The Basics 3 – The 21 Unique Notes

In order to distinguish the physical keys from their note name counterparts we name the physicals keys as “keys” and the values of the keys as “notes”. This is because a single key can have many note values (names). For example the black key on the right side of C can be either C# (C sharp) or Db (D flat). More on this in this lesson.  

A note can be named in three ways – it can be its own value (natural note), another note that is raised (aka. sharpened) or another note that is lowered (aka. flatted). A natural note has no prefix. A sharpened note has the “#” prefix and a flatted note has the “b” prefix. We “read” altered notes as “X-sharp” and “X-flat” where X is the value of the note. For example G would simply be “G”, G# would be “G sharp” and Gb would be “G flat”. 

Most white keys have their natural values. There are some rare exceptions which we will go through later in this lesson. Naming the white keys is easy. Start on C  and go right while naming the next white key D, the next one E etc. until you reach G. After G the next white key is A and then B and after that we are back to C (but don’t have to mark it). We should have the following sequence C-D-E-F-G-A-B. Look at the illustration for reference (marked as green).

The 21 Unique Keys

Now let us add the black keys. The black keys are formed by sharpening or flatting the white keys. That means that each black key can be written in two ways since each is surrounded by two white keys. The black key on the right of C is either C# or Db. The next black key is either D# or Eb etc. The full sequence of black keys is C#/Db-D#/Eb-F#/Gb-G#/Ab-A#/Bb. Look at the illustration for reference (marked as red and blue).

The 21 Unique Keys

The places where two white keys are right next to each other (B-C and E-F) can also be written as a flatted or a raised white note. This is very rare and although it might be theoretically sound for certain situations, people tend to use the absolute value counterparts instead. So we would rarely see a B# instead of a C for example but it is a good thing to keep in mind if we encounter them nevertheless in the future. The rare notes are B#-Fb-E#-Cb and their correspondent white notes are C-E-F-B. Look at the illustration for reference (marked as orange).  You can also see that the notes that are always their own value are D,G and A. 

The 21 Unique Keys

So let us count how many notes there are in total. We have 7 natural white notes (C-D-E-F-G-A-B), 5 sharpened black notes (C#-D#-F#-G#-A#), 5 flatted black notes (Db- Eb-Gb-Ab-Bb) and 4 rare white notes (B#-Fb-E#-Cb). That is a total of 21 unique notes. If we exclude the rare white notes we have 17 unique notes that are commonly used. These are the notes that we are using throughout our lessons. 

The 21 Unique Notes

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