Kelgray and Beyond

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Why there are only 8 musical notes

LatelyI’ve been finding that for some reason people have been coming to my page whilst searching for the phrase: Why there are only 8 musical notes.  Don’t ask me why.  But I thought that since this phrase has been a contributor in traffic coming to this blog, I may as well give a shot at answering the question.  Now before I begin I’d just like to state for the record that I am not a professional.  I haven’t done research into this topic specifically, though i have worked as a sound technician and have been a musician of one sort or another all my life.  All I’m going to try to use to answer this question is me brain and life experience that most people have.

Now the answer is that the question does not work.  It does not work because there are not only 8 musical notes.  Even if we go from the classic scale, ABCDEFG there are seven musical notes, not eight.  Now we add in the sharps and flats and we get 12 notes.  That’s startin to look like a more familiar number now isn’t it?  Maybe the music that we deal with is emperical?  But we can go further than that.  There are an infinite number of musical notes.  Frequencies can be calculated into decimals and decimals can go on forever.  They may not fit into our classic scales, but they’re there.  But it has been noticed that certain frequencies sound pretty damned similar to other frequencies, so they were called the same note.  Now there are still an infinite amount of notes between those two notes and they all repeat themselves.  My theory is that within those sets of frequencies some dude decided to split them up along even lines (which was by 12 at the time, not 10 as they still measured in feet and inches and stuff like that).

So they put 12 frets on a guitar type instrument and started to play.  As they were playing they found that certain notes worked together and others didn’t.  They found the ones that had the most pleasant harmony and set those as their scale, which is how we get to 7 whole notes.  It would have started as the A scale, but then one day someone discovered that it sounds better when you start and end it with C instead, so they switched A to A minor, and made C the major scale, then from there they found the rest of their scales.

 I got no clue if that’s true or not but that’s what make sense to me.  Let me know if you think I’m wrong for one reason or another.

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March 7, 2007 - Posted by | Generalities, Musical Notes

4 Comments »

  1. 8 musical notes is a question in the crossword jumbo. I assume it means “scales\’

    Comment by Steve | October 14, 2009

  2. My bet would be octave

    Comment by Timberwolf | October 14, 2009

  3. The reason there are twelve specific notes is because these are the notes that best conform to the natural harmonic series or “overtone” series, for greatest sonority. For more info, read: http://www.music.sc.edu/fs/bain/atmi02/hs/index-audio.html

    Comment by ophu | December 4, 2010

  4. music soothes the savage beast. And noise hurts
    the ears. Where does music end, and noise begins?
    To through ones head back and scream,is not
    what I call music. (Right or Wrong?)
    Tom Young

    Comment by Tom Young | April 21, 2011


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