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Musical Notes Made Easy

A quick guide to the alphabet, the octave and how half steps and whole steps make up notes.

Knowing the musical alphabet and relationship between notes helps when you’re trying to understand the organization of music. This makes learning chords and scales easier and opens the door to creative arrangement of your own sounds.

What Are the Notes?

Musical notes are named using the first seven letters of the English alphabet. This is called the musical alphabet. In the musical alphabet, the notes follow from A to G, then repeat over again. It moves in either direction, with the sound of the notes going higher or lower as you move up or down the sequence. The same repeating seven letter formula applies, no matter which one you start counting by - A, C or even F.

The Octave

Starting with A, if you continue counting past the 7th note (G), you get back to A. The eighth note away from A is also an A. This is called an octave. Anytime you move eight notes up or down from any note, you will end up with the same note name. The sound of that note is the same, but it’s either higher or lower in pitch.

Half Steps and Whole Steps

Each note in the musical alphabet is either separated by a half step or whole step. These “steps” are what make the notes sound the way they are supposed to. Notice that there are only two half steps - between B and C and between E and F.

On a piano keyboard the half step is where two white keys meet with no black key in between. On a guitar, each fret represents a half step, and a whole step is equal to two frets. Memorize where the half steps and whole steps occur and the notes will come easier.

Knowing your notes and how they relate to each other will give you a leg up on understanding the fretboard, chords and scales. With this foundation, you’ll be able to explore music well beyond the ABCs.

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