To B or not to Bb? Or to H?

B and H in German

The International Musical Alphabet…

Are you from a country other than the US, where quavers make you quiver (rather than eighth notes), where Do means C, or sharp means “crosse“? Feeling like you need to relearn pretty much everything from scratch as you foray into the land of YouTube videos, international teachings and real books, where the US system is the “standard”?

I sympathize. My musical (and otherwise) mother tongue is German. Now, in some countries each note name is entirely different from English – Do, Re Mi… as in Doe that female deer… – and in most countries that would then be so called fixed Do, where C=Do, D=Re, as opposed to movable Do, which we use in the States – regardless of key – for singing instruction and very useful ear training drills! No matter your native musical alphabet, if you have to re-learn the note names first in order to get to the music and teaching, it does throw an additional layer of complexity in, at least in the beginning!

German Note Names…

…for natural notes are for the most part the same, but there is one pesky difference – namely that B equals H in German and Bb equals B in German. Huh? Yes. Unfortunately. Sharps and flats also have different names, but those are not too hard to relearn. The German sharps and flats feature the addition of a syllable (“-is” for sharps and “-es” for most flats, with that dang “B” again being one of the exceptions), so for example F-sharp is simply “Fis”. I love that for my note-name-saying drills on the bass, though, as saying one syllable (Cis)is just so much faster than two (C-sharp)! So I end up with a mix of German and English, then, saying the German sharps and flats and the US natural note names. With the exception of course being that dreaded B again!

Oh, and for double sharps you get to have twice the fun: add the syllable “-is” or “-es” twice. C double-sharp? Cisis. G double flat? Geses. Again, German, which is usually twice as long and cumbersome than English in all aspects, beats the English by a syllable!

If you had to re-learn the musical alphabet to dive into Real Books and tutorials, how has your experience been? Please, share your musical alphabet in the comments! Extra points if you even have a different tonal system…. quarter tones, perhaps? The fascinating world of music!

Here is the German situation.

Read Ariane Cap’s answer to Is the “H” note or melody the same as B and Bb? on Quora