An Explanation of Scientific Pitch Notation

Perhaps you are reading this and not even knowing what I am reffering to. Or maybe you are, but just dont know how its used. Whatever it is, I hope this post will help you learn it. As you will find out, it really isnt that difficult.

Scientific pitch notation is a way of writing out not just what note is being referred to, but the octave as well. Although far to cumbersome to be used in sheet music, it does to a good job of letting us know exactly what note we are talking about. It is, as is indicated by the name, the scientific way of reffering to a note.

Perhaps you have seen, for example, the note B3 mentioned somewhere. My goal is that, by the end of this post, you would be able to see where that note is on a piano.

It may seem obvious as to what part of the notation is indicating which note should be played. In B3 it is rather obvious that the note that we are referring to is the note B, but which B? The piano has eight of them!

The answer is quite simple. The B three octaves above B0. Of course, it might be good to explain which octave is considered octave zero.

C0 is the lowest note normally audible to the human ear and, as such, is is also the where everything is based from. A C0 is actually located off of the piano. The first C on a piano is C1, and is exactly one octave above C0. The lowest note on a piano, A0, is 9 notes (half steps) above C0.

Because the system starts at C, each subsequent C means a change in octave. The C above C0, as already mentioned, is C1, but the B directly below C1 is annotated B0. This continues all the way up the scale, with a number added ever C.


Scientific Pitch Notations is most frequently used to indicate the range of a particular instrument or singer. As mentioned in my recent post on musical terms, an alto clarinet has a range of G♭2 to B♭5. Using our new knowledge, we can know that the lowest note that the alto clarinet can sound (G♭2) is the second G lowest G on the keyboard (the lowest being G1). The highest that it can go (B♭5) is the B almost two octaves above middle C, or, on a keyboard, the sixth B on the keyboard.

This notation can also be used for notes higher or lower then is in the bounds of human hearing (B-5). However this is not nearly as common.

Hooray! You know understand (at least to some extent) scientific pitch notation! This should mean that you can see one of these notes and know just about where it is (or, if its really high or really low, isnt). Good for you! This is just one of the many useful things that you will learn in your musical career.