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When reading sheet music and playing a stringed instrument, I find it helpful to softly sing the names of the notes.

"A", "B", "C", etc. are easy, they are all once syllable.

But accidentals take two syllables to pronounce, which throws off my rhythm and is just not feasible when playing quickly.

For sharps, it's OK to to add "sh" or "eesh" at the end, so "C#" is "ceesh" and "F#" is "Fish". But I can't figure out anything for flats that works for both vowels and consonants and doesn't sound too similar to other things.

Is there a standard way of doing this sort of thing?

There's a similar question for solfege but I don't want to use solfege, it gets confusing for different scales.

5 Answers 5

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Not a convention- see Andy Bonner answer- but how about “t” after A and E or “at” after the other letters.

Ate Bat Cat Dat Eet Fat Gat

Or of you like the note letter name, just add “t”

Ate Beet Ceet (seat) Deet Eet Feet Geet (hard g)

Risk of this is that if you talk like me your T could sound like D and Ceet gets confused with Cee-Dee but if it’s in your head you should be able to enunciate the hard t. (At least I do more than when I talk.)

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The short answer is "No," there isn't a standard way to refer notes with accidentals, using letter names, and taking up only one syllable—in English. The Germans, though, are all over it, adding "es" the letter for flats and "is" for sharps. Of course, it works best when you actually pronounce the letters themselves as they're pronounced in German; if your A is a Fonzie-like "Ayyy," it's harder to distinguish "Ais" from "As" than if it's an A as in "father."

But if you're inventing a convention for your own personal habit, you can pretty much do whatever works for you. Surely you can blurt out "geesharp" or "beeflat" on all but the shortest notes. Or for that matter, I would be inclined to leave the sharps and flats unspoken and simply sing "E" for E flat, for instance, and just understand that it's flat. Especially when they're part of the key signature; if I'm singing in a key with lots of sharps and flats, it seems unnecessary to be constantly saying them. I take a similar approach myself with chord qualities: If I'm thinking through a chord progression, I'm likely to sing to myself "C, F, D, G." The D chord is minor, but I don't bother saying "D minor"; of course the ii chord is a minor triad. On the other hand, if it is in fact major (as the V of V), I'm likely to mumble "C, F, D major, G."

(Meanwhile, I do encourage you to explore the benefits of moveable-do sight-singing, which is less about absolute pitch designation and more about tonal function. Although perhaps "confusing," it serves a totally different purpose, and a useful one. If you're learning "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," then "G A G E C A G" tells you something about the physicality of the absolute pitches in your range, but "sol la sol mi do la sol" tells you about the melody, no matter what key it's in.)

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    The French use "dièse" for sharp and "bémol" for flat. For example, "ré bémol majeur" is French for D flat major. The French don't name notes "ra" or "ri", and I expect no other language does, either.
    – Dekkadeci
    Mar 5, 2022 at 15:57
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    @Dekkadeci Thanks, and come to think of it, I think I've heard something similar from Asian students; solfege syllables plus a modifying word. I went ahead and yanked that paragraph. Mar 5, 2022 at 16:20
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    "Aes" is NOT used in German. It is called "As", to help distinguishing it from "Ais". Same goes for "Eis" and "Es". Also be careful with "B" for B flat, "H" for B natural, "His" for B sharp.
    – rfbw
    Mar 5, 2022 at 17:44
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    Re moveable-do, thanks for the recommendation. I have trouble seeing how it could work when there's chromaticism and mode changes. Plus, I'm n00b and it's hard enough right now juggling note names, note numbers (in a scale), roman numerals, and bass and treble clefs. Maybe one day I'll do do.
    – Max Heiber
    Mar 5, 2022 at 20:36
  • There are adjustments to movable do for accidentals, too.
    – nuggethead
    Mar 5, 2022 at 23:47
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Stick with your 'sh' for sharp, and use 'f' for flat. Thus 'Beef', Eef, Aieef, etc.

The other way would be to call the notes the number they are in the scale. Thus in key B♭, B♭ is 1, C is 2, D is 3, E♭ is 4, and so on. You'll still have to find an alternative for the five accidentals, then, though.

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  • Works pretty well, but my mind sees "F" when I say "Ayff" (A ♭) or "EEf" (E♭ ). And it's a bit hard to distinguish "A♭ " from "A, F". Maybe with practice saying accidentals will seem natural.
    – Max Heiber
    Mar 5, 2022 at 17:26
  • Or even eschewing the idea, and just play the appropriate notes!
    – Tim
    Mar 5, 2022 at 17:31
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    If in B♭ you call B♭ "do", then there is a standardised way of saying accidentals Mar 6, 2022 at 10:31
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My first instinct when reading the question, given the shape of the flat sign, was to add a "b" sound, and (for no consciously-determinable reason other than it sounded right) making it "ub" where necessary. This would give "ab", "bub", "cub", "dub", "eb", "fub" and "gub".

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    b also sounds flatter to me than t, which is a sharp sound
    – minseong
    Mar 6, 2022 at 22:12
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I'm imagining your sight reading scenario is one with relatively long note values and slow to moderate tempo. Otherwise, if you have fast tempo sixteenth notes, how could you say the letter even without sharps/flats?

If that is the case, long values and slower tempi, it seems to me a line like...

enter image description here

...could be handled like this...

enter image description here

If the line was more florid, some thing similar like...

enter image description here

...could work, but maybe unvoiced so pitches don't become a mess.

When I play piano and want to speak the notes for various reasons, I do it like this.

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    And then there's the phenomenon of calling out chord names while singing a song. "G-terdayyy. F sharp, all my B-bles seemed so E awayyyy / C, now it D as though they're G to stay..." Again, sometimes you just gotta leave some details assumed, or pause the flow while you blurt out "F sharp minor 7 over C sharp with an added G shaaaarp!" Mar 7, 2022 at 21:27
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    @AndyBonner, and if you are actually calling out chords, because someone doesn't know them/have a chart, you need to call them a beat early. A bit different then singing to yourself only. Mar 7, 2022 at 22:42
  • I'm sightreading basslines from a bass lesson book. There are often a lot of accidentals because of walking bass lines or just for the finger exercise. You're right that saying names out loud won't work for fast-tempo sixteenth notes! Nice touch, putting the voice part into music notation
    – Max Heiber
    Mar 9, 2022 at 15:14

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