Re: international pitch nomenclature

Subject: Re: international pitch nomenclature
From: Richard Zvonar (
Date: Fri Jul 23 2004 - 19:01:58 EDT

At 6:12 PM -0400 7/23/04, wrote:

>Why don't you just call the pitch Middle C?

That doesn't fit too well in a numerical object inside a Max patch.

This nomenclature argument is partly just a bunch of foolishness that
some of us engage in just out of cussedness, but it also has its
practical side. Over the years and across the globe there have been
many systems for note naming. Some people think that the "cleanest"
and most logical is a system that combines a pitch class and an
octave number. This works pretty well from a human point of view, but
from a "machine" point of view plain numbers make sense. That's why
MIDI notes are designated by numbers over a range of 128 values from
0 to 127 (decimal), from 00 to 7F (hexadecimal), or from 0000000 to
1111111 (binary). Middle C is either 60 or 3C or 0111100. Quick:
What's an F# an octave and a half above Middle C?

So we really DO need that pitch class/octave system. The only problem
is where to start? Do you use the lowest pitch you can hear? Or the
lowest key on a piano keyboard? And is the lowest octave "0" or "1"?
The American Standards Institute chose in 1960 to start with A0 as
the bottom key of the piano keyboard, which puts Middle C at C4. When
Yamaha decided to start naming the notes with C1 as the lowest note
on a five-octave MIDI keyboard, that made a certain amount of sense
for people who have a hard time with the concept of counting from "0"
but it flew in the face of existing practice.

I suppose one's preference might depend on one's age and on whether
one learned music theory and acoustics before or after MIDI was


______________________________________________________________ Richard Zvonar, PhD (818) 788-2202

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b27 : Sat Dec 22 2007 - 01:46:03 EST