I’ve been studying and teaching music for over 25 years, and I only got myself squared away with this topic after COVID hit. I needed to be able to communicate with students over Zoom. I couldn’t just touch the student’s piano to show him or her which “C” I wanted to be played.
In addition, since the female voice is usually singing the same melody an octave up from the male vocal (if they’re singing in unison), I was constantly saying, “Please sing that phrase down the octave,” or vice versa, to all my male voice students. Being able to use Scientific Pitch Notation (SPN) has been way more efficient.
Up until last year, anytime I needed it, I would just do a Google search AGAIN to tell me which number goes with middle C. Omg. I just couldn’t remember it.
Now that I have it down, I teach all my students, and even my tiniest ones at five and six years old know how to use it. (SO CUTE!)
Which “A” Do You Mean?
Because we use the music alphabet over and over again, sometimes it is helpful to know exactly WHICH A, B, C, D, E, F, or G is being referred to.
The best way to get a grid on it is to sit at or imagine a full-length keyboard (88 keys). Coincidentally, the lowest C is C1. The next C up is C2, and on up until you reach the highest key on the keyboard: C8.
Middle C is C4
Using a grand staff, you can easily see five octaves of C’s. And here’s how the numbers work for some of the pitches between C’s.
Notice that the octave number changes at C and NOT A, like you might think it would.
The range of human hearing is about E0 to E10.
Apparently, pressure front waves propogating away from a black hole correspond to the Bb 57 octaves below Middle C or Bb -53.
Try Online Pitch Detector
My favorite app for the phone and the iPad is Vocal Pitch Monitor. (More on this in a future post.) But if you want immediate satisfaction, you can try Online Pitch Detector. They have a really nice big dial, and, if you have a microphone hooked up to your device, you can just try different pitches and watch the big wheel spin.