So far as I understand it, Western music uses a 12-note chromatic scale from octave to octave, and modern instruments use even temperament.

Other cultures have smaller intervals, meaning a different idea of musical scale, and just intonation means in some keys the note blow a D is a C#, sometimes it's a Db- and in fact the two aren't (in theory) the same pitch.

However, in practice...

On a keyboard, to play (for example) a C# of a given octave, there is just one key for that note.

--- > One.

Is there a naming system which uses just one name for any note (pitch) ? If so, what's it called ?

I'm thinking of something that has just 12 note names and something to indicate an octave.

And lastly (optional): If not, why not? this isn't really me provoking response .. it might be that there's a very practical reason why there isn't such a language, but I'd like to cast aside "because we've always done it that way" as a reason. Unless it iactually is the only reason.

  • 1
    Solfege may fit what you are looking for. Do, Re, Me, Fa, etc.. mapping a name to each scale degree.
    – b3ko
    Oct 29, 2018 at 18:17
  • @b3ko It;s along the right lines but doen's cover semitones.. you'd get the same thing eg Me# = Fab (Fa flat) i think ? Oct 30, 2018 at 13:00
  • oops I now see that there's an answer below which corrects me on that Oct 30, 2018 at 13:10

4 Answers 4


Is there a naming system which uses just one name for any note (pitch) ? If so, what's it called ? I'm thinking of something that has just 12 note names and something to indicate an octave.

I think I asked a similar question here....

What is the most common way to refer to a particular note in the chromatic scale without making any implications as regards tonality?

And although there are some good replies there, I think the basic answer is : no, there isn't any recognised, general way to do this. Perhaps MIDI note numbers satisfy some of your criteria, but... they're MIDI note numbers.

And lastly (optional): If not, why not? this isn't really me provoking response .. it might be that there's a very practical reason why there isn't such a language, but I'd like to cast aside "because we've always done it that way" as a reason. Unless it actually is the only reason.

Again.... I rather think it is the only reason! I think Michael Curtis' last paragraph expresses this quite well; I get the impression that the chromatic scale in traditional western music theory is often seen as somewhat of a container for the range of diatonic possibilities, rather than as an 'essential' or 'parent' scale.

From a personal perspective, I do often find diatonic language, terminology, and notation a little uninspiring as a perspective from which to view music that clearly ventures outside the possibilities of a single key, although that isn't to say that it isn't a valid perspective, or that countless musicians haven't made it work for them over the years.

  • +1 on your original question :-) I tend to think of the interaction of notes in a chord or progression as relative things, so having absolute names for notes is really only a starting point. After that I'm thinking in terms of 5ths an 3rds etc, or even numbers of semitones. In that context, whether something is Ab or G# is kind of irrelevant: it's "that one there, x semitones away from the root note". I suspect i'm not alone in thinking that way, but it's going against the grain a bit with the history of how notation has developed. Oct 30, 2018 at 13:23
  • Thanks very much for your answer, and links to your question and the question linked from that, which are fascinating Oct 30, 2018 at 13:24
  • I should point out thta I play guitar rather than keyboard- I've learned guitar in a similarly relative way, meaning transposition is easy and fingering shapes become the norm. Asking me what note name the 5th of a D takes me a while to work it out, but I can say it's 7 semitones up straight away Oct 30, 2018 at 13:28

Don't think there is - now. Back in the day, F# was F#, but the way we look at music notes now, there has to be an F# and a Gb, and in 12edo, as you say, they sound the same. However, they do need different names in different circumstances. Some guitarists appear to be attempting to eschew flats, but luckily it hasn't (and probably won't) filter into other instruments...

EDIT - there's also the written aspect of music. We are programmed in a lot of cases, to expect certain things. For instance, in a piece in D major, I wouldn't (ever, or rarely) expect to see G♭ written. F♯ makes a load more sense.

  • Hi TIm, ta for the answer. However I'm not sure what you mean by "attempting to eschew flats" - could you elaborate ? Also "they do need different names in different circumstances" could you explain this (a little, I understand it's a whole other queston), given that ona keyboard they are actually the same pitch ? Oct 30, 2018 at 13:05
  • I had the impression that you felt since one note (say F#) had two names one could be dispensed with.I mean that in a piece, if G was flattened, as in Eb major to Eb minor, then it needs to be Gb, not F#. So other names must be kept. In isolation, one name will do fine. It's only when a note is mentioned relative to another note or a key. Eschewing flats? Some guitar driven sites only list notes as naturals or sharps - maybe your idea - but that means some of the info. then is inaccurate.
    – Tim
    Oct 30, 2018 at 13:39
  • This made me think a bit more clearly about what I'm asking (ta) - I guess I'm suggesting that for a given frequency, the context in relation to other notes is irrelevant: 440hz is 440hz. doesn't matter if 800hz\ (whatever that is) is being played at the same time. giving it a name which depends on the context only has to be maintained if you subscribe to the notion that the context has to be described that way. Oct 30, 2018 at 14:33
  • I think of it like this: a set of 3 numbers (1,4,9) is called just that. However if I change one to (1,4,7) then suddenl;y the 4 is called Dave. (1,4,7) and (1,Dave,7) are the same. "Dave" appears to be a contrivance, serving only to express further the set that it's already a part of. Oct 30, 2018 at 14:37
  • @Tim: Hmm. Back in the days an G# was not a Ab. Read here as example: gothic-catalog.com/…
    – ghellquist
    Jul 9, 2019 at 18:03



It has individual labels for all the 12 chromatic pitches. Depending on the system variant there can be an identifier for the octave.

The common, moveable-do system has 7 syllables. In C major"

  • C do
  • B ti
  • A la
  • G sol
  • F fa
  • E mi
  • D re
  • C do

In the chromatic system notice that the syllables are variants of the 7 basic syllables in that they start with the same letter. So D natural, D sharp, and D flat all use a syllable starting with letter "R," respectively "re", "ri", and "ra."

The chromatic system also has enharmonic equivalents so C# = Db in solfege is "di" = "ra" like this...

  • C do
  • C# di / Db ra
  • D re

Why do these systems seem based on 7 pitches if western music has a 12 pitch chromatic scale?

Because western tonality is essentially diatonic (7 pitches) with chromatic inflection.


There is a long history of western music developing increasingly chromatic harmony. Tuning methods developed as well until we have the standard equal temperament of today where the octave is divided into 12 equally spaced half steps. But while western music developed this rich chromatic system, don't overlook the fact that it is based on a diatonic foundation. Notation and naming systems reflect that.

Edit after a deeper dive into the inter-tubes :-)

AB Chromatic Music Notation

...The idea was to find or develop a notation based on the chromatic scale, to exist alongside the old diatonic music notation which is based on the medieval church modes and which represents the C-major scale.


enter image description here

This seems to fit the OP's question:

  • It includes a new set of 12 solfege syllables
  • It has a new notation system

While the system isn't commonly used, the web site provides some example of Stravinsky and Bach in tradition and AB Chromatic Music Notation.

  • 1
    Given that the OP asks, "Is there a naming system which uses just one name for any note (pitch) ?" (emphasis mine), and solfege has 2 names for the C#/Db note--di and ra--I don't think this is the answer the OP is looking for.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 30, 2018 at 5:05
  • @Dekkadeci is right in that this still has two names for the same pitch, so isn't really what I'm after, but is a step in the right dsirecton and contains a lot of info that I didn't know - eg what the name of this system is, and that it does have names for semitones. Thanks for the answer Michael Oct 30, 2018 at 13:17
  • You're right about Solfege not being a perfect answer. I updated my post with something I found today. Oct 30, 2018 at 16:50

The only system I can think of that might work as a one name for each note would be to refer to each pitch by it's actual frequency, but I've only heard that being done in reference to tuning up as in " this piano needs to be tuned to concert A 440. In applying a system using the pitch frequency, a piano player would need to memorize 88 different pitch frequencies. Add to that, figuring out intervals and how to build chords would involve a lot more math than the average musician might ever want to think about, but it might give other math minded players another avenue to explore in the pursuit of understanding what are the causes and effects we hear when we play music.

  • I really like this answer, thanks- interesting point re the mathematical end of things. I'm a software engineer and this makes me wonder whether I can write something to calculate the next big hit, haha (I understand folks are trying to do that alreayd) Jul 17, 2019 at 9:10

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