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Pitch names and octave ranges

Pitch names

Notes were originally named after the alphabet. Therefore, in the Anglo-American world, notes are named A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. In Finland, Germany, and Scandinavia, "B" is replaced by "H" due to historical developments. Sometime between the 11th and 16th centuries, one note name was perceived to have two pitches: soft (B molle) and hard (B durum). In the Germanic world, the latter came to be called "H" (see Chromatic symbols).

Instead of starting at "A", a scale usually starts from "C", which is the keynote of a major scale consisting of the notes mentioned above. Therefore, the rising stepwise order of the keynote names is: C D E F G A H.

Notes an octave apart sound alike, and it is natural to call them by the same pitch name. However, to identify the same notes in different scales, various designation practices have been adopted.
Notes in the great octave are marked with capital letters: C D E...
Notes in the small octave are marked with small letters: c d e ...
Notes in the one-line octave are designated with the superscript index 1 (e.g. c1); the two-line octave uses the number two (c2); the three-line octave uses the number three (c3), and so on.

Octave ranges

Octave ranges are illustrated in the examples below.  The three lowest keys of the piano usually represent the sub-contraoctave notes A2, B2 and H2. In theory, the frequency of a sub-contraoctave C, 16.3 Hz, is the lowest pitch audible to the human ear. The upper limit of the hearing range falls with age, but an interesting fact is that the frequency of E flat7 is slightly below 20 000 Hz.

Only the great and small octaves are without the superscript indexes.  Octave indications are used to help performers read the notation: it is often more difficult to read ledger lines than notes on the staff.  The stems of note signs on the ledger lines usually extend to the middle line of the staff.

Octave ranges

There are alternative ways to designate octave ranges. The MIDI standard writes all pitch names in capital letters with a number indicating the octave range. For example, c1 is symbolized by C4, c by C3, and the contraoctave C by C1. Hence, the first note of the sub-contraoctave is C0. It is even possible to see pitches outside the hearing range written as C-1, or C-2.

Unfortunately, C1 is sometimes written as C3 after a synthesizer manufacturer had the idea of naming it the "third c" from the left on a keyboard.

Originally, the subscript indexes were not figures but horizontal lines above or below the pitch name; for example, e designated the note e1.  Later the lines became vertical superscript. It is still sometimes possible to see c3 written as c´´´.

The note C has been the dividing line between two octaves for a long time, but as late as the Renaissance, the line between the great octave and the small octave was at the note A (A B C D E F G a b c …).

It is often useful for a musician to be able to perceive an octave on the staff (3.5 lines or spaces). The table below shows octave ranges on top of each other.

Octave ranges

The example below names pitches on a staff. The clef (see Clefs) used determines the location of a note on a staff.  The most common clefs are the G and F clefs, with which all musicians should be familiar. Learning the pitch names by third intervals (FACEGHD) helps the performer to read ledger lines:

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