I. Fundamentals

American Standard Pitch Notation (ASPN)

Chelsey Hamm and Bryn Hughes

Key Takeaways

  • provides a bipartite label for specific musical frequencies by combining a note name (such as “C”) with an octave designation (such as “4”).
  • A is a discrete tone with an individual frequency (e.g. “C4”), while a is less specific (e.g. “C” in general).
  • ASPN differentiates between , from C to B. The octaves are labeled from lowest to highest, beginning with “0” and continuing in ascending numerical order (e.g. “1,” “2,” etc.).
  • A piano keyboard primarily uses the ASPN octave designations “1” through “7,” although small portions of octaves “0” and “8” are included.
  • is C4 is in ASPN. This is one note whose ASPN label is helpful to memorize as a starting point.

American Standard Pitch Notation and Pitch versus Pitch Class

In order to discuss specific notes, or , we will use American Standard Pitch Notation, abbreviated . ASPN designates specific musical pitches by combining a note name (such as “C”) with an designation (such as “4”), creating a bipartite label (for example “C4”). ASPN labels are very useful, since they can identify every possible musical note within human hearing range, from the lowest to the highest pitches.

A non-specific pitch is called a . For example, all Cs are the same pitch class. Any note that is to C, such as D♭♭ or B♯ would also be part of the “C” pitch class. All pitches of the same letter name are said to have if they are one or more octaves apart.

ASPN and Octave Designations

ASPN differentiates between beginning with the pitch “C,” and ending with the pitch “B,” as seen in Example 1.

Nine different octaves are shown in the treble and bass clefs, each beginning and ending with the pitch "C." They are labeled with their ASPN label; C0, C1, C2, etc.
Example 1. ASPN octave designations; each octave begins with the pitch “C”.

The octaves are labeled from lowest to highest, beginning with “0,” and continuing in numerical order (“1,” “2,” “3,” etc.). The pitch is C4, which is useful to memorize.

All letter names within an octave receive the same octave designation if they are below the “C” of the next octave. For example, all of the notes in Example 2 would be in the designated in the “4” octave, because they are above C4 but are below C5:

The notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B in a treble clef
Example 2. The notes C4, D4, E4, F4, G4, A4, and B4.

All notes below the note “C” receive the next lowest octave designation, even if they are enharmonic with “C.” For example, The note B# would get the lower octave designation, even though it is enharmonically equivalent with the note “C.” Another way of saying this is that accidentals applied to note do not have an effect on its ASPN number.

ASPN and the Keyboard

ASPN labels are very helpful for finding specific notes on the piano keyboard. Example 3 depicts a piano keyboard with each octave labeled using ASPN notation:

A piano keyboard with each octave labeled by number. The first two white keys are the "0" octave; each new octave (octave 1, octave 2, octave 3, etc.) starts at the note "C."
Example 3. A piano keyboard with ASPN octave designations labeled; both colored notes (aqua and yellow) fall into the octave “4” designation.

As you can see in Example 3, the piano keyboard spans full octaves one to seven. It also contains a small part of both octaves zero and eight. ASPN labels are the same regardless of instrument or voice type. In other words, a C4 will always be labeled as such regardless of whether it is played on a flute, trombone, violin, or whether it is sung.

ASPN and Staff Notation

The following four examples show ASPN labels for common notes in the treble, bass, alto, and tenor clefs. Example 4 depicts labeled notes in the treble clef:

ASPN labels are applied to notes in the treble clef.
Example 4. ASPN labels have been applied to notes in the treble clef.

Example 5 shows some ASPN labels in bass clef:

ASPN labels have been added to notes in the bass clef
Example 5. ASPN labels have been applied to notes in the bass clef.

Example 6 depicts ASPN labeled notes in the alto clef:

ASPN labels have been added to notes in the alto clef.
Example 6. ASPN labels have been applied to notes in the alto clef.

And Example 7 shows some ASPN labels in tenor clef:

ASPN labels have been added to notes in the tenor clef.
Example 7. ASPN labels have been applied to notes in the tenor clef.

As you can see from Examples 4–7, memorizing C4 in each clef can make finding ASPN labels quicker and easier.

Online Resources
Assignments on the Internet
  1. ASPN labels and staff notation
  2. ASPN labels and staff notation; pages 23 to 28
Assignments
  1. Writing and Identifying ASPN labels (.pdf, .docx)

Media Attributions

  • Octave Designations is licensed under a Public Domain license
  • Octave 4 ASPN Labels © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a Public Domain license
  • Piano ASPN Labels is licensed under a Public Domain license
  • Treble Clef ASPN © OMT 1st Edition is licensed under a Public Domain license
  • Bass Clef ASPN © OMT 1st Edition is licensed under a Public Domain license
  • Alto Clef ASPN © OMT 1st Edition is licensed under a Public Domain license
  • Tenor Clef ASPN © OMT 1st Edition is licensed under a Public Domain license

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Open Music Theory by Chelsey Hamm and Bryn Hughes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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