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The Musical Scale of Essential Oil Notes

Tuesday 26 March, 2019.
What do I mean when I talk about “essential oil notes”?

To begin with…

Have you noticed that some fragrances smell different several hours after you apply them?

Why is this?…

Well, some essential oils evaporate more quickly than others. And as the oils in a blend evaporate, the aroma will change to reflect the aroma of the remaining oils.

In fact, in the 19th century, a Frenchman called Septimus Piesse classified the odours of essential oils according to the notes of a musical scale – what I will refer to as the essential oil notes.

He transposed the idea of musical harmony into the realm of fragrances where the corresponding notes to each scent formed perfectly balanced chords of harmonics when they were combined together.

And, continuing with the analogy of a musical scale, oils that evaporate the quickest, usually within 1-2 hours, are called “top notes.”

Oils that evaporate within 2-4 hours are considered “middle notes.”

Oils that take the longest time to evaporate are referred to as “base notes.” Some base notes can take several days to evaporate!


Top Notes…For example, Eucalyptus, Lemon, Basil, Bergamot, Sweet Orange, Peppermint… have a fresh, light quality that is immediately apparent, due to the fast evaporation rate. Oils with a top note are the most uplifting and refreshing.

Middle Notes…For example, Geranium, Neroli, Lavender, Rosemary, Marjoram, Chamomile, Juniper.. are the heart of the fragrance. This usually forms the bulk of the blend and affects the metabolic and bodily functions.

These scents emerge some time after the first impression.

Base Notes… For example, Patchouli, Jasmine, Myrrh, Frankincense, Sandalwood… have a rich, heavy scent that emerges slowly and lingers on.

The notes at this end of the essential oil scale also act as a fixative to stop the lighter oils from dispersing too quickly. They have a soothing, relaxing and comforting effect on the body.

It is interesting to note that…

Ylang-Ylang is said to be a well balanced oil in its own right -having a very powerful sweet, floral top note, a creamy rich middle note and a soft floral, slightly spicy base note.

A well- balanced blend needs to contain elements from each of these three “essential oil scale” categories.

blend of oils that has a higher potency and therapeutic effect than any of the oils on its own is called a synergy.


As an example, let me share with you one of my favourite blends…this blend helps alleviate irritability…I like to make sure I have some ready for use in a diffuser when a certain “high maintenance” friend comes to visit…

1. Pettitgrain – for a Top Note. With it’s fresh floral citrus scent, this essential oil is used for uplifting and stress relief.

2. Nutmeg – for a Middle Note. Nutmeg has a spicy warm balsamic fragrance and helps combat muscular aches and pains, nervousness, insomnia and nausea.

3. Sandalwood – for a Base Note. Soft, sweet and rich with warm woody spicy undertones, Sandalwood relieves depression, skin infections, menstrual problems and acts as a sedative.

This well-balanced blend with a good combination of essential oil notes will take you on a walk through the forest!

So, get to know the notes of the essential oil scale and have fun making your own blends.

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