Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Why is it that notes "start" with C? In key signatures, for example, C Major is the basis and accidentals are added for all other key signatures. I know that the musical alphabet starts with A and goes to G, so why is C the base note of standard notation and keys? Why isn't A the basis?

share|improve this question
Because Do is the first note, following by Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si, and Do is C – Lưu Vĩnh Phúc Sep 18 '14 at 8:06
Cart before the horse, Lu. Do is C because C is the base note. – corsiKa Nov 24 '15 at 3:58
up vote 22 down vote accepted

This was already partially answered here, and there's a pretty comprehensive explanation here.

Notes do not "start" with C; C major is just the easiest major key to notate in modern notation. The concept of a major key came about long after letters were assigned to the notes. Before there were major (and minor) keys, people used modes, usually just using the notes of the modern white keys and starting and ending in different places. The Ionian mode (which became modern major) was a late addition to the modes.

So it's historical accident that C major is treated as "basic."

share|improve this answer
In other words, it's not that "C" was given any prominence (directly) as the "base note" but rather the Ionian became the "base mode". The latter names themselves favour the Aeolian as the "base mode". – James Tauber May 20 '11 at 4:18
possibly relevant video – Dave Oct 7 '15 at 17:38

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.