In the United States we use scientific pitch notation to identify each note on the piano keyboard. Each note is identified by its letter name and its octave number. So in SPN, Middle C would be C4, and an octave below that would be C3. The lowest note on the piano is A0, and the highest is C8.

I know that many non-English-speaking countries use solfege (i.e. do-re-mi instead of c-d-e) and I've heard that in China they simply use the numbers 1-7. Also, I know that other pitch notation standards exist, like Helmholtz pitch notation where middle C is c'. But it is not clear who uses what notation. For instance, in Europe, would middle C (C4) be do4, do3, do', or something else? What about in Asia?

3 Answers 3


In Germany the prevalent is actually what you call Helmholtz, but I learned that name just from your question. In Western Europe Solfege is prevalent mostly in France, Italy and Spain, but even there are some differences. (Ut instead of Do).

But this is just the beginning, since (international) B is called H in Germany, and (international) B flat is called B, sharps and flats would be a suffix -is or -es respectively (c sharp is cis, d flat is des)...

For more details the lilypond include files prepared for the different languages may be a good starting point, see here or compact overview.

  • So in Germany, the piano would go from A,, to c''''' or alternatively A<sub>2</sub> to c<sup>5</sup> with H's instead of B's.
    – Adjwilley
    Jun 7, 2017 at 17:49
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    Yes, but in speaking one would likely use Subkontra a bis zum 5-gestrichenen c or similar.
    – guidot
    Jun 8, 2017 at 6:40
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    I dont think the german use is a difference in notation per se, probably just a variance in language. The reading still looks like standard notation.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 11, 2017 at 19:26

Curiosity: In Brazil we don't have an octave 0. We have Dó3 (wich is the equivalent of C4) then Dó2, Dó1 then it jumps to Dó-1 and finally Dó-2.

Edit for citing source: MED, Bohumil. Teoria da Música. 4. ed. Brasília: Musimed, 1996.


In many African countries solfege is widely used in the African church music. The idea that I get is that many people there consider the reading of notes to be beyond them, there does seem to be a widespread mental block regarding this.

This is why the Unisa theory syllubus now includes the transposing of solfege into standard notation. Albeit that the university does not discuss its policy in regards to the syllubus it is speculated that it was at least an attempt to curb such assumptions, solfege is hardly a european thing.

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