This is an excerpt from Lisa Popeil’s new book: Sing at the Top of Your Game. Lisa is one of the most respected and accomplished vocal coaches in the world. In her book she shares her wisdom on singing technique and making it in the Music Industry.
When we come to learning note names, I’m not implying that a talented singer must also be a skilled instrumentalist. I just strongly believe that professional singers should be able to communicate with co-writers, producers and various musicians and have as many skills under their belts in order to be Flexible, confident, and valuable in this collaborative industry.
Let’s look now at note names. You can review this at a keyboard or keyboard app to help it all sink in. But I promise, once you hang out in this “room” of knowledge, your musical confidence will soar.
Learning Note Names The Easy Way
Now, here’s a fun and effective way to learn the notes on the keyboard. Notice that the two black notes across the keyboard can be called the “DOG HOUSE”.
Who lives in the dog house? Well, the dog of course! The Cat wants to get into the doghouse and the Elephant wants to get into the doghouse, but only the Dog can be within the doghouse. See how this works?
Once you feel comfortable with the white notes of the Dog House anywhere on the keyboard, it’s time to move onto the Main House – this is the grouping of 3 black notes.
The “Main House” is where the people live. On the left of the Main House is the Front Door. On the right is the Back Door and inside the house live George and Alice. If you’re sitting at a keyboard, play and say Front Door, Back Door, George and Alice several times. Then pick any note randomly on the keyboard and quiz yourself on the character names: for example, Dog, George, Back Door, Cat, Elephant, Alice. See how fast you can name the characters. Finally, play notes high and low on the keyboard and see how quickly you can name the true letter name. Cool method, isn’t it?
The Secrets of Sharps and Flats
In music, there are two symbols you’ll need to know. They’re called sharps and Flats.
The sharp sign is written with the hashtag symbol #. It means to play the note that’s a half step higher than a note letter (so C becomes C#). A half step is the smallest interval, or distance, between any two notes on the keyboard.
If you play a C at the upper part of the key, the next note you’ll touch as you move your finger to the right is the note called C# which is a half step higher than C. (By the way, another name for half step is “semitone”.)
As you can see, the sign for the musical Flat is written with the unique symbol ♭.
You may think it looks like the letter “b” but it’s actually a specialized character resembling half of a heart with a spear in the middle.
To Hlat a note means to play the note a half step lower than the note letter (B then would become B♭).
Did you notice that C# and D♭are actually the same note?
This one note can be spelled two different ways: one with a sharp name and one with a Flat name. Sharps are higher (to the right on the keyboard) and Hlats are lower (to the left).
Sharps and Flats don’t have to be black keys! Find E# and C♭ to see what I mean!
Lisa Popeil is one of LA’s top voice coaches with over 40 years of professional teaching experience. As a singer, she’s performed and recorded with Frank Zappa and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and her album ‘Lisa Popeil’ was a Billboard ‘Top Album Pick’. Lisa has an MFA in Voice, is the creator of the Voiceworks® Method, and is regularly featured in leading music magazines, journals, books and conferences.