One idle Saturday we posed the question on Facebook: what's your favourite (musical) note? And why? Not for any particular reason, but just because we could. Because what is social media for, if not for idle chit-chat?
As it turned out, we had a really interesting response. We had around 100 messages with people giving us their favourite notes and reasons, and many of them were very thoughtful indeed. Music, as we know, speaks to part of us that we don't fully understand, and it seems that particular notes resonate more in some than others.
So, from this incredibly unscientific research, we can exclusively reveal that the world's favourite note is... A.
We'll have a look at why that is in just a moment.
But first, here are the results:
A came out as the favourite, closely followed by B flat, C and E flat.
And the least favourite note? With no votes at all that looks to be D sharp. It was unsurprising that the more 'enharmonic' notes from the remote key signatures – C flat, E sharp, F flat, A sharp and B sharp, were not top of people's minds, but poor old D sharp is more common and received even less votes than the shy and retiring A double flat!
But at least it has, in some ways (!) some votes in the form of E flat – and quite a number at that! If you look a little closer you'll see that actually the least popular note is F. With only two votes, and none for its E sharp "enharmonic twin", there's no way around it, F is unloved. Poor old F.
Here's the popularity of all the notes plotted onto the keyboard:
We also asked why the chosen note was a favourite, and that's where things got interesting.
Many people actually chose very specific notes – i.e. in a particular octave or on a particular instrument:
'E below middle C, starting the verdi requiem'
'Nothing beats an E flat played on trombone. It's warm and round and generally in tune.'
'The low D on the Cello C string, rich and robust'
'Low E below middle C because I love pushing down the pancake key on the bassoon.'
'The starting G of Sibelius concerto :D'
~Đỗ Xuân Bach
Some had lovely memories associated with a note:
'Bb. The oboist used to play it to brass section for tuning. I was principal horn. We married.'
~John N Sutherland
'Bb, the first note of Star Wars!'
'In Tournament for Brass, there was a Pedal G just for the BBb bass on it`s own, a note that was in the middle of the piece connecting 2 sections, I spent weeks sweating and scared of this note. On the Day in the De Montfort hall in Leicester I played the note, weeks of agony was lifted. I never forget playing in that great Hall, the atmosphere, the contests, that note.'
'middle c, the first note that i learned.'
~Monty Vassie R Bishop
For some a note suggested a favourite colour:
'Db because it is the same colour purple as a Cadbury's chocolate wrapper.'
'B flat :-) Always has been, always will be. Nice and round and warm. Orange flavoured....'
Ab (and the key of A flat). Both remind me of the color purple, which isn't even my favorite color. Go figure.
In others the question awakened a new understanding:
'I thought I was weird having a favourite note...people laugh at me! Love D above middle C on cello =)'
'Eb - oboe or voice. Had no idea I had a favourite until you asked the question and the answer was there before I knew it!'
So here's why A might well be the world's favourite note – it signals the start of something great (we could be a little biased here!):
'A, because it's where all begins (alphabet, A-minor, A440, concerts [the orchestra tuning]...)'
'I love hearing the tuning A because it means there will be so many more notes to follow, all performed live!'
'Concert A. That signals to me something great is about to happen. Everyone sits up tall, blends together, and GO!'
'A. Because it heralds the beginning of something wonderful.'
'An orchestra tuning to an A'
'I like concert A as it is the start of any musical journey.'
As you can see above, F, despite being our least favourite note, did at least have a couple of votes. What made those two people pick F?:
'I've always liked F, any octave doesn't matter. Not sure why...'
'Fa (not sure in the English system which letter is), it reminds me of the orchestra getting ready to play, I love it'
And the science?
Studies have been done to determine why some sounds are more agreeable to our ears than others, and the science tends to suggest that we are conditioned to respond to certain tones by the environment in which we live. From BoingBoing (http://boingboing.net/2009/12/14/the-biology-of-music.html)
'The sounds humans make matter most because that's where we get information about our competitors and our potential mates--the things we need to know to be successful creatures. We developed an ear for the tones common in human vocalizations, the same way a sommelier might develop a taste for fine wines. Those are the tones we find most appealing and thus, the ones we made into our musical art.'
So there you go. But it doesn't really answer why some like E and some like G flat!
This one gets the award for most creative response to the brief:
Yeah, not that sort of note Alan!