The musical alphabet

By understanding music theory, we discover which notes belong together. There are seven different notes within the musical alphabet. We use two different methods to name them. The first method is an age-old way that is the basis of 'classical' musical training. You probably know it too: think of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si (Ti).

In the other method, we use the first seven letters of the alphabet. So we replace the classical application by using the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G.

In doing so, try to remember that we have seven different notes and that the reference to C is the same as that to the classical ‘Do’. After we have reached the letter B, the alphabet starts again with the letter C. We can thus link each letter as follows:

What is the big difference between these two methods?

Good question! In principle, there is hardly any difference. However, they tend to favour the modern method in the United States. In Europe, it is the other way around; they prefer the classical method. In my opinion, the first approach is a lot more practical, so I will mainly focus on this method.

Now that you know which seven notes make up the musical alphabet, we can go one step further. Visualise the alphabet on a piano keyboard; the easiest thing to do is to start with the note C. This represents the note ‘Do’, the best note to start from.

In the picture below, we see a group of two black keys and a group of three black keys. The note C is always on the left of the first group (i.e., the group of two keys).

Remember: Focus on C as your starting point. This way, you can easily name all the white keys later on.

Meanwhile, can you find the note C (or ‘Do’) immediately? Great! Now we can add the rest of the letters to the white keys. The picture above may help you.

So far so good, right? Don't worry about the black keys; we'll deal with those later.

Alright, by now you know how to put the alphabet on a keyboard. You probably noticed that the same letters keep coming back. Those groups or blocks that repeat themselves are called 'octaves'. So, for example, the distance between the first C and the second C (or the second and third D, etc.) represents one octave. A standard keyboard always consists of 88 keys and seven octaves.

The orange key represents the 'middle C'. Although it is not exactly in the middle, it is an important starting point for beginning musicians. Remember the image below? We can always find the middle C by looking at the first “Do” on the staff.

From now on, when you see the letter C, you know it’s about the note ‘Do’. When you see the letter D, you know it is named ‘Re’, and so on. We learned the alphabet contains seven tones and has a recurring pattern of octaves.

What about the black keys in between? How do we name them?

Check out our second lesson about sharps and flats!