Notes are the sound element of Music, what we hear. They're also referred to as 'pitches'. Any sound that holds a certain fundamental frequency is a pitch, like a bell, a struck wine glass, or an electronic beep. Sounds like sirens or jet engines starting up are not pitches, their sounds are continuous and smooth changes in pitch from either low to high or high to low. Sounds like ocean waves breaking are a combination of all frequencies called "white noise". Music breaks sound down into notes or pitches. Here is how:

• There are 12 notes which repeat, just like the 12 months of the year. Months of the year are named from past to future; notes are named from low to high.

• A 'musical year' is called an octave. The human ear has a range of many octaves, the guitar has a range of 3 and a half or so (electrics, almost 4).

• Notes of the same name in a different octave have a different pitch, but follow the same rules, just as December is always December, whether it's 1963 or 2023, and is always the month with Christmas.

• The 12 repeating notes are mere building blocks until a template is introduced, like a stack of bricks waiting for the blueprint to become a house.

• The distance in pitch between any two adjacent notes is called a 'semitone' or 'half-step' --  which on a guitar is one fret. A whole step is (obviously) two half steps, two frets. The idea of "step" is a good analogy as notes in sequence do form a kind of staircase in pitch as illustrated below.

• The distance between any two notes is called an interval. An octave is an interval; a semitone is an interval (the smallest); a whole step is an interval.

• Intervals are the ruling force within the system of music. These distances between notes allow for melody, harmony, and the many different qualities our ears and hearts discern when listening to music.



More on notes →