Latin note names in all 12 keys

Without a doubt, it’s good to know the Latin terms that musicians use each day. That way, you’ll know how to navigate the mean streets of music vocabulary.

For example, if you’re sitting in a jam session, and one of your buddies calls out “move to the dominant chord!” you’ll know exactly what to do. If you’ve already studied Latin terms, then you can swiftly move to the fifth chord without missing a beat.

dominant fifth is the fifth chord in a key

Or if somebody shouts “hit the minor submediant!” you’ll simply slide to the sixth with total confidence … knowing that your killer music theory skills just earned you an invite back to the next session. But to truly master these terms, you must know how they apply in all 12 keys. In a previous post, I explained how they work in the key of C. But what about other keys … tlike G, D, A, etc.? To answer that question, here’s a more complete look at how these note names apply to every key in music:

all Latin note names in ColorMusic

Because the Latin terms are like scale degrees, they are consistent in each key. For example, the tonic is always the first note … the supertonic is always the second note … and so on. Seriously, you should commit this information to memory. Because it’s super useful to know. After all, music theory is civilized pursuit. And with a solid understanding of these Latin terms, you’ll know how to communicate with ease – like the high-class gentleman or lady that you are.

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The royal drama of subdominants and dominants

In every musical key, there are special relationships between the notes. And all these relationships evolve around a central – and uber-powerful – tonic note. In the key of C, for example, the C note acts as the tonic … the tonal center of the key that presides over all the other pitches in its kingly domain.

No, really … the tonic note of a key truly is like the lord of the castle. It exerts a strong influence on the other notes, which act as its subservient subjects.

Royal tonic with subdominant, dominant, and tritone in ColorMusic chromatic scale

Taking this analogy a bit further, you can find all sorts of royal intrigue in a key. Some of the tonic king’s courtiers hold more sway than others – while others act as the king’s foes. The tritone, for example, is the tonic’s arch nemesis. It sounds highly dissonant when paired with the tonic … and therefore, rarely gets invited to the king’s parties.

But the tonic’s close relatives – the subdominant and dominant notes – are favored kin. So they are often seen cavorting with the royal king. In the key of C, for example, the subdominant (F) and dominant (G) even share the tonic’s “red blood” … so they sound very consonant when played with the tonic. In fact, you might even say they sound downright beautiful together.

The tonic is closely related to the subdominant and dominant because these notes are all neighbors in the circle of fifths. So the royal C note feels nice and snug when nestled between F and G.

Royal tonic note in ColorMusic circle of fifths and chromatic scale

But when the circle of fifths pattern is rearranged into the chromatic scale, the subdominant (4) and dominant (5) notes are moved to straddle the tonic king’s tritone (#4/b5). And that makes for some fascinating royal intrigue. As a result, all of these tonal friends and enemies in the chromatic scale are forced to be in close quarters … which heightens the musical drama.

But wait – it gets even better!

That’s because every note can have its day in the sun. That is, every note in music can serve as the king of its own key. And because the relationships between notes are symmetrical in each key, the connections between pitches are super rich and intriguing.

To see what I mean, check out this illustration of the chromatic scale – with lines connecting every tonic with its respective subdominants and dominants. The symmetry is astounding. And the multiple layers of tonal relationships are, frankly, mind-blowing.

All subominant and dominant notes in ColorMusic chromatic scale

Ahhh, the ever-compelling story of music theory. The ongoing battles for consonance and dissonance. The shifts in tonal power. The harmonic loyalties, and conflicting betrayals. It’s images like this that give meaning to the phrase, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave.”

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What are tritones?

Have you ever been talking with another musician when they started speaking crazy jargon? You know, fancy music gibberish … unintelligible gobbledygook.

While it’s true that musicians are technically insane, there’s a method to the madness of our vocabulary. A perfect example is the word “tritone.” At first glance, it’s a strange and potentially confusing term. But with a quick explanation, it’s pretty simple to understand.

In the chromatic scale, every note is separated by two basic types of intervals – whole-tone intervals and semi-tone intervals. If you start at C, for example, the two notes on either side of this pitch are Db (moving up the scale) … and B (moving down the scale). Each of these notes is just one semi-tone interval away from C.

Semitone intervals from tonic

A whole-tone interval is just made up of two semi-tones. So the two notes that are spaced at whole-tone intervals from C are D (moving up in pitch) and Bb (moving down in pitch).

Whole-tone intervals from tonic

If you keep moving out and away from that central C note, you’ll pass through various intervals … like a semi-tone + a whole-tone in either direction … and two whole-tones in either direction … and so on.

And if you move up or down three whole-tones from C, you you’ll hit the same note – which goes by a couple of names:  F#/Gb. Because this pitch is three whole-tones away, we call it the “tritone” … get it? Three (tri) whole-tones.

Tritone interval in the ColorMusic chromatic scale

Because the note patterns in music are symmetrical, this interval is significant. A tonic note and its tritone are polar opposites, which means they are highly dissonant. And, as a result, they are rarely paired together in songs.

In ColorMusic, this special relationship is easy to see because the tonic and its tritone (in this case, C and F#/Gb) are complementary colors. But what’s really cool is that you can see this same complementary pattern for every key in the chromatic scale.

In other words, D and Ab are clearly tritones … as are Eb and A … E and Bb … F and B … etc. Whoa!

All tritones in the ColorMusic chromatic scale circle

So if some fancy pants musician starts going on about “tritones,” you won’t get lost. Because you’ll know (and see!) exactly what it is they’re talking about.

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A musician’s guide to Latin note names

If you’re new to music, then you might be scratching your head at the strange vocabulary of musicians. When I first tip-toed into the land of music theory, I felt like I’d entered a foreign country. I’d hear phrases like “A-double-flat” or “Sharp-five” and was utterly lost. Or sometimes, I would read words like “mediant” and “supertonic” and I’d get dizzy … because it all sounded Greek to me.

Well, I was close anyway. Because some of these musical terms are actually Latin. And once you understand what they mean, they’re not scary at all.

Alternative scale degree names

I explain the letter and number names of notes in another post. But here you’ll find a refreshingly simple explanation of Latin interval names in music. (If only someone had told me this when I was starting out!)

Just like the number labels in music, Latin terms describe intervals in the chromatic scale. The most common of these terms are “tonic,” “subdominant,” and “dominant.” But, as you can see, each major scale degree has its own Latin name. And every term has its own special meaning.

music scale Latin terms

Of course, no matter what names you use, they all describe the same musical intervals. For example, whether you say a note is the “tonic,” “P1,” or just “1″—or that another note is the “dominant,” “P5,” or “5″—each name just means the same thing. So practice using all the different musical terms and you’ll be sure to sound like a genius at your next jam session.

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Enharmonic note names … demystified!

In music, the letter names for notes can be a little confusing. So here’s a nice, concise explanation to clear things up.

As you’ve seen before, letter symbols are used to name specific notes. Natural notes have simple names like A, B, C, etc. — while other notes (like C# and Db) are labeled using extra sharp and flat symbols. With enough practice, it’s easy enough to wrap your head around that.

But things get a little crazy when musicians start talking about “double-sharp” or “double-flat” notes. What’s that all about?! Well, it turns out that any note in the chromatic scale can have a different letter name depending on how sharp or flat it is.

Here’s a snappy illustration of how this works. This graphic presents every possible name for each note in music:

Enharmonic letter names with ColorMusic notes

Double-sharp (x) names are in the outer ring of the figure, followed by the sharp (#), natural, flat (b), and double-flat (bb) names for each note. There are still only 12 basic notes (or pitches), mind you … but each one can have two or three different “enharmonic” names.

For example, another name for “C” is “B#” — or, depending on the key, “Dbb.” Likewise, “A” sometimes goes by “Bbb” or it’s alternative alias, “G##.” Each name is different, but the note is actually the same.

Of course, this would all be super confusing without ColorMusic. Because all these different symbols can make your head swim. But with ColorMusic, it’s easy to see how these enharmonic notes are really identical.

The colored shapes quickly clarify that the chromatic scale still has only 12 notes. And you can see that notes C, B#, and Dbb are simply the same pitch … or that A, Bbb, and G## are identical. So by focusing on the actual patterns in music — using ColorMusic — you don’t get tripped up on the strange musical terminology of yesteryear.

Oh, yeah … and in everyday use, only some letter names are used for certain notes. For example, C is rarely called B# or Dbb. And B hardly ever goes by Cb or Ax. So here’s a look at the most common letter names for notes. These, my friend, are the note names you’ll typically see in music. So step back, soak in this pattern, and then make some music!

Common letter names with ColorMusic notes

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New videos on YouTube

Hey, guys! I just posted six new instructional videos on our YouTube channel. Check them out!

You’ll find some nice, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom on how to play tunes on the piano and uke. Here’s my favorite of the batch. Rock on!


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Why ColorMusic exists

Why does ColorMusic exist? This one is simple … it’s here to inspire discovery.

inspire discovery

“The discovery of what?” you might ask. That’s entirely up to you. ColorMusic serves as the spark that ignites your passion. And the fuel that propels you toward your own personal aims.

Because ColorMusic is a blend of both art and science, it engages the whole brain. It’s prime stimuli that gets your neurons firing and your synapses connecting—which is good for whatever your pursuits might be.

So what would you like to discover?

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The advantages of multi-sensory learning

music and dyslexiaHow do you learn best? Are you more of a visual person? Or do you prefer learning by doing? Or maybe you like hearing something new before trying it yourself? Everybody has their own unique style of learning.

But the most effective way to teach is to engage all the senses. For both dyslexic and non-dyslexic students alike, multi-sensory learning is the best method around.

multi-sensory learning stimulates the brainAs a music instructor, it’s tempting to teach the way you personally prefer to learn. But be careful. It’s far better to bend your teaching style to the way your students actually learn. To develop a true multi-sensory environment, just ask these three questions during each lesson:

1 – What can you HEAR?

Music is sound. So help your students develop fine-tuned listening skills. When learning any new song, get them to identify the beat. Can they pick out the rhythm, with eighth notes, quarter notes, etc?

Reinforce the auditory aspect of music to maximize understanding. Regularly listen to recordings. And make sure students practice songs on their instrument—dissecting the sounds into small, simple units. Well-developed ears are essential for any good musician.

2 – What can you SEE?

For many students—especially those with dyslexia—the visual part of music can be confusing. Traditional notation isn’t friendly, so you’ll have to be creative. But there are some effective ways to reinforce visual learning.

Try using color to simplify music notation. The uniform black-and-white symbols of traditional sheet music can wreak havoc on your student’s eyes. So use images as much as possible. A picture truly is worth a thousand words. (And a video is worth 10,000 words!)

Also, limit any writing as much as possible. Keep handouts clear and uncluttered, using nice, large fonts. Dyslexic students tend to prefer san-serif fonts that are left-aligned on the page. Also use lots of bulleted lists, bold headings, and plenty of white space.

3 – What can you DO?

Music is motion. So be sure to incorporate movement into your lessons, as well. Have your students tap their foot to the rhythm, or move their hands with the melody … or whatever.

And, of course, have them regularly play songs on their instrument to truly reinforce understanding—always emphasizing proper technique. By focusing on the motion of music, you can help each student master any song more quickly.

For the best results, be sure to incorporate multi-sensory learning into your music lessons. Your students will win when you broaden your palette of teaching styles. And it’s a lot of fun!

How do you reinforce multi-sensory learning?

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The importance of building self-confidence

music and dyslexiaFor many people with dyslexia, the world can be a tough place. It seems like everything is designed for the non-dyslexic majority … street signs, restaurant menus, school rooms, even the Internet.

As a result, a lot of dyslexics have suffered dents to their self-confidence. And while their deep-seeded insecurities may be hard to see on the surface, you shouldn’t be fooled. A grinning exterior may be the mask of a mind racked with self-doubt.

self-confidence is importantYour opportunity as an instructor

As a one-on-one music instructor, you’re in a unique position to build up a student’s self-esteem. By boosting your student’s self-confidence, you greatly enhance their outlook for success—both inside and outside of the classroom.

Understanding your student

The only way you can really make an impact is to earn your student’s trust. Don’t be pushy or impatient. Early on, take the time to understand their perspective. Listen, engage, and make a concerted effort to discover both their strengths and insecurities.

After each lesson, you should also carefully assess what you’ve learned:

  • How did your student respond to certain comments?
  • Did they show good concentration and remain engaged?
  • Did you dominate the conversation? Or did you allow your student space to respond and use his imagination?
  • Were you conscious about openly valuing your student’s opinion?
  • Did you leverage your student’s strengths?
  • Was your lesson multi-sensory? And what sense(s) does your student prefer?

Showing true respect

Of course, any student will trust you when they know you respect them. So be mindful of how you treat each individual. Being an effective teacher means serving your students well through genuine consideration and class.

For example, never be “heavy-handed” or controlling. Offer constructive criticism when it’s needed. False praise or insincere kudos can actually do more harm than good. Show your students that you expect the best. And help them take their own needed steps in the right direction.

If your student is struggling with practice, or a certain song, ask them to how they can improve. Offer tips or techniques … then let them stretch their own wings to achieve their goals. This is how you can show true respect.

When you actively work to grow your student’s self-value, they’re much more likely to win. Be very deliberate in guiding students through their challenges and applauding their victories. If you do, everyone will benefit—including you!

How have you encouraged someone with dyslexia?

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Music technology and dyslexia

music and dyslexiaDid you know that many well-known technologies were designed for dyslexics? Yep. Tools like text-to-speech software were developed with dyslexic users in mind.

This makes sense … because someone with dyslexia requires very clear and deliberate communication. So if a new software program is going to work in the dyslexic community, then it’s got to be really good.

As a side benefit, these well-designed and intuitive products tend to appeal to people in general. Because everybody prefers clear and deliberate communication. So you might say dyslexia-friendly products are the real innovators in today’s world.

the best innovations are dyslexia friendlyIf you have any dyslexic students, there are a number of technologies that can take your music lessons to the next level:

1 – Tools for learning

  • iTunes is full of some very cool apps. There are tons of resources that can simplify your teaching. But one of my favorite apps is Octavian by Bitnotic.
  • By definition, dyslexics typically don’t like writing information—including sheet music. So there are a number of music notation packages that simplify the process. Consider software by Sibelius or the relatively inexpensive Notion 3. Or you might try my personal favorite—MuseScore. (Which is free!)
  • YouTube is another great learning resource. Encourage your students to watch step-by-step tutorials. Or have them look at different performances of the songs they’re learning. Videos like these are ideal because they don’t rely on written text.
  • Music teaching websites also provide tons of useful information. has many useful exercises. And you can find even more instruction here at

2 – Tools for organization

  • Use your mobile phone to keep students on track. With their (or their parents’) permission, you can send lesson reminders and other general notes via text message. You can also communicate with a larger group via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Record information on your student’s phone or iPod. Or encourage them to record their own messages to jog their memory.
  • Use a shared online calendar to mark important dates. Tools like Google Calendar are great for blocking out practice times, rehearsal dates, and special events. And because a calendar is so graphical, it can really help a dyslexic student soak everything in.

3 – Tools for learning AND organization

  • Moodle is a great tool for organizing lesson plans and interacting with students via the web. It’s a “virtual learning environment” (or VLE) that allows you to add things like a repertoire database, student diaries, quizzes, and other features.
  • Another cool online tool is Like Moodle, it lets teachers design comprehensive lessons, and add all sorts of multi-media to aid learning. Students can take their own notes, submit questions, and review information at their own pace. Check out the ColorMusic Udemy courses for some (objectively excellent) examples!

When it comes to teaching students—and especially those with dyslexia—technology is your friend. It can make a real difference in the learning experience … and help guide a student along the path of awesome. So use it! 

What technologies do you use in your music program?

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