) and B b (flat) are the same note. But it will call A# when ascending and Bb when descending.

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