The Musical Alphabet & Ukulele String Names

In the second installment of this series, I will explain the Musical Alphabet and the open string names on the ukulele. It is imperative to know the names of the notes in order to understand how to combine them into melodies and chords. In order to learn the names of the notes the Musical Alphabet should be introduced or reviewed.

The following is an excerpt from my guitar method Six Straight Lines.

The Musical Alphabet

Most people with an interest in music have looked at the keys of a piano. If you havenʼt, see the figure below. It is immediately apparent that there is a noticeable arrangement of the black and white keys. You will never see two black keys side-by-side. You will see, however, many places where two white keys are side-by-side. The reasons for these relationships will be explained in the section (next article) on Note Law & The Single String Exercise.

The white piano keys are called the Naturally Occurring Notes1 and are commonly referred to as the Natural Notes. The first seven letters of the alphabet:

are used to name the Naturally Occurring Notes. Although there are many more than seven pitches on most musical instruments, in English only seven alphabet letters are used to name ALL pitches. In a later article, Note Law & The Single String Exercise will show how to locate the Natural Notes and how the pattern repeats.

Important Point:   Any musical sound has two factors:
Pitch:   The height or depth of a tone.
Duration:   The counted length of a tone.

Tidbit: The lowest sounding key on the far left side of the piano keyboard is named A.

1Musical symbols that represent sounds are called notes. Musical sounds are called pitches or tones. Regardless of these definitions, pitch and note are often used interchangeably. This book will deal only with naming pitches or tones (notes) on the fingerboard.

The Musical Alphabet & Ukulele String Names
The Open String Names

An Open String on a ukulele is any string that is sounded (plucked, strummed, articulated, whacked, etc.) without it also being pressed to a fret. By changing its tension, a string can be tuned to any pitch between completely slack and itʼs breaking point. This article will deal only with Standard Tuning. As the name implies, Standard Tuning is the set of open string pitches used by the majority of ukulelists. How to tune will be coveredin a later article.

In the first article, I explained how to emulate on a guitar the ukuleleʼs tuning using a capo & a cotton ball. I mentioned “Effectively, you now have a ukulele tuned guitar with one small exception: the D string (fourth on guitar) is an octave lower than the the G string on a standard tuned ukelele. This high-octave string gives the ukulele a lot of its traditional sound, but more on that later.” Well, now is later.

 The Musical Alphabet & Ukulele String Names

Notice that the name of the g’ string is in lower case, italicized and has an apostrophe. This is done to indicate that the g’ string is tuned an octave higher than one would normally expect (switching from guitar). This is called reentrant (pointing inward) tuning.This is the case whenever a stringed instrument is tuned and the pitches do not follow a pitch pattern moving lowest to highest or highest to lowest. Examples of reentrant tuned instruments are modern 5-string banjo, charango (from South America), lute, cuatro (from Venezuela) and sitar to name a few.

Reentrant tuning is also represented in the standard notation (the written music) above.Notice the g’ note is placed on a higher line than the C & E notes. This reentrant method is traditionally referred to as the “My-Dog-Has-Fleas” tuning on the ukulele.

There is also the Low G method of tuning a ukulele. This tuning is exactly the same pitche as Capo-ing a guitar at the 5th fret and muting the lowest two strings, and therefore will not be discussed here. Everything in this series can be done on a Low G ukulele. Baritone ukuleles are tuned to the same pitches as the first four strings of astandard guitar.

The saying: “ g’oats Can Eat Anything” will help you remember the string names, from closest-to-your-nose to closest-to-your-toes. Practice this saying aloud while playing the corresponding string until you can name each stringʼs name without having to “figure it out.”

The next article will introduce Half & Whole Steps, Note Law & the Single String Exercise.