• First Day Of Christmas: One Octave

    in Piano,Theory


    In a previous post, we went beyond the number “eight” and learned 4 dimensions of the octave.

    In this post, we’ll look at the octave from another viewpoint. In music, the octave means a lot more than the eight we associate it with. Our goal in this post is to fit in ALL Major scales into one octave. The tips you’ll learn in this article will help you understand how to maximize every register on the keyboard.

    The Totality of The Octave

    Octave comes from the Latin word octava, which means eight. Below is an octave of C

    Within the range of an octave (eight), there are twelve pitch classes. This refers to the total number of pitches in European/American music. They may appear as naturals, sharps, flats, double sharps and double flats depending on certain factors like tonality (key), etc.

    Below is an octave of C, represented with sharps and flats:

    This means that the octave as a range of 12 pitches is absolute. There is no letter name that does not fall within the
    compass of an octave. It is all-embracing, all-encompassing.

    The octave is an abundant source of notes because all the elements we need to construct melodic (notes, scales, intervals) and harmonic (intervals, chords, chord progressions) materials are enshrined within its compass.

    In music, there’s nothing you need that you can’t find within the width of an octave. Sure enough, while there are only 12 notes, there’s a world of possibility that make the pursuit of music excellence a lifelong journey.

    Let’s consider melodic and harmonic materials with the octave in perspective.

    Melodic Materials

    When a musical item is a product of the relationship between notes that are heard successively (one after the other), such an item is called “melodic material.” Let’s see if the octave can provide us with ALL melodic materials.


    A note is a musical sound of a definite pitch. There are 12 definite pitches in tonal music. However, there are about 35 letter names.

    7 Natural Letter Names (A♮, B♮, C♮, D♮, E♮, F♮ and G♮)

    7 Sharp Letter Names (A♯, B♯, C♯, D♯, E♯, F♯ and G♯)

    7 Flat Letter Names (A♭, B♭, C♭, D♭, E♭, F♭ and G♭)

    7 Double sharp Letter Names (A♯♯, B♯♯, C♯♯, D♯♯, E♯♯, F♯♯ and G♯♯)

    7 Double flat Letter Names (A♭♭, B♭♭, C♭♭, D♭♭, E♭♭, F♭♭ and G♭♭)

    These 35 letter names can be found within the compass of an octave. If we take one letter name from each group above in an alphabetic sequence, we’ll have A♮, B♯, C♭, D♯♯ and E♭♭. All these letter names can be found within the compass of an octave.

    For D♯♯ and E♭♭, here’s their enharmonic equivalents – E and D (unfortunately our piano display creator does not do double sharps and flats yet):

    The octave has just been verified by NOTES®. Let’s look at another melodic item – scales.


    A scale is a melodic progression of notes in ascending or descending order conforming to a fixed formula. So scales are a product of melodic progressions (semitone [half steps], wholetones [whole steps], etc) between notes in ascending and descending order.

    There are so many classes of scales. However, let’s limit our verification to the major scale. The major scale consists of whole tone progressions between scale tones, except between the third and fourth and seventh and eighth.

    The C major scale consists of wholetone progressions (which always skip one note), except between E-F (the third and fourth) and B-C (seventh and eighth).

    All major scales can be played within the compass of an octave. This is an important tool for all musicians who want to maximize range. For example, while playing a three-octave keyboard, you literally have a limited range – three registers.

    Being limited by range in this case will imply that one should dedicate the lowest register (octave) for bass notes, while the remaining registers can be used for chords, runs, etc.

    There are seven alphabet letters in music and major scales contain all of these letters in different arrangements.

    C major scale has all the seven alphabets from C to C

    D major scale has all the seven alphabets from D to D

    E major scale has all the seven alphabets from E to E, etc.

    However, these scales can be played in one octave, if they are rearranged from C to C.

    B♭ major scale can be rearranged from C-C:

    E♭ major scale can be rearranged from C-C:

    A♭ major scale can be rearranged from C-C:

    D♭ major scale can be rearranged from C-C:

    G major scale has all the seven alphabet letters from C to C:

    D major scale can be rearranged from C♯-C♯:

    A major scale can be rearranged from C♯-C♯:

    E major scale can be rearranged from C♯-C♯:

    B major scale can be rearranged from C♯-C♯:

    F major scale can be re-arranged from C♯-C♯:

    Note that major scales on D, A, E, B and F♯ are arranged from C♯-C♯ because they don’t contain C. But you could very well play them within the compass of C-C.

    The octave has just been verified by SCALES®. Let’s look at another melodic item – intervals.


    An interval is the distance in pitch between two notes. Intervals are described using numbers (like first, second, third, etc.) and qualified (using adjectives like perfect, major, minor, etc).

    Intervals can be played within an octave, regardless of its size or quality and this is because intervals don’t exceed the width of an octave. However, there are bigger intervals known as compound intervals. They exceed the width of the octave.

    The interval above is bigger than the width of an octave. However, we can fit both notes (C-E) into one octave:

    It may not have the same width as the compound interval given, however, it contains exactly the same elements – C and E.

    Let’s take one compound interval:
    F♯-A is a compound interval that exceeds the range of the octave.

    However, it can be played as F♯-A below to fit it into an octave:

    With all we’ve covered, the octave has just been verified by INTERVALS®.

    Harmonic Materials

    When a musical item is a product of the relationship between notes that are heard simultaneously, such an item is a harmonic material. Let’s see if the octave can provide us with ALL harmonic materials.


    A chord is an aggregate of three or more pitches. These pitches are related by an underlying scale and class of harmony. Chords can be classified according to note-aggregate (the number of pitches it has) and according to the quality of intervals it’s made up of.

    Triads are three-note chords, seventh chords are four-note chords, and extended chords can vary from four to seven notes.


    All triads can be played within the compass of an octave using inversion.

    G♭ Major

    D♭ Major

    A♭ Major

    E♭ Major

    B♭ Major

    F Major

    C Major

    G Major

    D Major

    A Major

    E Major

    B Major

    Same thing goes for seventh chords and extended chords.

    I must add that fitting ALL notes into one octave should be done with subtlety to avoid the following:

    1. Ambiguity.

    The chord above is both a C minor 6 chord and and A half-diminished chord.

    2. Tonal Clusters

    When the notes of C maj 13 [♯11] are fitted into one octave, it will look like this:

    C maj 13 [♯11] is an extended chord. Extended chords can contain as much as seven chord tones. If we fit them into one octave, we’ll have tonal clusters. A combination of at least 3 adjacent chord tones of a major scale yields tonal clusters.

    One more verification of the octave by CHORDS®.

    Chord Progressions

    A chord progression consists of the movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another.

    There are common chord progressions, cyclical chord progressions, blues progressions, turnaround progressions, etc. For the purposes of this article, we’ll consider the common chord progression.

    Our founder will always emphasize this progression because of its common place in popular songs. It is called the 1-5-6-4 chord progression – a chord movement from the first degree of the major scale to the fifth degree, to the sixth degree, and then to the fourth degree.

    In the key of C major:

    C = First Degree
    G = Fifth Degree
    A = Sixth Degree
    F = Fourth Degree

    If we construct triads on each scale degree, we’ll have:

    C Major

    G Major

    A Minor

    F Major

    These chords can be fit into one octave using inversion and voice leading principles as follows:

    C Major

    G Major

    A minor

    F Major

    The octave just got verified by CHORD PROGRESSIONS®.

    Final Words

    Everything you need is within the octave – notes, scales, intervals, chords and chord progressions. Having understood the totality of the octave, I’m sure you’ll place value on every single octave on the keyboard from now on!

    Merry Christmas!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Charles

    I find your free video to be full of useful information! However, in my opinion, I would like to make the following observations. An interactive video would be nice as I find myself dozing off while listening to Jermaine’s voice. Maybe just use a click to continue. Or maybe a click to print a synopsis of what was said etc.Thanks.


    2 Peter LaFosse

    It’s good to get details of the subject. Thanks


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