I've got to grips with Scientific Pitch Notation (e.g middle C is C4) but in a choral setting I am often confused because there seems to be a whole nomenclature where certain notes have specific names.

For instance "tenor high C" is C5, one octave above middle C. I've heard others mentioned but cannot remember their names and don't know what octaves they're in. Commonly someone will say "it's a D" and everyone else seems to know which D except me! And it seems to confuse everyone when I say "do you mean D4 or D5", or "an octave and a half below middle C"... which I guess is why those reference notes have names.

What are the names and pitches of the notes named for vocalists? Does this group of notes have a name in itself?

  • 1
    Maybe you're putting too much importance on this. Having played and sung for 50+ yrs, and only discovered the names with numbers recently, but still not found them life threatening (!) it's more important to realise that the note in question is a D, than which \D it is.
    – Tim
    Nov 30, 2015 at 17:59
  • Probably, but I'm a bit of a geek so if someone says "high C" or "gosh, you can hit a low B" I want to know what means even if I don't need to :)
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 30, 2015 at 22:21
  • There aren't special names for notes for vocalists. There are different systems for showing pitch register, but most of them are antiquated and you only need them when you're reading European textbooks. Stick with scientific notation and make everyone else get on your level. If you don't know which "D" ("D3 or D4?") speak up - ask someone. If they don't know the difference, explain it to them. You'll come off looking smart / alert and they'll learn something new, plus, everyone will be on the same page. Dec 5, 2015 at 17:33

2 Answers 2


The first thing that can be confusing is that men's parts are often written in treble clef, but sounding an octave lower. That is, a written middle C (C4) actually indicates a C3. Properly notated, the treble clef should have a little "8" attached to the bottom (as seen here), but this is often left off and the octave shift is simply implied.

Commonly someone will say "it's a D" and everyone else seems to know which D except me!

The context should help. If I'm asking about the range of a song for a male voice and they say, "yeah, it's really low, down to a D" then they must mean D2. If they say, "it's really high, up to a D" then they must mean D5.

  • Good point about the octave clef, and maybe not always evident when it's implied if the range is quite narrow. Or maybe an experienced singer could tell from the other parts where the tenor part should fit even in these cases.
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 30, 2015 at 22:24

You have to take the context into account. Look, when cellists talk to each other about "the open C", they don't mean the same thing as the violists, because the cello's open C is an octave lower than the viola's open C.

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