So if I understand correctly in western tonal music we chose 12 lucky notes that we decided use tremendously more than the others, among which we have gloriously named 7 even luckier notes as follow :

  • C - D - E - F - G - A - B, or;
  • Do - Ré - Mi - Fa - Sol - La - Si (how we call them in France) or I heard as well;
  • Do - Ré - Mi - Fa - So - La - Ti

However, among the 12 we chose first, 5 of them didn't have the privilege of having their own name, instead, they're shamefully named after they closest neighbor and have been saddled with the gross suffix 'sharp' (#) or 'flat' (b), like so :

  • C# - D# - F# - G# - A# or; in their flat version;
  • Db - Eb - Gb - Ab - Bb or;
  • Do Dièse - Ré dièse - Fa dièse - Sol dièse - La dièse (French);
  • Etc...

We even call these notes accidental, showing how little we care about them.

I think it's sad for them to not have their own name. Does someone in history, or somewhere in the world tried to give these poor notes a bit of love and a proper name for each of them ? If yes, how commonly used are these names, and in what context ? By proper name, I mean a name that wouldn't be referring to another note, like A# is referring to A.

Another way to think of this question would be : "I play 1st fret of my D string on my well-tuned guitar, how can I call this note without saying 'sharp' or 'flat' ? Same question for any other accidental to Cmaj.

Warm thanks.

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    In German note naming, B is called H, and Bb is called B. Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 18:01
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    They're not always accidentals, although I take your point. And relative is a poor term to use.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 18:09
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    There is the (I think German or Dutch) system of adding "es" or "s" for flat and "is" for sharp: Ces, Cis, Des, Dis, Es, Eis, Fes, Fis, Ges, Gis, As, Ais, Bes, Bis. Dutch Wikipedia: nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorie:Toonsoort Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 18:14
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    @021 they are two different concepts hence why I linked the above. In western harmony you are dealing with 7 out of 12 notes most of the time hence the letter system. Just because some letters are shared does not mean they are less used or forgotten or that we don't care about them. Trying to say they are less important because we only have a use to identify 7 at a time is not correct. In post tonal theory, the notes are just labeled 0 to 11 as that's all you need. No names needed, just enumerations.
    – Dom
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 18:38
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    PLease don't anthropomorphize the notes. They get angry when you do that. Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


According to Music Fundamentals: A Balanced Approach by Sumy Takesue, the notes of the chromatic scale, are named:

Do Di Ra Ri Mi Fa Fi Sol Si La Li Ti Do,

and sung (pronounced):

Doh Dee Ray Ree Mee Fah Fee Sol See Lah Lee Tee Doh.

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    Why the down vote? This seems like exactly what the OP was looking for and is more or less what I was going to say had @UserZero not beaten me to it.
    – WillRoss1
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 19:47
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    @WillRoss1 see my comment. If the OP doesn't consider C# acceptable names, neither is this as it is solfege with modifiers. A raised Do is Di, a lowered Re is Ra so it's in the same boat as everything else the OP lists.
    – Dom
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 19:54
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    @Dom In vocal training, solfege is used because they each start with a strong consonant and end with an open vowel. "Doooh, Reee, Meee, Faaa" is more useful than "Seeeee, Deeeee, Eeeeee, Eeeeef...", Chromatic Solfege has this same advantage, but even more so, incorporating all 12 notes and not having to sing "Eeee Flaaaaaat". It also helps associate each note with a single name, without all the en harmonic equivalencies and it has the advantage of being movable. However, I do realize that much of that goes outside of what the OP was asking for, so I do see your point.
    – WillRoss1
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 20:16
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    @Dom I almost removed my last comment because I realize there is a good chance you already know all that stuff and after re-reading it I thought it might come across a bit condescending, which was not my intent. I decided to leave it since I think it could be useful to someone else.
    – WillRoss1
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 20:31
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    @021 I really don't see how this is different than what you listed. This is literally solfege with modifiers. For example Di and Ra share the same space and can be looked at as C# or Db in movable Do.
    – Dom
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 1:11

Disclaimer: This answer was written in response to version 2 of the question, which isn't quite what the asker actually asked.

Is there an historical reason for naming accidentals rather than assigning a letter-name to every pitch?

Yes. The "white notes" came first and the "black notes" were added later.

The letter names of the white notes were established sometime before Guido d'Arezzo, writing in the eleventh century. By his time, the note B had been split into two, square B and round B. He is credited with the invention of the solmization syllables. He was certainly the first to describe them, although the way they relate to the letter names in his system is rather different.

The system comprises three overlapping six-note scales, called hexachords, based on F, C, and G. The C hexachord comprises notes from C through A, so it has neither B in it. The square B belongs to the hexachord based on G (G through E), and the round B to the hexachord based on F (F through D). The former is the basis for the modern sharp and natural signs, while the latter gave rise to the modern flat sign. The square B came to be called H in German.

The German names for major and minor keys, Moll and Dur, also come from this system, because the F hexachord was the "soft" hexachord, the C hexachord "natural," and the G hexachord "hard": mollum, naturale, and durum, respectively.

Each hexachord uses the same six solmization syllables, ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la. The note A, for example, can therefore be either la, mi, or re, depending on which hexachord is in use. That is determined by the melodic context. C can be ut, sol, or fa. Round B can only be fa, and square B can only be mi.

In Guido's system, there are no other notes. However, the same forces that led to the splitting of B led people to apply chromatic alterations to other notes, such as F#. In such a case, they would call the F# mi and think of it as a note from a fictitious hexachord based on F. These other notes were therefore called musica ficta. This lasted for centuries as musicians continued to expand the Guidonian system beyond its boundaries without abandoning it entirely, so it is not surprising that these notes continue to have a second-class status to this day.

As practice diverged from Guido's system, the twelve-tone system became entrenched with its circle of fifths and its concept of flat and sharp generalized to the point that it can be applied to any note, even one that has already been altered.

The modern seven syllables arose from Guido's six to fit this system, with his ut becoming do, and with the addition of si or ti. This allowed the three-hexachord system to be abandoned in favor of both fixed do, where do is always C, and movable do, where do is the tonic of the major scale or the third degree of the minor scale.

In later times, much more recently, the solmization system was expanded as described in the other answer to allow people to sing melodies using the syllables, but in all of these systems there is at least some vestige of the fact that the white notes were the first ones to arrive at the party.

  • I deliberately avoided the question of the overall scope of the gamut and the system of octave designations because by the time I got to this point the answer was already rather more involved than I wanted it to be when I started writing it.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 15:56

There are a lot of misconceptions in the question which is why the answer to the actual question hasn't been provided yet.

For example, we did not "start with" 12 notes, but rather with 7 notes (a "diatonic" scale). Those 7 notes can be altered to higher and lower variants of themselves, producing at least 21 variant notes (more if you include double accidentals). Theoretically, these could all have different pitches, though many of them are very close to one other. That all those variant notes can be reduced to merely 12 keys on a keyboard, or twelve frets on fretboard, is partially a consequence of various compromises made in our tuning system for the convenience of performers and instrument builders.

Also, as others have pointed out, the term accidental is incorrect to use here, since "accidental" refers to a note that is outside of the current key. E.g. in the key of A, a C# is not an accidental, while a C-natural is. More on that terminology has been discussed here: Collective word for sharps and flats in the key signature. "Accidental" in this sense shouldn't be thought of as a "mistake", but rather as "outside of the norm", which is a valid description for notes that are not in the current diatonic scale. If this truthful description of the state of things still makes you sad, feel free to refer to those notes as "chromatic" (colorful) notes.

But the OP's actual question (or my take on it) is: is there an alternative naming scheme in which each note has it's own equally unique name. The answer is yes, such a system exists. It is called "Integer Notation", and instead of a naming scheme, it is actually a numbering scheme, from 0 to 11. In other words, C=0, C#/Db=1, D=2, etc..., up to B/Cb=11. To avoid confusion, 10 and 11 are often written as 't' and 'e' respectively.

This system is described in the answer to this question: What is the most common way to refer to a particular note in the chromatic scale without making any implications as regards tonality?

The OP also asks in what context these names are used, and the answer is that they are used when music eschews the pitch hierarchy created by the diatonic tonal system, which is to say, in atonal music. To quote wikipedia:

It is not used to notate music for performance, but is a common analytical and compositional tool when working with chromatic music, including twelve tone, serial, or otherwise atonal music.

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