• If Spelling Can Make Or Mar The Octave, Then Take It Seriously

    in Piano,Theory


    Today, we will be looking at the influence spelling can have on the octave.

    In previous posts, we covered the spelling of scales, intervals, and chords all in the spelling series. We’ve done all these and more because the benefits of using appropriate spellings cannot be over emphasized.

    If you still spell ‘their’ as ‘there’ and really think there’s nothing wrong with it, this post is for you.

    In the next five minutes or so, I’ll be showing you how spelling can make or mar the octave. But before we get into all that, let’s review the octave.

    A Review Of The Octave

    If someone walks up to you and asks for a simple definition of the octave, here’s what you should say…

    The octave is a series of eight notes starting from any give note known as the first.

    Starting from a given note, the octave is the eight note in alphabetic sequence. If we start from C to count this series, we would progress in alphabetic sequence from C:

    …to D:

    …the second note,

    …to E:

    …the third note,

    …to F:

    …the fourth note,

    …to G:

    …the fifth note,

    …to A:

    …the sixth note,

    …to B:

    …the seventh note,

    …to C:

    …the eighth note.

    One of the reasons why the octave is the considered a landmark in music is because it is equivalent to the first note.  In the last case, we started out on C:

    …and we ended on the eighth tone (aka – “octave”) which is also C:

    Alright, we’ll not cover the four dimensions of the octave because we’ve covered it in a previous post. You’ll do well to check out this post to read up before you continue.

    Let’s proceed further by considering spelling now that we have covered the octave.

    “What Is Spelling?”

    Spelling is the breakdown of words into letters. To spell Jermaine, you’ll have to break it down to J, E, R, M, A, I, N, and E.

    There’s also spelling in music. Spelling in music is important because it helps us breakdown ideas into notes. More importantly is the fact that spelling can help distinguish between two items that are have more than one name or meaning (ambiguous.)

    When there are two things in view, spelling helps us to be precise. For example, when F# and Gb are in view, both notes can be differentiated using spelling. The difference in spelling can help in situations like this…

    First Situation – “What Is The Third Tone Of The D Major Scale?”

    The third tone of the D major scale:

    …is F#:

    Although Gb and F# are enharmonically equivalent, Gb is not the third tone of the D major scale.

    Second Situation – “What Is The Third Tone Of The C# Major Scale?”

    The third tone of the C# major scale:

    …is E#:

    Although F and E# are enharmonically equivalent, F is not the third tone of the C# major scale.

    Time will not permit me to site other situations where spelling can help you do away with ambiguity and resolve confusion.

    It is also beyond the scope of this post for me to tell you why Gb is not the third tone of the D major scale, kindly read this post on A Method To Guarantee The Proper Spelling of Chords to learn more.

    We’ll be getting into how spelling can make or mar the octave now.

    Making Or Marring The Octave

    The octave as we defined in the earlier segment is a series of eight notes. This means that an octave from this finger key (C):

    …is C:

    However, there are situations where owing to spelling, the octave can be marred. It may sound alike, look alike, and even occupy the same finger key on the piano, however, the dissimilarity in spelling ends up tampering with the concept of the octave.

    Here’s a classic example of such situations:

    Knowing fully well that C to C:

    …is an octave, if we decide to spell it as C to B#:

    …it will have pretty much the same sound, occupy the same finger keys on the piano just like C-C:


    However, for all intents and purposes, it is no longer an octave.

    “Why is it the same finger key, the same sound but not an octave?”

    One of the key things that determine whether two notes are an octave apart or not is their spelling. Jermaine Griggs

    There are not so many music scholars who would emphasize on the relationship between octaves and spelling and this is probably because they assume everyone knows about this.

    The octave is not just a series but an interval. The word octave means eight, and its usage is strictly reserved for intervals that encompass eight letter names.


    …and C:

    …occupy the same finger key on the piano – no doubt about that. But each of them is designed for a different musical situation.

    A major third interval from G#:

    …is B#:

    C will not fit into this musical situation. The interval between G# and C:

    …is an augmented third interval.

    B# to B#:

    …is an octave and this is because from B to B encompasses eight letter names.

    C to C:

    …is an octave for the same reason.

    You can see that both octaves are practically using the same finger key on the keyboard. However, if you mix things up, you’re most likely going to be getting it all wrong.

    Let’s mix things up a bit…:)

    Mix-up #1 – B# to C

    Spelling the octave as B# to C is wrong. This is because B# to C encompasses nine letter names.

    B# to C:

    …is a diminished ninth interval, which is certainly not an octave. The most appropriate spelling that would make this interval an octave is B#-B#:

    Mix-up #2 – C to B#

    Spelling the octave as C to B# is also wrong. C to B encompasses only seven letter names.

    C to B#:

    …is an augmented seventh interval, which is obviously not an octave. The most appropriate spelling that would make this interval an octave is C-C:

    So you see it! You can’t mix things up without getting it wrong – spelling can make or mar the octave. C-C shouldn’t be spelled as C-B# and B#-B# shouldn’t be spelled as B#-C.

    Final Words

    The octave can only mean one thing all the time – an eight.

    We came across two enharmonic intervals that sound like the octave…

    B# and C:

    …the diminished ninth interval

    C and B#:

    …the augmented seventh interval.

    Although both of them sound like the octave, however spelling the octave as B# and C or C and B# will take the eight out of the octave.

    Summarily, spelling is very important in music. If it can make or mar the octave, you have to take it serious.

    Alright this is where we draw the curtain to today’s lesson and I will see you in another post.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

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



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