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Octave Registers

Posted by Robert Thomas on 11th September 2009

There are three methods for referring to specific notes in their proper octave without using staff notation. Each of these methods uses the pitch-class C as the modulus. In the traditional method, the octave beginning with middle C uses a lower-case letter followed by a single hash mark: c’, d’, e’, and so on; the next octave uses a lower-case letter followed by two hash marks: c”, d”, e”, and so on. For each additional octave rise, one additional hash mark is added.1 The octave below middle C uses just a lower-case letter; the next octave down uses upper-case letters, and for each octave descent from there, a hash mark is added. In a method endorsed by the International Acoustic Society, each octave is numbered beginning with 0 (zero) for the lowest three notes on the piano and extending to C8 for the highest note on the piano. Therefore, middle C is C4, “treble G” is G4, and “bass F” is F3. Finally, many MIDI systems use the system created by Yamaha for its synthesizers, which subtracts one from the octave number used by the International Acoustic Society system: middle C is C3, “treble G” is G3, and “bass F” is F2.2

12th Post Octave Registers Image

1 Superscript Arabic Numerals are sometimes substituted for hash marks — thus c’ becomes c1, c” becomes c2, etc.

2 The MIDI language itself uses a numbering system which does not refer to pitch, but simply to “note numbers” on a range between zero and one hundred twenty seven. In this case, the middle C key on a MIDI keyboard (which does not necessarily sound middle C) is note number 60, the “treble G” key is note number 67, and the “bass F” key is note number 53.

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