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Thread: German H note

  1. #1
    Registered User Rented's Avatar
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    German H note

    I just wanted to start a thread to discuss the whole issue with the German use of the note name H for "our" B, and B for our Bb. What is the history behind this seemingly strange use? Is it still in use today in Germany?

    My mother is a classically trained pianist, and in Sweden they used to (I don't think they do anymore) use/teach the German "system". I always have to think twice when speaking to her, because for many years I though H was the same as B (which it is) and that whenever she used B she was just trying to speak my language. Well, her B is actually my Bb, hehe. To her it makes perfect sense, to me it does not make any sense at all.

    I have read that the historical reason for the use of H is a that somebody read a poorly writted B as an H and it stuck. I find that hard to beleive though, if nothing else because it does not explain the B (our Bb).

    I always found this topic interesting but never found any satisfactory explainations. Anybody want to give it a try?
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    Last edited by Rented; 09-12-2011 at 07:46 PM.

  2. #2
    Ibreathe Music Advisor EricV's Avatar
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    AFAIK, this is based on a translation error in the mid ages. So Germany was the only ( I dunno about Austria and Switzerland, however ) country using the note "h" instead of B. The notes went ...A...B...H...C... instead of A...Bb...B....C...

    A lot of music teachers and musicians who were taught by other music teachers still use the H these days. But a lot of younger teachers are calling that note B, and so are their students.
    AFAIK, a few years ago, a german court ruled that it was the correct name of the note, and that in the future, people should get used to it.
    Eric

  3. #3
    Registered User Rented's Avatar
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    So what I read was correct then. But whoever missread it missread the Bb as B and B as H. I don't know, it seems very, very strange to me. Not to mention the fact that it is pretty obvious that the sequence of notes is in alphabetical order, and to miss *that* would require a major lack of awareness, IMO.

    Anyway, its good to see that they are conforming to the rest of the world
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    Last edited by Rented; 09-12-2011 at 07:46 PM.

  4. #4
    Mode Rator Zatz's Avatar
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    In the countries of the former USSR the note "H" standed for "B" as well. So that kind of 'mistake' had gone too far
    Zadd9 -> A6 -> T#9b5 -> Zmaj7

  5. #5
    Registered User CaptainCarma's Avatar
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    additional info:

    Ive already mentioned this in an other thread, but never the less:

    - because of the geman "h", J.S.Bach was able to leave his anagram B-A-C-H in a lot of his works.
    no joke, he did.
    "Truth is the invention of a liar." - von Foerster

  6. #6
    Ibreathe Music Advisor EricV's Avatar
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    Well, maybe the translator just was writing down the C major scale like:
    C D E F G A H C
    Or put in an additional B, and based on that, a lot of people learned the scale like that, establishing the order like: A B H C
    I dunno though, just guessing
    Eric

  7. #7
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    In Norway we are used to use a H for B, and B for Bb. I think new books also use this notation. I do not know who is to decide anything different ... I practice it does not cause a big problem in most cases, just have to be a little carefull. The surprise is ofcourse when playing somethin i key of F, and you really should change to B (H). My guess in such cases would in 99% of the cases be that the correct change was to Bb (B). BTW: We mostely do the same as Sweden, so I guess they also keep this notation.
    Gerhard

  8. #8
    Registered User BornToShred's Avatar
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    In finland the schools for classical music all use H. Schools for contemporary music use B.
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  9. #9
    Sweetest of the bees sugarbee's Avatar
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    Okay, not to totally expose my musical ignorance here, but I'm pretty sure I have never heard of this "H" note concept before, or if I have, it was in passing and as such didn't catch my attention, cause I'm pretty sure it would have!
    I know I have said before on these forums that I am terrible at music theory, and I am, but that doesn't mean I don't know any, I studied piano, flute, voice and just music in general all the way through highschool, by choice, took as many courses as I could and I don't ever remember hearing about this. learned about some weirder notation stuff and of course lots of music history, so I'm wondering, is this because I was educated in North America or something? Did I have really bad teachers? (I KNOW I didn't, at least not in highschool...) it's just weird. This thread caught my eye, because I was like...what??? an H note? Whose new fandangled concept is that? Really threw me!!! Anybody have any insight as to why I was left in the dark?

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  10. #10
    Registered User BornToShred's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sugarbee
    is this because I was educated in North America or something?
    Yes. The H is only used in certain european countries. Here in Finland for example.

    I use B because it's more logical.
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  11. #11
    Registered User Ein's Avatar
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    Most countries use the German system. My dad uses that, and the italian way.
    G#AD#G#CF#

  12. #12
    Registered User eXtremah's Avatar
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    My mother and sister (both with a little keyboard/guitar skill) use H instead of B, so when I heard about this from them, i just gave them the look - I was learning music theory from the articles on the Internet, wirtten in English (and, presumingly, by English authors), so I realized I was doing it a bit different than all (probably all, I don't really know) the music theory schools in Slovenia.

    So, yes, the H note is also used in Slovenia.

  13. #13
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    I never would have heard about it except that I'm a huge fan of Bach and so I know that story about him spelling his name in his songs and how they have an H note.

  14. #14
    Registered User Morbid's Avatar
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    I think its easy to uderstand how they could make the "b" an "h". They must have missed the connection of the b at the bottom. And I dont think their writing with all the curlicues on it made it easier. But what I dont understand is how they could miss the logic in using A-G in alphabetic order... unless they didnt know the alphabetic order. I live in sweden and I use B, from reading articles and stuff on the internet, but my teacher uses H so I kind of got used to them both.

  15. #15
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    H note in German Music Nomenclature


    First of all, we need to distinguish between "pitches" and "notes". Notes are written representation of pitches. Pitches are sounds of specific frequency (vibrations per second). The nomenclature, in which what we call the pitches "B" and "Bb" were, and still are in much of Europe, notated as "H" and "B", respectively, arose as a result of the standard medieval scale containing both a "B" and a "Bb" (as we call these pitches today) in the "8ve" below "middle-C". This "scale structure" was a holdover from the ancient Greek theory of music (even though the letter names A,B,C,D,E,F and G were not used then). The Greek "Perfect Immutable System" contained both disjunct and conjunct) tetra chords (see next paragraph), which, if we call the "reference note" ("do") by the letter "E", contained respectively the pitches "B "and "Bb" below "middle-C". Understand that we are referring to here are "pitches" - sounds with specific wave lengths (Hz). These pitches will sound the same, no matter what you call them. The ancients (and the modern Germans and other Europeans) employ both pitches with wave lengths that we call "B" and "Bb" when we hear them, but then, as now they they did not consider "Bb" pitch to be a "mutation" of the "B" pitch class (like Eb is a mutation of E pitch class), but they heard "Bb" and "B" as pitches of different classes of pitch and gave them different names, later represented by different letters once letters began to be used for pitch names.

    So, representing the ancient Greek tetra chords with modern letter notation, the pitches in the scale system would be: E F G AA B(b) C D (conjunct tetra chords) and,, alternatively: E F G A ....H C D E (disjunct tetra chords - space indicates skip of Bb pitch. The German nomenclature merely sought to give each pitch-class that ocurred in the system a unique name. Later, when the "flat sign" ( b) was employed to effect mutation into other, more distant tetra chords (or hexachords), the German nomenclature was never modified to accommodate it, and its use as a flat sign was simply extended to the other 6 letters while retaining the H/B distinction for what everyone else calls B/Bb.

    This explanation is complicated by the fact that in Europe, concert pitch is tuned a little "sharp" compared to US standards. In the US, except for special performance requirements, the pitch A above middle C is tuned at 440 vibrations per second, all other pitches being tuned in relation to that A. In
    Europe, A above middle C is often tuned to 444 or as much as 445 cycles per second. Therefore the US standard "B" ( 246.4 cycles/sec) and Bb (233.08 cycles/sec) will not only be referred to by different letter names - German "B"=US "Bb" and German "H"=US "B", but German B and H will be a four to five cycles/sec sharper than their US theoretical equilvilants of Bb and B, respectively.

    So, the use of "h" or "H" in
    Europe has nothing to do with "miss-read" or "mis-printed" letter "b", and, YES, any good music teacher should be bringing this matter to their student's attention because the naming method is still used today in a world that gets smaller all the time. It is simply that what we now call "B" and "Bb" pitches were once understood as separate "class" of pitches (designated today by separate letter names) but after the development of accidentals and the division of the scale into 12 equal "half steps" and "tetra chords" were defined as "whole-step, whole-step, half-step" as today, the natural half step interval between the then called "B" (modern Bb) and the then called "H" (modern B) were logically represented in this revision of western music theory, as B and Bb, the interval being the same ratio as E and Eb, A and Ab, D and Db or G and Gb, etc. See Joseph Monzo, Tutorial on ancient Greek tetrachord-theory for a more detailed explanation. See also his link at http://tonalsoft.com/enc/g/german-h.aspx

    Last edited by glbaritone; 05-23-2008 at 03:50 PM.

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