4

The white keys on the piano have single letter names:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

The black keys require a minimum of 2 letters to "spell" their names :

Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb

or

C#, D#, F#, G#, A#

Is anybody aware of any common single-letter names for the black notes? I have been playing around with using

H, I, J, K, L

But I don't love it and thought I'd see if anybody knew of a convention that already exists.

  • 1
    Whilst it does not answer your question, be aware that there are good reasons for using the sharp/flat notation. Using different names will convey less information. And also mean that no one else understands you. – endorph Nov 29 '16 at 21:33
  • 1
    German nomenclature calls the B "H", and the B flat "B" - but that's only one of the five. – Kilian Foth Nov 30 '16 at 5:52
  • @KilianFoth and thus the reason Bach could write an invention (I believe, possibly a fugue) using the letters of his name :-) – Carl Witthoft Nov 30 '16 at 12:46
  • Actually, Shostakovich did the same when adopting his own musical sigil "D S C H": German for "E flat" is "Es", which has two letters but sounds exactly like "S". – Kilian Foth Nov 30 '16 at 12:48
  • 1
    @freddyz Yes that's what I'm saying. – JimM Dec 2 '16 at 18:33
6

Not using letter names, but in set theory instead of giving out letter names to the 12 pitches they are just enumerated typically starting at C as such:

C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E    F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A  C#/Db  B
0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11

This allows a much easier path to do calculations and look at reoccurring ideas in a 12-tone equal temperament system where enharmonic notes correspond to the exact same frequency.

  • I think in this context, "set theory" is better described as "modular arithmetic" – Nayuki Nov 30 '16 at 4:26
  • 10 and 11 both are still made of two symbols (1 and 0, 1 and 1). OP is in search of common single-letter/symbol. If you count not in base 10, but in 16 (hexadecimal), it could be 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B, but I don't think its common. – Dancia Nov 30 '16 at 8:07
  • It is unfortunate that whoever invented this system called it "set theory," as it has just about nothing to do with mathematical Set Theory. – Carl Witthoft Nov 30 '16 at 12:48
  • @CarlWitthoft it kind of does when you actually look at analysis – Dom Nov 30 '16 at 12:54
  • Well, sorta... once you include operations it gets closer to a ring :-) – Carl Witthoft Nov 30 '16 at 14:05
6

Perhaps the German names may be helpful. While not a single letter name, these are single syllable names and thus easy to sing. Using these is at least semi-standard.

https://www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/keylang.htm

There is the possibility of using a chromatic do-re-mi system. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solf%C3%A8ge

The latter two systems do map more than one name to a single note.

  • +1 for the (chromatic) movable Do where one-syllable names are given to notes raised or lowered by a semitone – ChristopheLynch Nov 29 '16 at 19:58
2

The closest thing to this was Boethius in the 6th century. He tried to use the system you mention and just went through the alphabet.

But his system didn't have sharps and flats, just the note names. When accidentals were first introduced, on the note B, they used a rounded "b" for the flat, and a boxed "b", (#) for the sharp.

So, no, the notes have always been referred to with the two characters.

1

Not that I'm aware of. The whole point is that being called a # or b actually gives information out. If you know some theory, it can explain what is happening when accidentals are used, and if they were different letter names, then key sigs would be tricky, I think. There actually is already 'H', in Germany and other countries, used for B - Bb being called B. Now how confusing is that? And once you start adding Doh - both fixed and moveable- into the equation, it's possibly best to let sleeping dogs lie...

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