How Many Notes Are In The Musical Alphabet?

Posted by Mike Schuck

The musical alphabet is not just used for creating new songs, it can also be used to determine how many notes are in a song! This article will go into detail about some of the smaller letters in the music alphabet, and what their functions are.

The music alphabet is made up of five different characters: G, A, D, E, and R. These characters are referred to as small cases because they only include one or two syllables. For example, the letter “G” is called the first major scale degree or g1 (one-syllable name) and the second “major” scale degree is g2 (two syllables).

There are eight small case degrees in all; each has its own function when determining the number of notes in a song. By knowing these chords, you have now mapped out the majority of our music theory basics! If this was already familiar to you, then you have mastered some parts of the music spectrum!

Join the JA team and grab a cool t-shirt!

Check out our Jam Addict attire and become a part of the team that has been training drummers and musicians for years!
Jam Addict Course

This article will focus mostly on the natural minor chord, which is an easy way to begin understanding these concepts. Once you understand that, you can move onto other natural minor chords such as the half-step diminished and whole step dimished ones.

The different notations for notes

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

There are many ways to write out music, which create what we call musical styles. Some of the most common include major scale notation, natural minor scale notation, harmonic rhythm notation, tri-tone (or tritone) ladder notation, and more!

However, you don’t have to know all of these types of music theory to play or sing your own songs! That is why it is so important to be familiar with the basic types of music notes!

We will focus only on whitespace, treble, bass, and note names here, but this article can easily be adapted to include other type music theory.

Whitespace
A white space between two pieces of music is called a break. A one measure long break is usually used when coming back into an idea after changing direction.

Dotted, dashed, or solid

There are three main types of notes that music writers refer to as dotted, dashed, or solid. What this means is how they are written out and what tone they play with.

A dot above the note signifies an upbeat, while a dash below it is a downbeat. A solid line under a note is also a downbeats, but it adds intensity to the note.

With these conventions, we have octave-based notes. An octave is just eight steps (or tones). So a one-octave note would be an eighth of a step higher than the previous note. Two octaves away from our initial note is a rest, which does not require a special spelling or tone.

The musical alphabet consists of two sets of dots and dashes, and one set of solids.

Combinations of notes

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

There are many more possible combinations of musical notes than there are words in the English language. When musicians talk about music, they use a shorthand way to describe these note sequences or patterns.

They refer to some of the most common types of melodies, chords, rhythms, and tones as the “alphabet” of music. By knowing what letter goes with which other letters, you can begin to compose your own songs!

This is also how we learn our first few sounds of the alphabet. For example, the sound for “A” is made by putting air (the inhalation part) into your mouth after blowing out. The sound for “B�” is made by sucking up the air after breathing out, and so on.

The same concept applies to music. A chord is just two or three notes that go together, while a rhythm pattern is a set number of beats per minute. A tone is one specific pitch of the spectrum.

All these elements combine to make up a song or piece of music! So instead of thinking about individual notes, steps, and trills, think about larger chunks of music like chords, rhymes, and melodies.

Alphabetical order of notes

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

The next step is to organize your music by note type or pitch. Starting with the tonic, our example will be setting up the song “Happy Birthday” as mentioned above.

The first thing you should do is organize the notes by tone. In this case, the tones are major, minor, perfect fifth, dominant seventh, medio-tonal, octave, suspended, and rest.

You can sort these groups into an alphabetical order starting with the letter A for rest. After that, go down the list until you get to the next group, which is medio-tonal. Then move onto the next letter, which is suspend.

Keep going until you reach the letter O, then go back up one more space to find the letter I. This is the last part of the diatonic scale! These five pitches make up the musical alphabet.

Musical keys

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

A major key is made up of two notes, one rising and one falling, that combine to create an overall feeling of elevation. The first note of a major key is referred to as its tonic, and the second note is what category this key belongs to- it’s the next highest note.

The notes in a major key can be replaced with other pitches, but they must retain the same mood or feel. For example, if the song’s tonal center was the C minor chord, then the B flat would have to take over as the tonic. However, if the music had a powerful sense of excitement, the D natural could become the new tonic instead!

A harmonic minor key works similarly to a melodic minor mode, except that it drops only one pitch rather than two. This creates a much weaker vibe than a normal minor key. When creating melodies in a harmonic minor key, make sure your melody does not overtake the rest of the piece too much — just like how you need to tone down a major key slightly so it does not overpower others.

Some examples:

Start by thinking about a familiar theme you know. Then, add some chords that go along with that idea, and determine which notes are missing.

Identify the different modes

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

Mode is one of the most important concepts for music learners to understand. Almost every song contains at least one mode!

Modes are simply groups of notes that sound pleasant together. The easiest way to think about it is like how some songs use chord tones as their main tone (or root). These chords have an easy voice or lead part, which makes them feel strong and powerful.

Other parts of the song can be built around these chord roots, creating other modes that sound good together. For example, the first note of the song could be the third scale degree (octave) note of A major, making it the second leading tone. This creates a nice harmonic rhythm because you start and end with the same note.

The next note could be the fifth scale degree of D minor, creating a lydian mode. This sounds similar to the A major mode but with a lower pitched octave. An example would be the melody line of a song called “Happy Birthday” by Ariana Grande. It starts with the tonic (A), then moves quickly down the Lydian Scale until it reaches the dominant (D), before moving back up to the tonic again.

Another way to identify modes in music is using intervals. Major scales contain whole steps and perfect fourths, while natural harmonics and augmented seconds exist within modes.

What is a tempered scale?

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

A second major scale that uses two of the same notes as the main (or tonic) scale but with a half step or whole step lower than the original note. The second major scale will typically have one, two, or three of its degrees replaced by a similar degree from the first major scale.

The second major scale we discussed earlier is called the tempered scale because it gives you more choice in where to start singing after the initial tonal center.

You can choose either a perfect cadence at the end of a song (where you go back down the tonic chord), an imperfect cadence (where you stay within the new key for a few seconds before moving on), or no cadence at all!

This comes in very handy if you want to make your music sound interesting! If you listen to a lot of songs, you will notice that some musicians use this technique frequently.

Describe the differences between piano, harp, and organ

how many notes are in the musical alphabet

For instance, the piano is typically thought of as being able to play music that uses notes from any one of the twelve pitch classes.

The term “pitch” comes from the Latin word for voice, so called di-voicing or doubling up of pitches are actually instances where two identical sounds are produced.

With the piano, however, you will often only get one note at a time due to the limited range of the instrument.

The harp, conversely, can produce very high tones but they must be tuned to a specific tonal center. This means that if a lower tone has been reached, then something higher must be played to start the next chord or melody.

The organ does not have this limitation, because it has many more keys than just the ones used for making music.

envelope linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram