Joe's Blog

For the beginner: a circular diagram of the musical alphabet is best

March 17, 2018

The sense of hearing is unique in that, as pitch changes in regular steps, eventually one gets to a note which, while different in pitch than the first note, sounds almost the same as the first pitch, almost as similar as the first pitch would sound with itself if played simultaneously on two keyboards.  This is the miracle of the octave.*

In respect of this, when making a diagram of the musical alphabet it should be shaped like a circle rather than as a straight line.  For a straight line has a beginning and an end.  The alphabet begins with ‘A’ and ends with ‘Z’.  But the musical alphabet, with its seven letters from A to G, should, between any two adjacent letters, be spliced apart and  tied together to form the circle.

Unlike the language alphabet, the musical alphabet has no beginning and no ending.   When drawing the circle and writing in the letters, it makes no difference which letter appears at the top of the circle.  Nor does it matter if the usual order of the letters, A B C … , goes clockwise or counter clockwise around the circle.  Either one will do.

Have the student play a series of adjacent white notes on the piano, rightwards or leftwards, and read off the name of each note from the circle diagram.  Do this several  times, each time pick a different starting letter and ending letter.  En route between one and the other include any number of extra rotations around the alphabet circle before bringing the procedure to a stop (unless one bumps into the end of the keyboard).

The student can reverse direction on the keyboard and around the circle at any arbitrary point in the process.

* The frequency ratio between two notes an octave apart is 1:2.  With seeing, the frequency ratio between the lowest frequency color, red, and the highest frequency color, violet, is almost 1:2.  It is tempting to speculate whether, if we could see other frequencies, they would periodically exhibit the same sort of points of similarity as do notes an octave apart.


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