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why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'? (Read 58309 times)

Offline silph

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why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
« on: October 31, 2011, 08:15:30 AM »
(this post is editted to rephrase my question, because now two three people misunderstood it! i'll get it right eventually..!)



i don't know if this is a "stupid, unpractical' question, but i've always wondered about it.

what are the reasons (which i'm guessing are all only historical reasons?) that major scale with no sharps and no flats begins with 'C', instead of 'A'?



the major scale with no sharps and no flats starts on a note that we call C. why is this note called C, instead of it being called A?




suppose i was some pre-historic guy playing around with a stringed instrument. suppose that i magically discover a system of twelve pitches (roughly corresponding to our equal tempered 12 tones) that deliver pleasing tones, and that i like this system so much that i only ever use this system.
` i then discover that a pattern of notes in a TTSTTTS pattern sounds super-pleasing, and i call such a sequence of notes a "major scale".
` i soon will then realize that there are twelve such major scales possible using my system of twelve pitches.
` i also realize that it's a good idea if i deem /one/ of these twelve major scales as the most "basic" scale, and that i name all notes not part of this one "basic" scale as "flats and sharps". this is a good idea, because i see that all the other major scales are created by using flats and sharps, and now i have a unique way of identifying all twelve scales, and also would have found a way of referring to all twelve of my possible notes. this sounds like a good deal to me!
` so now all that's left to do is assign names to each note of my "basic" scale. i decide to use the letters of the alphabet.

obviously, i would choose to name the notes my most "basic" scale starting on the letter 'A'.



now, my little hypothetical fantasy above is close enough (i'm assuming) to how things actually came about. at any rate, i am assuming that if i ask what the most "basic", and "simple", and "most fundamental starting point" for a scale is to us, it would be the major scale with no flats and sharps in it. to us, it is the C major scale.

my question: why are we using a naming system that names the most basic scale starting with the letter 'C'?! it seems arbitrary that the name of the first note of the most basic scale we use is /C/, instead of A. why C?

Offline pianoplayjl

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #1 on: October 31, 2011, 08:39:29 AM »
Good question. I don't know but I'll try to answer. Because every major scale follows the same pattern ie the interval seperating the notes in a scale applys to every major scale. For example in C major scale the interval separating C from D would be a tone, right? and so on until we reach E to F. here the interval is a semitone. From F to B it would be a tone that separates each note. From B back to tonic C would again be a semi tone. Hence this pattern is like T TST T TS (T is for tone while S is for semitone). So that's why C major does not have a sharp or flat. This pattern applies to every Major scale. I know I haven't explained it very clear and properly, but I hope this helps.
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Offline silph

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #2 on: October 31, 2011, 08:43:37 AM »
no, no, that wasn't what i was asking, actually!
i wasn't asking "why, if you start on the note on the piano called 'C', and make a major scale starting on that note, do you get a scale that hits only the white notes".

my question instead was, "why is the note that we call 'C' on the piano, actually not called 'A' instead?". or to put it differently, when you're learning to read, you start with the letter A; but when you're learning music you (very strangely) don't start with A, but instead start with the letter C.

Offline pianoplayjl

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #3 on: October 31, 2011, 08:56:35 AM »
Oh sorry. maybe that C is one of 3 notes that have 7 octaves and 8 notes and the middle of the piano happens to be where C is hence everyone learns where middle C is. Is this an answer to your question?
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Offline silph

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #4 on: October 31, 2011, 09:28:30 AM »
no, i'm afraid that isn't addressing my actual question! i may be explaining it not well enough, and you are intepretting what i'm writing in a meaning that i /didn't/ realize i'm saying, lol!

i don't mean *literally* "why do people learn middle C on the piano as their first note".


let me try asking my question more precisely:
- i consider the C major scale to be the most "simple" and "basic" scale. certainly, that's how it's considered to be in our society, whenever anyone learns anything about music theory:
` - we start with the C major scale as our first major scale we learn. it is considered the most simple of the major scales; all other major scales have a sharp or a flat in it.
` - we learn minor scales only after learning major scales. we learn that a minor scale starts on the 6th degree of a major scale; or we learn that a minor scale is a major scale with the 3rd, 6th, and 7th flattened.

therefore, the C major scale is the most "simple" and "basic" scale that we learn.

so, it doesn't make sense that this "basic" scale starts on C. why C? it seems completely arbitrary to me! the only non-arbitrary letter name for the most basic scale to start seems to be 'A'.


so, my question is:
- it seems to make more sense that the note we call 'C' on the piano, would instead be called 'A'. why isn't it? why is it actually called 'C', instead of anything else?



hopefully my question is clear, now..!

Offline pianoplayjl

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #5 on: October 31, 2011, 09:54:03 AM »
Oh now I get it but I don't know. I give up. why don't you have a go at your question? :(
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Offline mike_lang

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #6 on: October 31, 2011, 10:40:02 AM »
i don't know if this is a "stupid, unpractical' question, but i've always wondered about it.

what are the reasons (which i'm guessing are all only historical reasons?) that the major scale with no sharps and no flats begins with 'C', instead of 'A'?

Are you asking why CDEFGAB is considered major, while ABCDEFG is not?  It might help to clarify your question.

Mike

Offline silph

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #7 on: October 31, 2011, 11:20:55 AM »
my goodness, i must really suck at asking questions, lol!

no, that's not what i'm asking. i know why CDEFGABC is a major scale and why ABCDEFGA is a minor scale.

i'm instead asking why the note we call C is in fact called C. it would make more sense to me that, given it's the starting note of the most basic scale (ie the starting note of the most basic scale being the starting point of learning any music theory), that it should be called the same letter as the starting note of the alphabet: A. it seems completely arbitrary that the letter names of the pitches are what they are, and i want to know why C was chosen to be the name of the pitch that we call C.


i really hope my question is clear now!

Offline allthumbspiano

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #8 on: October 31, 2011, 11:43:23 AM »
I think he is asking why the notes on the piano were given there specific names, like why is C the note before the 2 black keys instead of A?  Why in history did they not tune the piano in a way to make A the note before the two black keys and go up from there.  If you draw out the piano and label the keys and try to form scales based on A being before the 2 black keys I think you might end up with natural notes on the black keys which would be strange.  I don't know I didn't try it but I think F would end up on a black key.  I guess it was the most organized way to do it. 

Offline silph

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #9 on: October 31, 2011, 11:50:31 AM »
@allthumbspiano:

lol thanks for assuring me that you understand my question!

well, if we adopt the rule that E to F is a semitone (ie no note in between) and that B to C is a semitone, then yes, F would end up on a black key. but of course if we're naming the note before the two black keys as being 'A', then we wouldn't have that rule! instead, the rule would be that C and D would be a semitone apart, and G and A would be a semitone apart. that is, the keyboard would look like this:


A [A#/Bb] B [B#/Cb] C D [D#/Eb] E [E#/Fb] F [F#/Gb] G A

Offline allthumbspiano

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #10 on: October 31, 2011, 01:58:46 PM »
Here is a reason I can think of but is most likely wrong.  The C major scale has no sharps or flats, this scale was created before the piano.  When they created the piano (or whatever similar instrument before) they wanted all the sharps and flats to be on the black keys.  Since there are no sharps or flats in CM it became the one with no black keys.  The scale that you show does have sharps and flats on the black keys but it looks like the 3rd in the A major scale which should be a C# is instead on a white key of D.     

Offline silph

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #11 on: October 31, 2011, 02:21:21 PM »
oh dear, maybe you /don't/ understand my question, after all, allthumbspiano! let me bring up two things you just wrote to show why:


Quote
The C major scale has no sharps or flats, this scale was created before the piano.

that's fine by me, the thought that the scale with no sharps or flats to be created before the piano (or in my words, i'm okay with the thought that there was a scale deemed so "basic" that the only idea of sharps and flats came about by asking what notes were /not/ in this most "basic" scale, and that this "basic" scale was created before the piano). but the whole /point/ of my question is:

suppose i'm a musician guy inventing cool stuff like the idea of a scale, and i'm someone who lived way before the age of the piano. now suppose i created a major scale that i deem to be the most "basic" and "simple" scale, and i wanted to use the letters of the alphabet to refer to the different notes of the scale. then, i would definitely name the notes like this: ABCDEFGA

there is no reason i know of why i'd decide to begin to name it starting with C! and so i don't understand WHY the most "basic" scale was ever named starting with the letter C!


Quote
The [keyboard] that you show does have sharps and flats on the black keys but it looks like the 3rd in the A major scale which should be a C# is instead on a white key of D.


but, again, the whole /point/ of my question is that if you take the most "basic" and "simple" major scale, and want to assign notes to it, then the A major (yes, major!) scale would be: A B C D E F G A, and there *would not be a note that ever existed called C#*.

you're saying that the 3rd in the A major scale should be a C#, but it's only a C# in /our/ naming system (ie the one that starts on C). in the naming system used by the keyboard i posted:

A [A#/Bb] B [B#/Cb] C D [D#/Eb] E [E#/Fb] F [F#/Gb] G A

, the third of the A major scale indeed is C. (count it using TTSTTTS! 'A' is the first degree; a tone up from that is B, which is our second degree; and a tone up from that is C)





i'm feeling a little uneasy, because it seems that i am having a lot of trouble explaining what my question IS. you're the third person in a row who i've seemed to have caused to misunderstand my question, and it makes me doubt my capabilities of communication...!

do you see what i'm trying to ask, now, allthumbspiano? or did i not quite clarify enough?

Offline allthumbspiano

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #12 on: October 31, 2011, 03:24:41 PM »
Sorry, I thought you were asking in reference to the piano and not to the scales themselves.  I'm not sure how or what language they originally created the scales in though so I can't really answer that.  But I am curious about it though.

Offline allthumbspiano

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #13 on: October 31, 2011, 05:24:29 PM »
I'm thinking it evolved from when scales had a completely different organization.  I know they used to have scales with less notes in them and maybe at that time 'A' was the most basic.  As it evolved and they divided the scales further that is when the sharps and flats got added, 'C' ending up with none.  Here is an interesting read but I don't think the exact answer is in there.

http://www.midicode.com/tunings/greek.shtml

Like I said, I think they already had an 'A' scale of some kind (not as we know it today) so it was stuck being called 'A' even though when they divided it up into more notes it ended up not being the most basic like the 'C'.  Not sure if this is right, just a theory.

Offline mcdiddy1

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #14 on: October 31, 2011, 06:36:36 PM »
From what I was told, musical notation originated from a monk named Guido d' Arrizo who taught his students to sing solemnization symbols based on a hymn about Saint John Baptist called Ut queant laxis.

Each of the lines began with a symbol such as Mi, So, La which is where solfege  originated from. Solfege is basically syllables that represent the musical major scale.

 From that after they method became more popular in the Renaissance and began to grow more organized and systemized using hexachords. He developed muemonic device called the "Guidonian hand" where the solfege symbols where giving letter names.

 Singers were trained for a while to use these basic six note scales, avoiding the tritone because it was considered the devil's chord. From there Guido developed 3 type of hexachord scales, one being called the natural starting on C with the half-step between E and F etc.
 Jean-Philippe Rameau  wrote his Treaties on Harmony  which was used by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg to describe the music of Bach. From there developed these two individual described this growing trend of tonalization, dominants, resolutions and essentially are major/minor tonal system which was based on centering of a tonic note or key note which is where we get our keysignatures from.After the Renaissance to the Baroque period the use of staff began to be used to make reading easier and clefs were introduce to give lines meaning to different people. Clefs based on the common registers of singers and instruments hence,Bass, tenor, soprano clefs etc. The clefs began to be used to indicate the key or tonalities of piece and began to spread as a common way to notate music
 I am giving the cliff notes version, it is really a deep complex musicology questions. But if you want to know the full story look up :guidonian hand, musica ficta, Ut queant laxis,. I guess the even shorter answer is because of Guido, solfege, and his system of training singers.

Offline keypeg

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #15 on: October 31, 2011, 07:50:06 PM »
Like most things in music, the development was gradual and is still ongoing, and went in lurches as other events happened in history.  Western music starts out from the early Christian church which borrowed both from the Greeks, who had figured out some harmony things, and the Jews, from whom they got the idea of chants.  The Greek intervals, speaking generally, led toward these "modes".  The chants were sacred and were not supposed to be changed, and went along the modes too.  It was all oral, and it took forever for the boys to memorize one chant after the other by copying the master singers.  Those chants were along those "modes".  This went on for hundreds of years.  After the collapse of the Roman Empire the different towns were like islands.

Then came the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, which tried to unit all Christendom, and to do so the rituals and so forth had to be unified.   How do you communicate things if you have poor roads, no radio, telephone or Internet, and everything is oral?  Writing is the answer, so the way of writing was improved, and ways of written music were also being sought by the existing powers.  Charlemagne was given a mandate by the pope, if I remember correctly.

Meanwhile monks and scholars were already trying ways to make teaching students (to memorize) these chants easier.  You could make a little squiggle around a main note to show how the notes dance around it over here going higher and lower - so the neumes dancing around a single line got invented.  It was like a quick memo for things that were memorized.

D'Arezzi's revolution was to look at the structure (that was already in use) underneath that music - and he isolated the notes with their related intervals of a "scale".  He gave them the names Do Re Mi etc. from that chant we all know about.  There were spots on his hand which represented the Do Re Mi etc. so he could point to the "note" and the singers could sing it.  The writing system came from this too.  He did not invent the modes or the intervals - they already existed in the music.

Up to then people had to memorize entire portions of chants.  The idea that you could sing a note, another note, and another note, and create a chant out of this succession of notes, was mind boggling - that you didn't have to hear someone sing it first.  The idea of looking at a sheet of paper, sing note after note, and end up singing a chant you had never heard before totally blew their minds.  We take it for granted.  Since the political agenda was to unify the European Christian world, partly via the religious rituals, there was a lot of support for spreading this system.  Therefore it could take off.  The time was ripe for it.

Once there was a way of writing music, ideas could also get a lot more complex and it developed from there.  And is still developing.

Offline keypeg

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #16 on: October 31, 2011, 07:55:56 PM »
Silph: What if it did start on A originally?  Historically the two modes that continued were the Ionian which is our modern "major scale" and the Aeolian, which is our modern "natural minor" scale.  So maybe the natural minor was the more normal one once upon a time.  We could turn it on its head and consider that a signature of one sharp is the signature of E natural minor, and that G major also shares its signature.  8)  :P   (I wonder if the minor was in fact considered more natural once upon a time?)

Actually, how did the alphabet names come about?  We always only hear about the history of Do Re Mi.

Offline Mayla

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #17 on: November 01, 2011, 04:05:13 AM »
.   
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Offline birdbrain

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #18 on: December 10, 2011, 06:58:17 AM »
My wife is Korean.  She speaks Do Re Mi not ABC.  We have fun trying to learn new songs together.

Offline ajspiano

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #19 on: December 15, 2011, 10:53:35 PM »
this is a difficult question to answer without delving into history too much..

I would say a plausible answer is that who ever first discovered or atleast worked on interval relationships and used letter names as opposed to solfeggio - named the first note A, and proceeded to find the natural minor scale before the major scale.

but that still seems pretty unlikely to me..  I would assume a great number of people worked on the idea and that it developed over many many years - this would have to be the case given the great number of historical tuning methods/temperments..  but then hey, its not as if this would have been worked out on a piano, more likely the voice or maybe an early fret less string instrument of some kind. The key point about that being that those instruments can alter their tuning as such on the fly while they are playing...  which leads me to believe that a moveable do system would have come long before ABC did.

I don't know jack about the history of this though so just ignore my ramblings.

Offline pianoplayjl

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #20 on: February 06, 2012, 07:39:02 AM »
Another impossible explanation: ;D

Perhaps this is all just coincidence. I don't know much about the history of the keyboard and how the lettering of the notes came to be so this is just pure furious speculation. Perhaps in ancient times the most natural scale is not C but another note e.g. b. Maybe in those times the note 'c' is actually called b because maybe they didn't invent names for notes.

Just my theory of course. A theory. And a theory is always speculation that is not proven true.

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Offline indespair

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #21 on: February 06, 2012, 07:02:07 PM »
From what I understand, the object of the question is the nomenclature of the notes. According to present convention, middle C (C4) is any note with a fundamental tone of frequency 261.6 Hz and A4 is that with 440 Hz. The question as it appears to me may mean one of two things:

a)Why do we call a note with a fundamental tone of frequency 261.6 Hz Middle C or C4 and not A4?

or,
b)Why do we tune the middle white key of a piano before the two blacks to sound a 261.6 Hz tone and not 440 Hz?

To summarize, what is the cumulative history of the tonal system used today in most music and it's nomenclature?

Offline mcdiddy1

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #22 on: February 07, 2012, 03:28:25 AM »
From what I understand, the object of the question is the nomenclature of the notes. According to present convention, middle C (C4) is any note with a fundamental tone of frequency 261.6 Hz and A4 is that with 440 Hz. The question as it appears to me may mean one of two things:

a)Why do we call a note with a fundamental tone of frequency 261.6 Hz Middle C or C4 and not A4?

or,
b)Why do we tune the middle white key of a piano before the two blacks to sound a 261.6 Hz tone and not 440 Hz?

To summarize, what is the cumulative history of the tonal system used today in most music and it's nomenclature?

I think it just come from tradition. The note names are not determined by frequency nor is merely arbitrary. I think the history of the note name was already discussed in the previous post. What I have heard is the in Europe musicians tune to a different A from that in America. So I do not think the frequencies are universally used everywhere but comes from the general area frequency that has been passed on.

Offline pianoplayjl

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #23 on: February 07, 2012, 06:57:13 AM »
From what I understand, the object of the question is the nomenclature of the notes. According to present convention, middle C (C4) is any note with a fundamental tone of frequency 261.6 Hz and A4 is that with 440 Hz. The question as it appears to me may mean one of two things:

a)Why do we call a note with a fundamental tone of frequency 261.6 Hz Middle C or C4 and not A4?

or,
b)Why do we tune the middle white key of a piano before the two blacks to sound a 261.6 Hz tone and not 440 Hz?

To summarize, what is the cumulative history of the tonal system used today in most music and it's nomenclature?

I'd say the OP is talking about A). At last I think I understand the OP's question....
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Offline j_menz

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #24 on: February 09, 2012, 02:53:52 AM »
The first person to call notes by letter names was a monk and music theorist called Boethius. His musical discourse De Institutione Musica was written in the 6th century.

At that time, "A" was the lowest note used in music, or at least church music.  The whole of music was divided into various "modes", inherited from the Greeks, and the idea of the modern "scale" did not really exist (although the (present) Ionian mode corresponds to the major scale, modal theory also underwent some revison in the time since Boethius, and the correspondence with the modes described by him could be contested).

A parrallel line of development (as described by keypeg in an earlier post) gave us the sol-fa (do re mi fa sol la ti do) system, which corresponds to the modern scale.  The putting of these two lines of theoretical development together resulted in "C" being the bottom note of the all naturals major scale.

Interestingly, the modern standard piano still has "A" as it's lowest note.
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Offline pianoplayjl

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #25 on: February 09, 2012, 05:54:01 AM »

Interestingly, the modern standard piano still has "A" as it's lowest note.

Maybe that is because the letter A is the first letter of the music alphabet.  8) ::) ;D :D :)
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Offline boop4

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #26 on: May 31, 2012, 08:49:21 AM »
I don't understand why your question is getting answers based on musical theory or history when it is based in etymology. What the question being asked people, is why "c" as opposed to anything else? Taken to ridiculous lengths (to prove a point), why not dog or cat?

Offline p2u_

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #27 on: May 31, 2012, 09:07:11 AM »
I don't understand why your question is getting answers based on musical theory or history when it is based in etymology. What the question being asked people, is why "c" as opposed to anything else? Taken to ridiculous lengths (to prove a point), why not dog or cat?
I've made that up right now, but maybe it has to do with the fact that the note "C" is closest to the "Center" of the keyboard? It's also the "Center" of our tone system because there are no accidentals in the scale, so it's the easiest to learn theory-wise.
P.S.: Many countries do not use "C-D-E", but say "Do-Re-Mi" instead. This may be part of the confusion that arose while some people tried to reply. Also keep in mind that many board users are not native speakers of English.

Paul
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Offline nystul

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #28 on: June 01, 2012, 10:50:46 PM »
I don't understand why your question is getting answers based on musical theory or history when it is based in etymology. What the question being asked people, is why "c" as opposed to anything else? Taken to ridiculous lengths (to prove a point), why not dog or cat?

Did you ever learn the alphabet?  The letters form an ordered list that people in many countries recognize.  If you have a 6 year old who is taking their first ever music lesson you don't need to tell them that B comes after A because they already know *cough* unless some yahoo decides H should come after A destroying the whole point of the labels *cough*.  It is just the same as if numbers were used as labels.  Logically therefor A must be the starting point of the sequence.  That was already defined before it was applied to music.  So the answer to the question can only be historical, in so far as there is an answer.

Offline Bob

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #29 on: June 01, 2012, 11:06:03 PM »
Interesting question.  Actually two in a way -- How did the lines and spaces on the staff get their letter name?  And why not make the most plain notation, no sharps or flats, A.  And... how did the notes on a keyboard get their letter name?

I would guess it evolved, just chance.  I'll see if I can find anything.  Notation came about from the Catholic church right?  Too many hymns to keep track of so they started writing in little marks.  Then a line to differentiate those little marks.  Then another line.  Neumes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neume

And I wonder if it has something to do with clefs.

The actual pitches-to-A440 was lower in the past.  I'm not sure what the numbers are, but I've heard it was something like a minor third lower than what we have today.  Pitch keeps rising.  I heard we're heading toward A442.

I also remember something about our modern grand staff coming from France.
...
Darnit.. .Lost my post.

Guido put neumes on a staff.  How did that get to the modern grand staff?




http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staff_(music)
"France soon began to incorporate five lines into its music, which became widespread by the 16th century, and was the norm throughout Europe by the 17th century. The names of the staff in some languages, such as the Italian pentagramma, reflects the importance of five lines. In 1342, the first music staff was made. It consisted of four lines and three spaces instead of the modern five and four. Five lines staff was made in Italy by Ugolino of Forlì."

Looks like he did it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugolino_of_Forl%C3%AC
But we need more info....
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Offline Bob

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #30 on: June 01, 2012, 11:31:59 PM »
It's being a pain to modify posts now....

Oxford Music Online (New Groves)
Under this entry....
Ugolino of Orvieto [Ugolino di Francesco Urbevetano; Ugolinus de Urbeveteri]
(b ?Orvieto, c1380; d Ferrara, 23–31 Jan 1452). Italian theorist and composer.
2. Theory.
"It is clear that Ugolino, while not mentioning authors more recent than Johannes de Muris, had studied the works of Prosdocimus de Beldemandis..."
"The only difference is that Ugolino began on c rather than G and split the semitones B–C and E–F into equal halves. Prosdocimus's and Ugolino's divisions, resulting in five flats and five sharps, were to have considerable influence on late-15th-century theorists in Italy. A significant source for the speculative portions of the Declaratio, likewise unnamed by Ugolino, has been identified as the anonymous Questiones on music (F-Pn lat. 7372), perhaps written by a pupil of Biagio Pelacani or someone in his circle.
 
Ugolino's treatise, though less original than was once thought, was nevertheless influential, especially the first two books."
Bonnie J. Blackburn, author



So he did it, popularized it.  Who knows why he picked it the way he did. I would guess he was building on other ideas, but why he decided to switch pitches like that... Who knows?
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline Bob

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #31 on: June 01, 2012, 11:58:00 PM »

Here's a bit about why it's a G and F clef...
"(v) Clefs, staves, leger lines.
The F and C clefs, positioned so as to avoid leger lines, were supplemented from the 14th century with the G clef and a bass G or gamma clef (fixing bass G), in order to allow further exploration of the treble and bass registers without the necessity for leger lines."
from article, Notation, §III, 4: Mensural notation from 1500
authors, Geoffrey Chew/Richard Rastall
Oxford Music Online
That doesn't answer why it's C and not A though.  Looks like that's still Ugolino's influence.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline zzivauri

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #32 on: June 02, 2012, 01:11:49 AM »
  Because c is the speed of light.  ;)

Offline fleetfingers

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #33 on: June 02, 2012, 04:21:39 AM »
I attended a children's music class the other day, and the teacher said that the most natural interval for children to sing is a minor third. That surprised me . . . I think of major keys and intervals as being more natural, in terms of how they sound and their predictability. Most teachers I know teach the major scales first. Maybe that is not how it always was. Maybe minor scales used to be more common and natural. That would make the most sense to me, and it would answer the question being asked - because in that case, the "most natural" scale would be A minor, not C Major.

Offline Bob

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #34 on: June 02, 2012, 04:32:34 AM »
Also interesting.


They might be talking the "Ur song."  Sol-sol mi la sooool mi.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline cudo

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #35 on: June 03, 2012, 05:02:48 PM »
 why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?

Later, in the middle ages, Dorian mode was designated "mode no.1", not for its aural qualities, but for its mathematical symmetry.
Take any note, and calculate perfect 5ths above and below it, until you have a 7-note scale. This gives you Dorian mode:

Going upward in fifth:
D x 3/2 = A; A x 3/2 = E; E x 3/2 = G
Going downward in fifth:
D x 2/3 = G; G x 2/3 = C; C x 2/3 = F.

Putting them all in the same octave, keeping the starting note at the centre, so that no note is more than a 4th away, you have (bottom to top) A-B-C-D-E-F-G:

(You sometimes need to invert a 5th to a 4th in the other direction to remain in the same octave.)

Now imagine you have no note letters to start with - they haven't been invented yet - so you give letter names to your "perfect" scale starting on the bottom note:


A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
  2 1  2 2  1 2


Bingo - that's where we get our note names from. They weren't given to Aeolian mode, but to "hypodorian", which is dorian starting a 4th below its tonal centre. And the reason it starts a 4th below is the "holy" symmetry of the diagram, the elegant simplicity of the derivation.




Offline bojo1

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #36 on: October 20, 2012, 01:36:14 PM »
Did you ever learn the alphabet?  The letters form an ordered list that people in many countries recognize.  If you have a 6 year old who is taking their first ever music lesson you don't need to tell them that B comes after A because they already know *cough* unless some yahoo decides H should come after A destroying the whole point of the labels *cough*.  It is just the same as if numbers were used as labels.  Logically therefor A must be the starting point of the sequence.  That was already defined before it was applied to music.  So the answer to the question can only be historical, in so far as there is an answer.

So that is why "The most basic scale" starts on C and not A... Explain that to a six year old. Or me. The only intelligent answer to the question must be that A-minor or A-aeolian, is the "most basic scale".

Offline gn622

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #37 on: October 20, 2012, 01:43:47 PM »
I THINK they named the keys like that since the very first key in the piano is A, so the other keys were named accordingly :P.


Offline cudo

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #38 on: October 23, 2012, 09:02:44 PM »
The only intelligent answer to the question must be that A-minor or A-aeolian, is the "most basic scale".

 They weren't given to Aeolian mode, but to hypodorian.

Offline asuhayda

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #39 on: November 05, 2012, 08:35:21 PM »
I think your making an invalid assumption by stating that C Major is the only natural scale.  It most certainly is not.  Western music was not originally derived on Major/Minor configurations, rather on modes.  Gregorian chant used modes, not Major, Minor scales.

The concept of temperment did not make its way into western music until the late 1600's and wasn't fully realized until the mid 1700's.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Well_temperament

I don't think that the original keyboards were tuned the way they are today.  So, I hate to say it but, C major is what it is.  It's a product of the evolution of the instrument.  I believe that they were simply not thinking in those terms back around the time that the original keyboards were invented.  AND THEY AIN'T CHANGIN' IT NOW! haha!

I hope this makes sense.
~ if you want to know what I'm working on.. just ask me!

Offline Bob

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #40 on: November 07, 2012, 12:20:41 AM »
I don't think the pitch matters for what he's asking.

Natural being no sharps or flats.

Why use a major scale starting on C for a scale with no sharps or flats?  Why not A instead?

Or basically why are the letter names assigned to the staff and keyboard the way they are?


I'd go with the evolution idea too though.  Tradition.  There are other things that don't make sense but they're still done because that's how it's always been.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline sasuke_10

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #41 on: November 15, 2012, 07:43:39 PM »
The tone "la" is named A, because A4 (A on first octave) = 440 Hz exactly.

Offline colour

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #42 on: January 24, 2014, 01:03:02 PM »
http://www.theoreticallycorrect.com/MusicFiction/

Just thought I'd throw this into the mix!

Offline timothy42b

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #43 on: January 24, 2014, 02:04:51 PM »
Thank you for posting that link, it was very interesting, and applied directly to the OPs question.

At least two of us understand his question!

Tim

Offline Bob

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #44 on: January 25, 2014, 01:07:26 AM »
Did anyone wade through that link?  I glanced through it but didn't see the answer.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline cn75

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #45 on: January 25, 2014, 01:59:18 PM »
Here is the answer you have been looking for:
 
In former times when church music was very important, the most basic scale which served as the basis for naming the keys wasn't the C major scale. It was the eolian scale which is identical to our A minor scale and there you have the keys A-B-C-D-E-F-G in the order of the alphabet starting with A.
 
Greetings from Germany.
F. Chopin: Nocturne Op. 32 No. 1
E. Satie: Fantaisie-Valse
C. Stephan: Präludium
F. Chopin: Valse Op. 64 No. 2

Offline kalirren

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #46 on: January 25, 2014, 04:13:47 PM »
Related question:  Why do Germans call "H" what English-speakers call "B"?
Beethoven: An die Ferne Geliebte
Franck: Sonata in A Major
Vieuxtemps: Sonata in Bb Major for Viola
Prokofiev: Sonata for Flute in D Major

Offline cn75

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #47 on: January 27, 2014, 08:52:52 AM »
The Germans call flats "Bs" and sharps "crosses". As a consequence, "B" in German always means B flat. So we just took the next letter of the alphabet that wasn't yet in use and that was "H".
F. Chopin: Nocturne Op. 32 No. 1
E. Satie: Fantaisie-Valse
C. Stephan: Präludium
F. Chopin: Valse Op. 64 No. 2

Offline cudo

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #48 on: February 10, 2014, 07:18:28 AM »
Here is the answer you have been looking for:
 
In former times when church music was very important, the most basic scale which served as the basis for naming the keys wasn't the C major scale. It was the eolian scale which is identical to our A minor scale and there you have the keys A-B-C-D-E-F-G in the order of the alphabet starting with A.

I must dissapoint you. It can't be right what your are telling us.
When the names A B C D E F G where introduced by Guido of Arezzo in 1025 there were no Ionian and no Aeolian scale at all!
Aeolian and Ionian was introduced by Glarean in 1547. Before that date there were only Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian with its respectiv HYPO scales.

Again the story I believe it's the true one:

In the middle ages, Dorian mode was designated "mode no.1", not for its aural qualities, but for its mathematical symmetry.
Take any note, and calculate perfect 5ths above and below it, until you have a 7-note scale. This gives you Dorian mode:

Going upward in fifth:
D x 3/2 = A; A x 3/2 = E; E x 3/2 = G
Going downward in fifth:
D x 2/3 = G; G x 2/3 = C; C x 2/3 = F.

Putting them all in the same octave, keeping the starting note at the centre, so that no note is more than a 4th away, you have (bottom to top) A-B-C-D-E-F-G:

(You sometimes need to invert a 5th to a 4th in the other direction to remain in the same octave.)

Now imagine you have no note letters to start with - they haven't been invented yet - so you give letter names to your "perfect" scale starting on the bottom note:


A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
  2 1  2 2  1 2


Bingo - that's where we get our note names from. They weren't given to Aeolian mode, but to "hypodorian", which is dorian starting a 4th below its tonal centre. And the reason it starts a 4th below is the "holy" symmetry of the diagram, the elegant simplicity of the derivation.

Offline dedolence

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Re: why does the most natural scale start on 'C', instead of 'A'?
«Reply #49 on: February 13, 2014, 01:38:09 AM »
^ Interesting. That supports my original guess, which was that the piano took the shape it did organically, having to conform to theory that was already established and sophisticated. While it would have made sense to call C-major "A," it only would make sense in the context of piano, not theory as a whole.