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I've heard that German musicians spell the seventh note of the C major scale with an "H" where an American musician would use a "B". And, for the fourth note of the F major scale, where an American musician would say "B flat," I've heard Germans say "B". Is this true?

Are there any other interesting ways that musicians around the world, principally guitarists, like to spell their notes and chords?

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While I have heard H used instead of the next A, I can't see how a B flat could be replaced by a B, as long as we are using the same key. –  Dr Mayhem Jul 6 '12 at 11:52
@DrMayhem It's just notation, it doesn't change the meaning of the note. In western notation, it goes A-Bb-B-C, in German notation it's A-B-H-C (with half-tone intervals). The actual notes are still the same. –  Indrek Jul 6 '12 at 12:13
Ahhh - I hadn't seen that particular one. Thanks. –  Dr Mayhem Jul 6 '12 at 14:02
In Sweden we used to use the German notation but are more and more switching to the other more logical notation. This is a common source of some confusion: "With 'B' do you mean 'B-flat' or the other 'B' as in 'H'?..." –  Ulf Åkerstedt Jul 6 '12 at 19:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It is true, Germans refer to B♮ (B-natural) as "H", possibly because of its similarity to the 'natural' sign (). B-flat (B♭) is just known as B. I believe Poland, Hungary, Norway and Finland also use this naming.

This naming convention is needed to make sense of the "musical pun" that is the BACH motif, i.e. the German notes B, A, C and H arranged to form a theme which spells out J.S. Bach's surname.

Other European countries (Italy, France, Portugal, Spain) will refer to the notes using the Do-Re-Mi pattern rather than C, D, E etc.
In the UK & USA, we are more used to learning this naming as children.

Non-Western countries tend to have different tuning and temperaments, including quarter-tones, so a direct comparison is harder.

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As far as I know, in modern notation systems, C-D-E... refer to absolute notes, while Do-Re-Mi refer to relative notes in the current scale, with Do being the base note of the scale. –  Indrek Jul 6 '12 at 12:21
@indrek, Take a look at this question: music.stackexchange.com/q/4957/1678 –  American Luke Jul 6 '12 at 12:30
Indrek: this is not true, C and Do are exactly the same. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_note –  Mischa Arefiev Jul 6 '12 at 16:23
@MischaArefiev See the question Luke linked, C and Do are not interchangeable everywhere. And the article you linked says in part "In this system the natural symbols C-D-E-F-G-A-B refer to the absolute notes, while the names Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti are relativized and show only the relationship between pitches" –  Matthew Read Jul 6 '12 at 16:50
@UlfÅkerstedt: It is just a myth. Both were B in the beginning: One was the round b (B molle, B flat) and the other the squared b (B Durum, B/H). Durum is our natural sign. Germanys Organ tablature was based on the alphabet and they substituted Durum with an "h" because it looks similar. It was a conscious substitution to be compatible with standard printing machines. Since the tablature was so important this convention spread further. It is the same effect you can see if someone substitutes the German ß with a B because they don't have ß on their Keyboad and take the closest thing. –  nilsge Jul 8 '12 at 19:40

The base notes are just the tip of the iceberg. The systematic involved for accidentals also varies significantly; so in German an suffix "is" corresponds to "sharp" and "es" to "flat", a system, that makes multiple occurences easily possible like "fisis" instead of "f double sharp". Furthermore there are quite interesting alternatives for the note length, like the British hemidemisemiquaver for a 64th. As usual in this topic the documentation for the lilypond music engraver provides substantial information.

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Indian Classical Music uses relative syllables as well.

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni (Sa). The Re is pronounced "Ri" often.

It is the same system as Italian only with different names. This is no surprise because they came up independently with the same tone system as western Europe:

You have the same 12 chromatic sounds in total and you choose 7 of them as diatonic steps, they get the names above. The absolute root note/frequency does not matter and every soloist chooses his or her own.

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