C or Do is the first note and semitone of the C major scale, the third note of the A minor scale (the relative minor of C major), and the fourth note (G, A, B, C) of the Guidonian hand, commonly pitched around 261.63 Hz. The actual frequency has depended on historical pitch standards, and for transposing instruments a distinction is made between written and sounding or concert pitch. It has enharmonic equivalents of B♯ and D.
Historically, concert pitch has varied. For an instrument in equal temperament tuned to the A440 pitch standard widely adopted in 1939, middle C has a frequency around 261.63 Hz (for other notes see piano key frequencies). Scientific pitch was originally proposed in 1713 by French physicist Joseph Sauveur and based on the numerically convenient frequency of 256 Hz for middle C, all C's being powers of two. After the A440 pitch standard was adopted by musicians, the Acoustical Society of America published new frequency tables for scientific use. A movement to restore the older A435 standard has used the banners "Verdi tuning", "philosophical pitch" or the easily confused scientific pitch.
While the expression Middle C is generally clear across instruments and clefs, some musicians naturally use the term to refer to the C note in the middle of their specific instrument's range. C4 may be called Low C by someone playing a Western concert flute, which has a higher and narrower playing range than the piano, while C5 (523.251 Hz) would be Middle C. This technically inaccurate practice has led some pedagogues to encourage standardizing on C4 as the definitive Middle C in instructional materials across all instruments.
On the grand staff, middle C is notated with a ledger line above the top line of the bass staff or below the bottom line of the treble staff. Alternatively, it is written on the centre line of a staff using the alto clef, or on the fourth line from the bottom, or the second line from the top, of staves using the tenor clef.
In vocal music, the term High C (sometimes called Top C) can refer to either the soprano's C6 (1046.502 Hz; c′′′ in Helmholtz notation) or the tenor's C5; soprano written as the C two ledger lines above the treble clef, with the tenor voice the space above concert A, sung an octave lower. Sometimes written with “8v” below the treble, to represent the octave (8 tones in a major scale).
Tenor C is an organ builder's term for small C or C3 (130.813 Hz), the note one octave below Middle C. In older stoplists it usually means that a rank was not yet full compass, omitting the bottom octave, until that octave was added later on.
Designation by octave
|Scientific designation||Helmholtz designation||Octave name||Frequency (Hz)||Other names||Audio|
|C−1||C͵͵͵ or ͵͵͵C or CCCC||Octocontra||8.176||Quadruple Low C (64 ft. Organ Pipes)|
|C0||C͵͵ or ͵͵C or CCC||Subcontra||16.352||Triple Low C (32 ft. Organ Pipes), Octobass C|
|C1||C͵ or ͵C or CC||Contra||32.703||Double Low C (16 ft. Organ Pipes), Double Bass w/ either Low C Extension, 5 Strings, or in 5ths Tuning|
|C2||C||Great||65.406||Low C, cello C, 8′ C (see organ pipe length)|
|C3||c||Small||130.813||4′ C or Tenor C (organ), viola C, Tenor Middle C (Tenor Voice)|
|C4||c′||One-lined||261.626||Middle C for Sopranos, 2 ft. Organ Pipes|
|C5||c′′||Two-lined||523.251||Treble C, Tenor High C (written an octave higher for tenor voices), 1 ft. Organ Pipes|
|C6||c′′′||Three-lined||1046.502||High C (soprano)|
|C7||c′′′′||Four-lined||2093.005||Double high C|
|C8||c′′′′′||Five-lined||4186.009||Eighth octave C, triple high C|
|C9||c′′′′′′||Six-lined||8372.018||Quadruple high C|
|C10||c′′′′′′′||Seven-lined||16744.036||Quintuple high C|
For a classical piano and musical theory, the middle C is usually labelled as C4; however, in the MIDI standard definition, this middle C (261.626 Hz) is labelled C3. In practice, a MIDI software can label middle C (261.626 Hz) as C3–C5, which can cause confusion, especially for beginners. The frequencies given in this table are based on the standard that A = 440 Hz and with equal temperament
Common scales beginning on C
- C major: C D E F G A B C
- C natural minor: C D E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C
- C harmonic minor: C D E♭ F G A♭ B C
- C melodic minor ascending: C D E♭ F G A B C
- C melodic minor descending: C B♭ A♭ G F E♭ D C
- C Ionian: C D E F G A B C
- C Dorian: C D E♭ F G A B♭ C
- C Phrygian: C D♭ E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C
- C Lydian: C D E F♯ G A B C
- C Mixolydian: C D E F G A B♭ C
- C Aeolian: C D E♭ F G A♭ B♭ C
- C Locrian: C D♭ E♭ F G♭ A♭ B♭ C
- C ascending melodic minor: C D E♭ F G A B C
- C Dorian ♭2: C D♭ E♭ F G A B♭ C
- C Lydian augmented: C D E F♯ G♯ A B C
- C Lydian dominant: C D E F♯ G A B♭ C
- C Mixolydian ♭6: C D E F G A♭ B♭ C
- C Locrian ♮2: C D E♭ F G♭ A♭ B♭ C
- C altered: C D♭ E♭ F♭ G♭ A♭ B♭ C
- "MIDI Note/Key Number Chart", computermusicresource.com
- Large, John (February 1981). "Theory in Practice: Building a Firm Foundation". Music Educators Journal. 32: 30–35.
- Harold C. Schonberg (November 4, 1979). "Birgit Nilsson – The Return of a Super-Soprano". The New York Times.
- "The Note That Makes Us Weep" by Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, September 9, 2007