Why Do Musical Notes Start With C?

Posted by Mike Schuck

Music is one of the greatest forms of expression we have as humans. It can be music you know or music you never learned, but no matter what genre you listen to, there’s always some sort of pattern being used.

Music theory revolves around studying these patterns, how they work, and why each note starts with certain letters.

In this article, I will briefly discuss the root cause of using notes that start with natural second (or “tonic”) chords, and then move onto explaining why major third chords are common in most songs.

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The location of C on a piano

Let’s look at some notes for motivation!

The starting note of A major is actually G. This makes sense because you get to choose which letter comes after your tonic, or principal tone. In this case, the tonic is B, so we are given the choice between G and D as our second note.

A natural place to start would be with the ascending whole-step pattern, which goes up by one pitch per bar. Starting on the third beat, play G–F–E –B. This sequence of pitches is what makes it easy to identify the note that starts each row of the melody.

Here we have chosen the familiar looking note C. It is the first in the series, and it sits alone as the leading voice of the music. You can try playing this song yourself using rhythm, meter, and notes.

Now listen out for the different sounds the note produces. When pressed, most people will only recognize the sound of C as the main ingredient in many songs. Some even say that “the note doesn't do anything else but make other noises”, which isn't true at all.

Musical instruments such as the violin, flute, and clarinet use the same exact string length to create their notes, except they shift around how much pressure they apply onto the air column depending on the shape of the note.

The shape of C

why do musical notes start with c

Let’s look at an example of how to play the note A using your hand as reference. Now, I will show you the notes B and E, which are both one full step higher than A. To make this more practical, let’s say that these two notes correspond with the song “Happy Birthday!”

The first note is A, so we will start there. To play A, raise the index finger up in the air, and then lower it down next to the pinky. This creates a tone called a semitone (or a half-step) above the current lowest note. In this case, that would be the middle or tonic note, so we have now created a new tonal area, or key.

To continue playing our song, move the hands up and away from each other until only the thumbs remain touching. Then, press the thumb forward quickly, keeping it pressed for about five seconds, creating an octave (double the frequency) higher than the original pitch.

Now take your index finger and pull it back slowly, creating a rest between the previous note and the newly played one. Repeat this process twice more for a total of three notes, making sure to re-position your hands after every note.

When you have finished, the index fingers of your right hand should form a circle, and those of your left hand should meet in the center like a V.

Identify other notes that start with C

why do musical notes start with c

Other notes that begin with the letter ‘C’ include: cistern, cathedral, cardinal, cascading, cascade, church, chamber, castle, circus, conjure, concert, crusade, crisis, cubic, cauldron, catastrophe, cassation, casement, cottage, court, caucus, and chemistry.

These are all related to the word ‘cistern’ which means a container for water or liquids. A cistern is usually half-cylindrical in shape and has an opening at the top through which liquid can be poured. In music, these chords make up the bass line of the song. The chord with no specific note fills out the space of the bass while the rest of the melody uses notes that start with the next higher pitch.

In piano music, the bass line is typically played using only the first few strings (the ones without frets) along with the left hand (the one not having white keys). These strings produce a very deep tone that many people find calming.

Identify other notes that start with D

why do musical notes start with c

Another easy way to learn about musical notes is by learning how to identify which note starts with a particular letter of the music alphabet. The easiest place to begin is by looking at the first natural note in the song you have been practicing for hours already!

Music theory teaches us that the open position major chord has its root, or starting point, in the third scale degree (or tone) of the treble clef. This means that if the bass line of the song begins with A-B - Bm - CM7, then the A tonic chord would be an E minor triad, as it’s built up using the second step of the treble clef, F, and the third step, G.

This article will help you do just that! By now, you should know some basic fundamentals of guitar playing, such as string number, hand positions, and basic chords.

Identify other notes that start with E

why do musical notes start with c

Another easy way to learn your note names is by learning how different notes begin with the same letter of the octave. An octave is just another name for a scale, so if you recognize an A major scale, then you know the first tone or pitch is an A.

A natural second-tone (or second degree) note is the tonic, which in music theory means the main theme or sound. The tonic always changes in relation to the key it is in. For example, if the song was set in G major, then the tonic would be the middle note, B.

The next highest note is the mediant, which is also called the submediant. This is the idea behind most songs where there is a rising bass line and a changing melody. The bass drops one chord and then the tenor voice (the third degree) sings the new melody.

Identify other notes that start with F

why do musical notes start with c

The next note you will learn to recognize is the second-to-last step in learning how to play your guitar quickly: recognizing what key this song is in. This article’s bullet point tells you that, so make sure you check out that first!

But before we get into why certain notes begin with F or G, let's take a closer look at the word “notes.” A music note is simply one symbol of sound - like a little box with some writing inside it. Music notes represent the sounds that livers make when they breathe, as well as the whistling noise that babies make while breathing.

When musicians speak of changing the pitch (or tone) of a piece, they are referring to altering which musical note gets higher or lower. Technically speaking, however, there is no such thing as changing a note; only adding onto or taking away material from a set number called a unit.

So now that we have our terms straight, let us talk about why certain notes begin with an F.

Identify other notes that start with G

why do musical notes start with c

The next note you will learn to recognize is the second-to-last note of this chapter, which starts with the letter g. This note has a special name: the half step. A half step is one tone higher than another note.

So, the half step takes us one note up! The half step is typically used as a transition between two notes or in place of skipping a normal whole step. For example, if your song contains a music theory concept called parallelism, then the first line of a verse would be using a short phrase and a long word both starting with the same sound (a patter).

This effect creates an interesting rhythm and flow to the poem. That’s what a half step is for — it shifts the tonal center and brings about a new element. You can also use a half step when moving from a longer note to a shorter one or vice versa.

For instance, let’s say you are reading at a medium speed and come across the word run. To make the meaning more clear, you want to know how fast someone is running so you look up the definition of the word. You could simply type “run definition” into Google or you could see how many times the word runs appears in a few popular books. Either way, you get the same results – a quick walk or chase after something or person.

Identify other notes that start with A

why do musical notes start with c

Another way to learn your music theory is by learning how different note shapes work in songs! There are many types of songs that use natural notes, or simple notes, as their main theme. These songs often begin with the root position major scale (see number 1 here) and then move onto another note shape, usually starting with the third degree of the major scale (the second step of the minor key).

The most common place this happens is by moving up one letter from the tonic (main subject) of the song – the first degree of the major scale becomes the new tonal center. For example, if the song begins with the chord built off of G, then B would be the new tonal center.

This is because the B note is one whole tone higher than the G, making it an easy transition into the next part of the song. More importantly, though, it is very familiar sounding!

A lot of people recognize the sound of the B flat major chord. It’s also one you will find occurring quite frequently in popular music, especially when someone says something about love or loss.

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