Why Is It Middle C Instead of Middle A?

ABCDEFG are the letters assigned to notes, but why didn’t they assign the letter A to where middle C was assigned? The letter A is the first letter in our alphabet.

I guess they decided minor scales took precedence.

In the do-re-mi system of naming musical notes, do (which corresponds to C) is the first note. The do-re-mi system originated in Italy and is used in Italy, France, Spain and other countries where romance languages are spoken. The names of the notes come, with some adaptation, from the first syllable of each line of a particular Latin hymn which, conveniently, started each line on a different note and was therefore a useful teaching aid.

The A-B-C system originated separately, in Germany.

It’s a historical anomaly that the English-speaking world has adopted German nomenclature for the keys on a music keyboard, while also largely adopting musical theory developed in Italy, which treats do © as the primary home key.

The answer ties in with piano manufacture. “Middle C” is a physical key on the piano, and since the piano was developed relatively late, it used frequencies and scales already developed. As the keys were laid out to match the notes of other instruments, middle C ended up where it was.

If it was cosidered at all, the fact that the scale of C uses no black keys is because pianos were designed in the key of C, much like, say, a clarinet is in the scale of B flat.

Is a the piano organized according to C major or A minor? Neither have black keys.

Well, I believe the standard 88-key arrangement starts on A but ends on C. So you could argue either one.

Of course, you should also consider other possibilities that the white keys form, such as the G Mixolydian scale.

Or Why start the Octave with A ? , So that lines were ACEGB … (And gaps, BDFA )

It doesn’t matter. You are not writing language with these things, so it matters not what they mean to the English language.

As for black keys on the piano, if there is no black key, there CANNOT be a black key.

Black keys produce the semitone frequency inbetween two white keys… but they only exist where the gap between the white keys is a full tone.

Where the gap between two white keys is semitone, there is no “room” for the black key… the white keys next to each other there are sharp and flat of each other.

You do realise that it would be far simpler to use 12 letters, rather than 7 ??
Then the piano keyboard would have a black key between every pair of whites…
and it would make it far easier to understand and specify scale adjustments…
You’d just say “Skip D , F”, and everyone would instantly know how to play that scale…

Although the key signature for A minor has no accidentals, the scales normally used would be harmonic minor (sharp the G, to allow the E7 chord as dominant), and ascending melodic minor (sharp the F and the G). So in practical terms, the white keys aren’t sufficient for playing in A minor.

Not necessarily. There are only seven different note names in a major or minor scale, so seven different letters meshes very nicely with that.

Which would make it essentially impossible to look at the keyboard and identify which note goes with which key. With the present white key/black key arrangement, each note has a position that can be uniquely described by the relative placement of those keys, and can be readily identified with a glance.

I don’t see how learning which notes to skip in each scale is any easier than learning which notes have accidentals in each scale. In fact there’s a pattern to the accidentals (through the cylcle of fifths) that makes it rather easy to grasp once it’s understood.

The 88 key arrangement wasn’t always standard. Early pianos were all over the place and it wasn’t uncommon to find 4 octave pianos. In the 1800s pianos with 6 octaves become more popular, and towards the end of the 1800s this further increased to 7 octaves. These pianos had 85 keys and both started and ended on A. It was only at the very end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s that 88 key pianos in their modern form became the standard.

You’ll still find a lot of older 85 key grand pianos. There are also older small 65 key pianos that used to be popular for touring musicians before digital keyboards came along.

You can solve that particular problem by making one or two notes in each octave a different color or have some other visual cue to show where, say, all the "A"s are.

I was wondering if there was such an experimental arrangement, but I couldn’t find one, except a "telegraph keyboard, but I did find this rather unusual Janko keyboard and a demonstration of it on Youtube.

Anyhow, Isilder’s suggestion would be interesting to consider, at any rate. I don’t know how it would work practically, and of course it would require completely relearning the keyboard, but it does simplify transposition quite a lot. Instead of needing to learn twelve keys, you only need to learn two: one starting on a white key, another starting on a black. After that, it’s just moving it up or down whole steps to get your desired key.

And of course Bösendorfer are well known for producing 92- and 97-key pianos, with the extra keys at the bass end.

Also keep in mind that in many non-keyboard instruments there’s nothing special about the keys of C-major or A-minor that make them significantly easier than other commonly used keys. For instance a guitar in standard tuning doesn’t have an open C-note, though it does have A.

That said, it’s usually easier to play a guitar piece in C-major as opposed to one in, say, D-flat, but the same could be said of several other keys too.

There is another very clear explanation for why C[sub]4[/sub] is middle C.