Why Music Notes Start With C

Posted by Mike Schuck

Let’s talk about notes for a minute. A note is just someone singing or making sounds that you recognize as part of a song, right?

A note can be sung, whispered, whistled, or made with anything from your mouth (singing) to something else your body uses to make music (whistling).

Most songs are set up like a story — there’s an introduction, a setting, a climax, and then a resolution. The same thing happens in music theory!

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The most basic element we will look at here is the note. A note is the smallest chunk of sound that anyone sings, whispers, hums, or yells exactly like what makes up a song you know, such as a few chords and some lyrics.

Music theorists use the term pitch to refer to the part people typically speak about when they discuss notes. Some writers may also use tone or intensity to describe how high or low a note is, but we will stick with pitch here since it seems more clear-cut.

This article will focus only on major, minor, and natural harmonic scales. We will not go into any sort of position scale, octave scale, or other types of musical structure at this time. If you are already familiar with those concepts, feel free to dive in!

What is the tonic note?

That is the main idea of a piece written down.

Helpful tips to start playing the piano

why music notes start with c

The first note of the music notes chart is the familiar, beautiful, and powerful chord that we use as our base song! This chord is known as the root chord or starting chord.

The next few chords in the music notes chart are all related to the root chord. They are called relative chords because they contain the root chord but differ from it by one note. These chords are also referred to as extensions or alterations of the root chord.

By learning these chords, you will be able to not only recognize how to play some popular songs, but you can also learn about the relationships between chords. For example, the second chord in the music notes chart contains the third interval (third degree) of the root chord.

This means that if you take the second chord and move its third note up a perfect fifth, you get an octave higher note. An octave is just doubling the natural scale so your G-major chord becomes A-natural major (also know as the Major Scale).

Another way to look at this is moving down a whole step. If you drop the fourth note of the second chord, you get the same result. A whole step is dropping a fraction of a tone so the D drops to E.

Identify the chord

why music notes start with c

The first thing you should do is identify what kind of chord it is! This can be tricky because there are many types.

There are five main type chords: major, minor, augmented, diminished, and neutral (or “no key”). A simple example of a major chord would be the one in our song that just ended.

A common trick way to remember this is to think about which part of the alphabet the word starts with. In this case, the word begins with the letter M, so the chord is clearly a major chord.

Music theory teaches us that any chord we hear in music will have at least two strings that create an octave match. These two notes make up the root of the chord. For instance, the root of the major chord we discussed above is the A note.

The second string is the next higher note, the B note, making the whole chord sound like AB. The third string is the C note, creating the chord name – major.

By using these three notes as your roots, you can easily create other chords. An easy way to do this is by adding more notes onto the roots. That is how a tonic or home base chord is formed.

In music, the most commonly used tonal homes are either major, minor, or natural harmonic balance (also known as Neuter). All of these begin with a C note.

Identify the key

why music notes start with c

The first note of any song is called its key. You can tell what key a piece is in by looking at the last word or phrase of the title. For example, if the title ends with “The Girl I Can’t Stop Talking To”, then it is in A major because that word is longer than the rest of the lyrics.

There are twelve notes in each scale (like A minor has A B C D E F G and so on). So, one way to figure out which key a piece is in is to take the last letter of the main part of the song and go up a whole step.

For our example, that would be B! This means that the song is in B flat major.

You will probably notice that a lot of songs use this method for their keys. That is because music writers learn how to do it quickly, but you don't have to since you can just recognize them! 😉

I know it may seem like a trick question, but there is an easy way to test yourself.

Learn to read music

why music notes start with c

Now that you have learned some basics about notes, you can begin practicing your reading skills with our second beginner’s lesson!

In this lesson, we will be looking at the first few chords of every song. These are called the tonic chord or sometimes referred to as the root chord.

The reason most musicians start their songs with the tonic is because it ties everything together. The bass line, the drums, and the rest of the instruments all add harmony to the melody, but they must do so using the same scale.

By starting each new part of a song with the same tone cluster (or note group), things feel cohesive and natural. When learning how to play by ear, your ears will pick up on this fact and help you. You will also learn what key a piece is in, and how to determine which keys are related to one another.

Create a playlist

why music notes start with c

Let’s look at some lyrics! The first song we will analyze is “Why I Love You,” by Mariah Carey.

The first line of this song is “Why I love you, why I love you,” which contains the word love twice.

Let’s see if you can determine what music note that word belongs to in the next few lines of the verse.

It begins with an F natural minor third above the main chord (G). Then it moves down a half step as it repeats, creating an Fm tone.

After the second instance, the notes drop back up a perfect fourth to return to G, then move up a major sixth to D. This creates an FDI tonal area, or key, for the rest of the verse.

From here, the singer uses these new notes to create more complex chords and melodies. By adding extra notes into your songs, you can add flavor and depth to your writing.

Practice singing along to your playlist

why music notes start with c

Now that you have learned some of the basics behind music notes, it is time to practice! Singing is one of the most universal languages in our world, so why not use it to learn more about music?

Sing along to your favorite songs to test yourself. If there are vocals, you can sing either part or both parts simultaneously. If there are instruments such as guitar, piano, bass, etc., play those while you sing along.

The best way to learn how to read music is by doing so. You do not need to know very many notes to start reading music, but the more you expose yourself to, the better you will get at it.

Enjoy music

why music notes start with c

There is an app for pretty much anything these days, which means you are probably very familiar with them. Apps like Spotify or Google Play Music have you covered with their pre-made playlists and song matching tools.

By now, you’ve also noticed that most apps feature a button that says “Add to List.” What this does is add the selected item (song, movie, etc.) to your device's library.

This can be done by going into Settings then Libraries and Devices and clicking Add New Library. Then, just select the appropriate tab for whatever service you use to create lists.

Learn more about music notes

why music notes start with c

The next thing to do is learn what kind of note each letter in the song’s melody is! These are called pitch, or tone, notes.

A natural way to begin learning your instrument is by practicing playing individual notes. This will help you develop your ear-training and basic rhythm skills.

By this step, you have already done some! You learned that the first two notes of a song (the tonic) contain the name for the key it is in. In this case, the key is G major so those notes are just “G”.

Next, the notes one full measure away from the tonic (or second degree notes) are ones that go up one half step. A one whole step increase is an F above a normal G, which is an F sharp. An example of such a second degree note would be when you play the flute part in the opening chords of the Flamingo Break.

Step three is to play through the rest of the chord using these three notes. For instance, if the chord we were looking at was Am, then the third degree note is B, one full step higher than an F. To play the B as smoothly as possible, use your voice or nose hole as our source of air.

This theory applies to any instrumental genre, not just music with melodies.

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