In music, the term note sometimes refers to a note in a specific octave (like "C♯4") and sometimes to the set of all notes with the same name, regardless of octave (like "C♯"). Which terms should one use when trying to distinguish these two concepts?

Note that the terms pitch and pitch class are not applicable here, since C♯ and D♭ are in the same pitch class, but they are different notes in both of the interpretations that I described above.

  • I'm not sure if this is correct, so I'm not posting it as an answer, but I think you can refer to both of these as a 'note'. C# is a note, C#4 is a note as well. If you want to be specific, you can say C#4, otherwise C# is fine Apr 29, 2015 at 12:16
  • The thing is, I want to use two different terms to avoid ambiguity. Apr 29, 2015 at 12:31
  • You could refer to specific notes as C0, C1, C2... and the more general case as just C. Or to be even more general you could refer to a specific note/sound as a "pitch" or "tone", perhaps.
    – Andy
    Apr 29, 2015 at 12:55
  • I know I can use C0, C1, C2 in contrast with C (I even mentioned it in the original post). My question is what to call these two concepts in general. Using "pitch" or "tone" would be possible, I guess. But in my understanding, pitch is something a bit different. Let me repeat it: C♯4 and D♭4 are different notes, but we hear them as the same pitch. Apr 29, 2015 at 13:14
  • I actually think "note class" is a great way to refer to all C#s, though you might need to define it up front. "Specific note" may work for C#4 et al, depending on the context/phrasing. Examples of where you want to use these terms might be helpful. Some more info on the ambiguity of "note" and other terms: music.stackexchange.com/q/3262/28
    – user28
    Apr 29, 2015 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


'Note' is a horribly overloaded term, since it can also be used to include duration. What you're calling 'note class', I've seen referred to as tonal pitch class to distinguish it from regular pitch class, as I mention (with references) in my answer here: General procedure for determining the name of an interval given a major key / diatonic collection

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