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Questions I have always wanted to ask about Standard Notation

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by kiwlm, Jun 3, 2004.

  1. 1. Why we use the alphabets A-G, but then we start with the "C" key?

    2. Why its a semitone between B-C, and E-F, but all the others are tones? Is this directly influenced by the piano?

    3. Why the piano have the black keys where they have them today? Is this directly influenced by the major scale?

  2. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    prolly has somthing to do with Equal Temperment.
  3. I think the layout which is used nowadays was around before the time of J S Bach (1685-1750) - his "Well Tempered Clavier" was the first major work to demonstrate the tuning of the instrument (clavier) in equal-temperament. I think the theory of Equal Temperament had been around for a while and JSB was the first to really take it seriously. Some early harpsichords were made with keyboards which featured black naturals and white sharps/flats - the reason being given, was that "…it showed of the hands and fingers of the keyboardist to better effect…" (!!!)

    Here's a link which might be useful -

    Good Luck!

    - Wil
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    We don't start with C - it's the middle key!

    So, C Major has no sharps and flats and the keys on either side, have more or less, sharps and flats .

    Although if you want to talk about minor keys then it's A that has no sharps and flats...

    But really, we don't start with any key ......:meh:
  5. Hehe, sorry, I mean why C Major have no sharps and flats, instead of other scales, like A Major (first alphabet in A-G), or D Major (middle alphabet in A-G), or G (last alphabet in A-G).

    Is there something that's special about the "C" note? or issit just some notes that is randomly picked?
  6. That's not actually correct. As I understand it, the songs were written to show off the differences between the different keys (musical, not piano) that occur when using a well temperament, not an equal temperament.

    Incidentally, the article linked to is wrong about what just intonation (JI) is. We use an equally tempered scale with 12 equal divisions of the octave (12 EDO). Just intonation uses a set of whole number ratios for its notes, rather than the near approximations used be the 12 EDO temperament. That has the side effect of making JI temperaments sound very different if you move the root of the scale.

    I think maybe the Aeolian mode was popular when the notes were named, leading to a start on what we know as A. Later on, music theory may have shifted to an emphasis on the Ionian mode, making C the natural start. It's also possible that whatever lute early tablature was based on had A as it's lowest string, and that's how it got chosen.
  7. bwulf


    May 15, 2004
    Eureka, CA
    I think they started with middle C because it is the missing line between the treble and bass staffs. If I remember my theory, the treble and bass staffs were one staff with another line for middle C making it an eleven line staff. When they split the staves, probably to make it easier to read, they went from eleven lines to ten, 5 in each staff. Generally, in keyboard music the left hand is below middle C and the right hand is above.
    Also, I think just intonation is based on the harmonic series. The ratios have to do with the division of the string. The harpsichord could be tuned for each piece during a performance. Also, when you use just intonation, if you tune ji in the key of C, the further away you get key wise, the wierder it sounds. When you got to the key of F#, it was really out there. Hence the name of the tritone (Devil's Interval, Devil's key, sounded like hell). There are some modern orchestral recordings in ji. They sound brilliant because of all the sonic reinforcement.
    Equal temperment didn't become established until the invention and use of the pianoforte (piano) which was much more difficult to tune between pieces. A semitone (not a tone played with a truck) is a frequency multiplied by the twelfth root of 2. This is the equal temperment half step going up the scale.
    Remember not being able to hear parallel fifths voice movement in classical theory? I think it is because they used just intonation which made that interval stand out whereas with equal temperment, fifths aren't as noticeable.
  8. bwulf


    May 15, 2004
    Eureka, CA
    I also use the areolian and the fallopian modes.
  9. Actually, as mentioned before, JI comes from whole number ratios. The harmonic series contains pitches which are uncomfortably out of tune relative to the root (JI, ET, or otherwise).
  10. bwulf


    May 15, 2004
    Eureka, CA
    This was quoted from the website:

    For more info on just intonation here are a couple more sites.
  11. That's a tone played on a truck, right?

    I don't know about the parallel fifths thing being purely a result of JI. Even today, meaning with 12 EDO, movement in fifths is very bland compared to most other intervals.
  12. bwulf


    May 15, 2004
    Eureka, CA
    I didn't mean they were the result of JI but that they were easier to hear with JI. Two notes in such consonance as a fifth in JI probably overwhelmed the other voices making them stand out more than they do with equal temperament.
  13. Quite possibly.