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#927878 - 10/02/04 09:39 PM 7 or 12 notes to the octave
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
I'm involved in keen debate - the number of "basic" notes to the octave.

We all know that the primitive keyboard started out with a "basic" 7 alphabetic white keys and that the black notes were added later to provide our versatile range of 12 equally semitone-spaced notes. (well-tempered)

But are there 12 "basic" notes to the octave or an alphabetic 7?

The issue has been raised by a colleague who contends that the black keys "appear less important" and that they merely "hitch a lift on the white key positions on the stave"

Any comment?

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#927879 - 10/03/04 08:01 PM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
Lightnin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/04
Posts: 210
Both 7 and 12, but importance is not a meaningful question. It is like asking which of the four automobile wheels is most important. You may need more music study to understand the answer.
These are first basics of music theory, and a good site is http://www.dolmetsch.com/theoryintro.htm
See sections 6 to 12, and maybe 31.

Western music has 12 notes (actually half steps or semitones) in the octave, called the Chromatic scale. Keyboards have these 12 keys in each octave. This is the full set of possible tones in the octave, but the entire full set is not used in any one key. Often 7 of the 12 are routinely used in songs (see below for which 7), but more can be added as special cases (sharps and flats). Skipping a black key is a whole step, like C to D, or D to E are whole steps, but E to F and B to C are half steps (no black keys there).

The black piano key between say C and D can be called C# (C sharp) or Db (D flat), as convenient to the scale (it is the same black key on the piano). However the C key is also the same as B# and the B key is also Cb (because there is no black key there but we still have half steps).

Guitars also have 12 frets per octave, and frets are half steps on the guitar too, and the 12 frets are the same idea, same chromatic scale. None of the frets are painted black however, so obviously frets are more important than piano keys (that's a joke). But you are also effectively asking which guitar frets are most important, which is NOT how it works.

Both 7 and 12 are important concepts.

In western music, the do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do scale is the diatonic scale with seven notes per octave. These seven notes are generally what we sing or play, and it is how our music is printed.

These 7 notes are the white piano keys starting at C, but only true if in the key of C Major.

HOWEVER in the scales for other keys, this same diatonic scale includes black keys, like 4 sharps in key of E, or 6 flats in key of Gb. Then this do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do scale requires those black keys.

This comes about this way: For one example, a major scale spacing (like C Major) is always defined as W W H W W W H (W=whole step, H=half step) starting on the root key of the scale (same key as name of scale). C to D is whole step, D to E is whole step, but E to F is a half step (no black key here). This is the first W W H in the progression, this is why the white key E is in the C Major scale.

C major (and A minor, because it is something different than W W H W W W H) uses all white keys to achieve this progression. But this major scale progression otherwise needs black keys for any other scale.

For example, if you start at C#, you need 7 sharps (many but not all are black keys) to accomplish the W W H W W W H spacing in the scale called C#. These black keys are all quite important in the key of C#.

So, there is a little more to it than that.

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#927880 - 10/04/04 01:12 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
An interesting side effect of the notes in an octave is how you indicate the instructions to play an octave or two higher.

One octave higher is 8 va. But two higher is 15 va.

And lower as well, 8 and 15, though there is some argument about whether to write vb or va b.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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#927881 - 10/04/04 06:27 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
Lightnin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/04
Posts: 210
 Quote:
Originally posted by TimR:
One octave higher is 8 va. But two higher is 15 va. [/b]
If you count up on the keys (counting the original first one too, as in intervals), then 8 and 15 are the correct numbers to reach them.

Since we count the first one too, then if you just said two 8s are 16, that would count that middle key twice.

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#927882 - 10/04/04 06:45 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Many thanks to Lightnin and TimR for getting their feet wet on the issue of 7 or 12 "basic" musical notes.

But scrubbing round all tha formal music jargon it would seem obvious that we compose with 12 octave-related notes.

In the Dark Ages we started out with 7 choral notes but later added the 5 black notes.

There's nothing special about the major and minor scales - merely a selection of notes to ensure a minimum of score accidentals.

The chromatic scale contains all 12 notes spaced one semitone apart.

It just so happens that the Major scale uses notes
0(root), 2,4,5,7,9,11 and 12
and the Minor scale
0(root) 2,3,5,7,8,11 and 12

The stave should have been altered at the time to accommodate all 12 notes thereby ensuring an exact visually related pitch scale and avoiding the need for sharps and flats.

By contrast, imagine building the Round Table working with Merlin's distorted carpenter's 12' rule - but shrunk to 8" because of King Arthur being conversant with only the chivalrous "Major scale" numbers 0,2,4,5,7,9,11 and 12 and therefore not finding much use for the missing numbers 1,3,6,8,10.

The compact 8" long rule had to come with a mumbo-jumbo calculation for squeezing in the missing numbers (if needed). For

1" sharpen 0 or flatten 2
3" sharpen 2 or flatten 4
6 sharpen 5 or flatten 7
8" sharpen 7 or flatten 9
10" sharpen 9 or flatten 11

And yet that is what today's Computer Age children are force-fed.

Once again - are there 12 "basic" notes in 2004 or a stunted 7?

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#927883 - 10/04/04 07:22 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
Lightnin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/04
Posts: 210
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:
Once again - are there 12 "basic" notes in 2004 or a stunted 7? [/b]
We happen to like sharps and flats, they add much to the music.

Sorry btb, I'm no longer interested. See any theory web site for these basic fundamentals. It is as it is, and has been so a few hundred years. To get a clue, you need to do some homework first.

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#927884 - 10/04/04 11:24 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
alfredo Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/26/04
Posts: 10
There are 12 notes of course.
And 7 note scales benefit greatly by adding a single chromatic passing tone so that they become 8 notes scales and lay right in a measure of 4/4 time. Bach and Charlie Parker knew that.

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#927885 - 10/04/04 11:49 PM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:
Many thanks to Lightnin and TimR for getting their feet wet on the issue of 7 or 12 "basic" musical notes.

But scrubbing round all tha formal music jargon it would seem obvious that we compose with 12 octave-related notes.



Once again - are there 12 "basic" notes in 2004 or a stunted 7? [/b]
It is not obvious. Popular songs are written in keys, based on (mostly) major scales. Not chromatic scales. I am unable to think of a single nursery rhyme written chromatically.

This is not due to lack of imagination. It is due to what works, based on how the brain is hardwired.

There are 7 notes. Not 12. Audiences want to hear 7 notes, and if you give them 12 they will buy someone else's CD. (That's why Schoenberg is so rich today. )

Also, there is no reason to use any particular key to write in, except to match a singer's range. The idea of tonality conveying a mood died with the equal temperament scale, a few hundred years ago. We hang on to it out of ignorance and superstition.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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#927886 - 10/05/04 01:32 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Alfredo

Enjoyed being reminded of the great Charlie Parker - am presently listening to "Crazeology" by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Takes you back. Wonder what the mighty Bach would have thought of the two of them whooping it up together!!

Thanks for the 12.

Of interest Bach squeezes the most out of his familiar WTC Prelude I (Bk I) in C Major accessing all 12 "basic" notes while Chopin's Etude 25, no. 6 - in spite of a tricky 5 sharp key signature, bristles with accidentals to gain to-and-fro access to all 12 available notes - but then he was master of runs of chromatic thirds. Cruella teachers use the accidental-rich score of the no. 6 Etude to scare the pants off recalcitrant big-headed pupils!!

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#927887 - 10/05/04 02:41 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
thyger Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 17
8va is short for ottava, the italian word for eighth. 8vb is not short for anything, so to my mind 8va should be used whether to indicate an octave higher or an octave lower.

Fifteenth is quindicesima, so to my mind it should be 15ma, not 15va.

Modern day Italians avoid the whole mess by abbreviating them 8a and 15a!

I was trying to think of a piece with the 8va in the bass, and the only one I thought of was the last notes of the Revolutionary Etude. I looked it up, and Chopin just avoids the whole mess by writing the number 8 ! Thats Mikuli I'm talking about, I looked it up in another edition and the notes are written out.

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#927888 - 10/05/04 04:46 AM Re: 7 or 12 notes to the octave
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
It is common to see 8 vb when it is intended to play an octave lower than written in instrumental music, not so much in piano. Purists write va basso though.

I've never seen 15 ma but I have to agree, your logic is convincing. I intend to do it that way from now on.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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