5

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.

8
  • 5
    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
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 21:33
  • 4
    German nomenclature calls the B "H", and the B flat "B" - but that's only one of the five. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 5:52
  • 3
    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". Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 12:48
  • 1
    Following what @endorph said it's also worth remembering that on many instruments these notes are not the same. F# is the same as Gb on a piano but not, for example, on a violin.
    – JimM
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 11:13
  • 2
    @freddyz Yes that's what I'm saying.
    – JimM
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 18:33

7 Answers 7

11

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  A#/Bb  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.

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  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 8:07
  • 3
    It is unfortunate that whoever invented this system called it "set theory," as it has just about nothing to do with mathematical Set Theory. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 12:48
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft it kind of does when you actually look at analysis
    – Dom
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 12:54
  • 2
    Well, sorta... once you include operations it gets closer to a ring :-) Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 14:05
  • 4
    @Dancia The notation you mention is very close to the standard, except that T and E are most typically used for 10 and 11, rather than A and B.
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 19:16
9

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.

2
  • +1 for the (chromatic) movable Do where one-syllable names are given to notes raised or lowered by a semitone Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 19:58
  • Yale link is dead.
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 19:08
3

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...

1
3

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
  • Wouldn't that be a natural, not a sharp?
    – awe lotta
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 14:41
2

As far as written systems go, the closest you'll get to a single-character notation for the entire chromatic scale is the numeric system in Dom's answer, generally notated as 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T E.

For spoken letter-names incorporating a single syllable, the most common system I've encountered is adding "-sh" for sharps and "-f" for flats. Thus:

C Ceesh D Deesh E (Eesh) F Feesh G Geesh A Aysh B (Beesh)
and
C (Ceef) B Beef A Ayf G Geef F (Feef) E Eef D Deef

1

I'm finding this problem when learning the bass. The syllable of "flat" just gets in the way and interrupts any flow I have. I've taken to just adding an "eef" when I'm saying the notes I'm playing to myself, this keeps the info and makes the sound concise.

A Aeef B C Ceef D Deef E F Feef G Geef.

Works for me anyhow.

1

I call this PƏÆTK-BEADG-CF system (circle of fourths/counter-clockwise) and GDAEB-KTÆƏP-FC system (circle of fifths/clockwise) (I just use dashes to group those patterns into chunks). The note names are based on the circle of fifths/fourths - and the occuring pattern: BEADG (circle of fourth/counter-clockwise pattern) - and the counterpart flat note names influenced by IPA/International Phonetic Alphabet.

How did I come to this solution?

As you may know, the notes in circle of fourths in flats are (starting from Bb): Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C F

or the same in sharps: A# D# G# C# F# B E A D G C F

Immediately one can see the common ground between the sequences of flat notes and natural notes:

Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
B  E  A  D  G

So what I've done is I have taken those flat notes and assigned them new close phonemes (influenced by IPA/International Phonetic Alphabet):

Bb = P (voiceless counterpart letter of B)
Eb = Ə (pronounced [ə], as in words "a" [ə] or "the" [ðə], particularly derived from English word "the")
Ab = Æ (pronounced [æ], as in words "and" [ænd] or "man" [mæn])
Db = T (voiceless counterpart letter of D)
Gb = K (voiceless counterpart letter of G)

So the note letters starting from C, are:
C T D Ə E F K G Æ A P B

The circle of fourths (going counter-clockwise in the circle of fifths) are in my system (starting from P):
P Ə Æ T K B E A D G C F (PƏÆTK-BEADG-CF)

And the circle of fifths (going clockwise in the circle of fifths) are in my system (starting from G):
G D A E B K T Æ Ə P F C (GDAEB-KTÆƏP-FC)

The system helps to immediately to find the notes in a guitar.

Circle of 4ths. In a standard E tuned guitar, one can easily find those patterns (using my PƏÆTK-BEADG-CF notation system). Counting the notes per fret, starting from the 6th string, just remember to step one fret to left at the 2nd string:

E|  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B [C] T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P [B] C  T  D  Ə  E
B|  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K [G] Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F [K] G  Æ  A  P  B
G|  Æ  A  P  B  C  T [D] Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C [T] D  Ə  E  F  K  G
D|  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ [A] P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G [Æ] A  P  B  C  T  D
A|  P  B  C  T  D  Ə [E] F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D [Ə] E  F  K  G  Æ  A
E|  F  K  G  Æ  A  P [B] C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A [P] B  C  T  D  Ə  E

Figuring out only one fret-full of notes. The notes are the same on 1st string and 6th string. Imagine that there is a 7th string. Count one forward from the 1st string/6th string with GDAEB-KTÆƏP-FC and you'll get the correct note for the 2nd string:

E|  F  K  G  Æ  A  P [B] C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E
B|  C  T  D  Ə  E  F [K] G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B
G|  Æ  A  P  B  C  T [D] Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G
D|  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ [A] P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D
A|  P  B  C  T  D  Ə [E] F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A
E|  F  K  G  Æ  A  P [B] C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E
B|                   (K)

Circle of 5ths. Again, count with GDAEB-KTÆƏP-FC, all way up from the 6th string to the 1st string, remember the one fret jump on the 2nd string:

E|  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F [K] G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E
B|  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P [B] C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B
G|  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə [E] F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G
D|  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ [A] P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D
A|  P  B  C  T [D] Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A
E|  F  K [G] Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E  F  K  G  Æ  A  P  B  C  T  D  Ə  E

If one deliberately needs to determine whether it's a sharpened or flattened note, one could go with those previous suggestions of adding -eesh (sharp) and -eef (flat) to the the notes (-eesh/-eef only determine whether it's a flattened note or sharpened note, those names, -eesh/-eef, do not themselves flatten or sharpen the notes in this system, as there are already the names T Ə K Æ P for flattened/sharpened/black notes):
C# = Teesh, D# = Əeesh, F# = Keesh, G# = Æeesh, A# = Peesh
Db = Teef, Eb = Əeef, Gb = Keef, Ab = Æeef, Bb = Peef

NOTE: There is also similarities between sharp notes and the natural notes: A# D# G# C# F# A D G C F

But I'd rather go with the flat note based system, PƏÆTK-BEADG-CF. BEADG (mnemonic: "bead-G" or "bitchy") or BEADG-CF (mnemonic: "bitchy cipher") is also pronounced more easily and more easily remembered than ADGCF.

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  • 1
    Wow! Are you sure you didn't mean to post this on the Conlang stack?
    – Theodore
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 22:12

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