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More thoughts about the octave notation system in The Horn Call

Steve Eddins
Posted on Sunday, November 26, 2023

A glance at my phone on my music stand the other day made me want to revisit a recent topic: the octave designation system used in The Horn Call.

A couple of months ago, I argued for The Horn Call to use scientific pitch notation (SPN) instead of the outdated and impractical Helmholtz notation to distinguish octaves.

As a quick reminder, here are the Helmholtz and scientific pitch notation systems for identifying the different octaves:

Horn Call octave designation system

Helmholtz octave designation notation, used by The Horn Call

scientific pitch notation

Scientific pitch notation

Here’s another diagram that illustrates more clearly, using a piano keyboard, how the octave ranges are numbered.

scientific pitch notation on piano keyboard

88-key piano keyboard with octave numbers. Middle C (cyan) is the beginning of octave 4. [image credit and license]

In my September post, I wrote about the advantages of scientific pitch notation. Compared to Helmholtz notation, scientific pitch notation is:

A few days ago, I noticed afresh something that I’ve seen many times - the tuner screen of my favorite music app - TonalEnergy Tuner & Metronome. It is using scientific pitch notation to distinguish between octaves. The three screenshots below show C4 (middle C), C5 (third-space C), and C6 (high C).

TonalEnergy screenshots

TonalEnergy screenshots showing the use of scientific pitch notation (see the white arrows)

Many musicians use this app. I see it frequently on other stands in the orchestras I play in. It is the most popular music app on the App Store.

popular music apps

Most popular music apps on the App Store as of 25-Nov-2023

For my day job, I’ve been a software developer for the past 30 years. I cannot imagine any app developer using Helmholtz notation, with its subscript and superscript stacked prime symbols, instead of the relatively simplicity and uniformity of scientific pitch notation.

This is another indication to me that Helmholtz notation is outdated. It is not the notation that musicians will see on their mobile devices and computers, and its use will continue to decline.