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  • I. A designation, a sign, and related senses.
1. a. A symbol, character, or mark used in writing, printing, etc. (not generally used of letters of the alphabet). In later use only with of in fixed phrases (see below). Also fig. Now somewhat arch.

note of admiration n. Obs. = note of exclamation n. note of exclamation n. = exclamation-mark at EXCLAMATION n. 4c. note of interrogation n. = QUESTION MARK n. 1.

b. A distinguishing mark on a plant. Obs. rare.
2. A name, a distinctive designation. Obs.
3. a. A sign, token, or indication of some quality, condition, fact, etc., or from which something may be inferred; a characteristic or distinguishing feature, mark, or symbol. Now rare.

In later use chiefly in pl.

b. Theol. Any of certain characteristics (originally formulated in the Nicene Creed), as unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity, by which the true Church may be known; a sign or proof of genuine origin, authority, and practice. Also in extended use. Now hist.
c. An objective or visible sign which serves to identify or distinguish some person or thing, or to denote some circumstance or fact related thereto. Obs. (rare after 17th cent.).
4. a. A stigma; a reproach. With of. Obs. (rare after 17th cent.).
b. An object of censure. Obs. rare 1.
c. The mark of censure used by the Roman censors. Cf. NOTA n. Obs.
5. A linguistic particle, esp. in Hebrew. Obs.
  • II. Senses relating to music and sound.
6. a. A tune, a song; a melody; a strain of music. Obs. (poet. in later use).
b. The song or melodious call of a bird. Cf. senses 7b, 9. Chiefly literary and poet. in later use.
c. by (also with) note: in a musical setting, to music; from written or printed music. Obs. (U.S. in later use).
7. a. A single tone of definite pitch, as produced by a musical instrument, the human voice, etc. Cf. TONE n. 2a.
b. A musical tone in the song of a bird. Usu. in pl. Cf. senses 6b, 9.
c. strike (also hit) a note and variants: to express a sentiment, idea, etc., of a specified tone or character; (similarly) to strike (also hit) the right note; (also) to hit a (high, low, etc.) note: to achieve a specified level of success.

Early quots. appear to refer to sense 7d, although this is first attested later.

d. Any of numerous similar parts of a musical instrument, each of which when played produces a specific pitch; esp. each of the keys of a keyboard instrument.
e. = TONE n. 4a. Obs. rare.

See also whole note n. (a) at WHOLE adj., n., and adv. Compounds 2, HALF-NOTE n. 1a.

8. A written character or sign expressing the duration and (usually) pitch of a musical sound. Sometimes in pl.: (gen.) musical notation; music in notated form.
9. A distinctive cry, call, or sound, esp. a call or cry (as distinct from a song) made by a bird, or (in later use) the sound of an engine.

When used of birds, this sense is not always distinguishable from sense 6b. Cf. also sense 7b, call-note n. at CALL n. Compounds.

10. a. An expressive or significant sound. Chiefly in extended use: a quality or tone, esp. in speech or writing, which expresses a mood or attitude, or indicates the significance of the words or situation (freq. with of). Also in phrase on that note. In early use also: import, tenor. Cf. sense 7c.

to change one's (also a person's) note: see CHANGE v. Phrases 12.

b. Any of the basic components of the fragrance of a perfume which give it its character. Also in extended use.
c. A component of the aroma or flavour of a food or drink, esp. of a wine.
  • III. Attention, distinction.
11. a. Notice, attention, regard. Now freq. in worthy (also deserving) of note.
b. Intimation, warning; intelligence. Now only in to give note of. Now somewhat arch.
c. to take note: to take notice or pay attention. Freq. with of. Similarly (occas.) to make note. Cf. sense 15b.
12. a. Distinction, importance; reputation, fame. Esp. with preceding adjective in of note.
b. of note: of distinction, eminent; notable, noteworthy.
  • IV. Senses relating to written records.
13. a. Law. An abstract of essential particulars relating to transfer of land by process of fine (see FINE n.1 6b). Obs.
b. Sc. Law. Any of various written forms of legal process and memoranda.
14. a. An explanatory or critical annotation or comment appended to a passage in a book, manuscript, etc.
b. colloq. An interesting or noteworthy observation or remark. Now rare (Sc. and U.S. in later use).
15. a. A brief written observation, record, or abstract of facts, esp. one intended to aid the memory, or to serve as a basis for a more complete statement or for future action. Freq. in pl. Cf. mental note n. at MENTAL adj.1 and n. Special uses.

to compare notes: see COMPARE v.1 2b.

b. to make (also take) a note (or notes). Also fig.

to make a mental note: see mental note n. at MENTAL adj.1 and n. Special uses.

c. Chiefly in pl. A written memorandum or synopsis made as an aid to delivering a lecture, sermon, speech, etc.
d. Med. A written record of some aspect of a patient's condition or treatment. Usu. in pl.
e. In pl. Theatre and Film. Comments given by a director to actors and production staff, following a rehearsal, etc.
16. A record or statement of particulars or of some fact or figure; a list; a bill, invoice, or statement of account (obs.).

Not always clearly distinguishable from senses 13 and 15.

17. a. A short informal letter or written message.
b. A formal diplomatic or intergovernmental communication.
18. = NOTEPAPER n. Now rare.
  • V. Senses relating to money, finance, etc.
19. a. A signed receipt. Obs.
b. A written promise to pay a certain sum at a specified time; = promissory note n. at PROMISSORY adj. Special uses. Now chiefly U.S.
20. note of hand n. (also note under hand) = senses 19a , 19b. Now arch. and hist.
21. a. A promissory note used as currency; spec. a banknote. Freq. with value specified.

In N. Amer. usage bill (BILL n.3 9c) is now preferred.

b. colloq. (orig. Sc.). A pound note; the sum of one pound.

The term was formerly also current in Austral. and N.Z., but has fallen into disuse following the introduction of decimal currency in 1966 (in Australia) and 1967 (in New Zealand).


In music, the term note has two primary meanings: 1) a sign used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound; and 2) a pitched sound itself. Notes are the "atoms" of much Western music: discretizations of musical phenomena that facilitate performance, comprehension, and analysis

The term "note" can be used in both generic and specific senses: one might say either "the piece Happy Birthday to You begins with two notes having the same pitch," or "the piece begins with two repetitions of the same note." In the former case, one uses "note" to refer to a specific musical event; in the latter, one uses the term to refer to a class of events sharing the same pitch.

Note name

Two notes with fundamental frequencies in a ratio of any power of two (e.g. half, twice, or four times) are perceived as very similar. Because of that, all notes with these kinds of relations can be grouped under the same pitch class. In traditional music theory pitch classes are represented by the first seven letters of the Latin alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F and G) (some countries use other names as in the table below). The eighth note, or octave is given the same name as the first, but has double its frequency. The name octave is also used to indicate the span of notes having a frequency ratio of two. In order to differentiate two notes that have the same pitch class but fall into different octaves, the system of scientific pitch notation combines a letter name with an Arabic numeral designating a specific octave. For example, the now-standard tuning pitch for most Western music, 440 Hz, is named a′ or A4. There are two formal ways to define each note and octave, the Helmholtz system and the Scientific pitch notation.[1]