Thankfully, understanding fragrance notes is nowhere near as complicated as understanding music notes. In fragrance there are basically three different notes – top notes, middle notes, and base notes. You may need to be the apprentice of a master perfumer for a few years before you can truly understand the influence each note type will have on the other and how to artfully combine these notes to achieve a desired result. But I can certainly explain the basic concept behind each one here for you in a way that will be easy enough for the average person to understand.
The very first notes that you smell when you apply a fragrance are known as its top notes, sometimes called head or opening notes. They create the very important first impression that an individual will have of any particular fragrance because they are what you will smell initially. They are typically the lightest of all the notes used in a fragrance and they will be the first scents to fade away after the fragrance is applied.
Middle notes, or heart notes as they are sometimes called, are the scents that become more pronounced immediately after the top notes fade away. The term heart notes is considered to be more appropriate for these middle notes as they are often thought of as being the heart of a fragrance. They will have a very strong influence on the base notes that follow, and they will last for considerably longer than the preceding top notes. Ylang ylang, jasmine, and rose are some common fragrance middle notes.
When the middle notes of a fragrance begin to fade away is when the base notes will make their appearance. It can take up to 30 minutes after applying a perfume for you to smell the base notes. Together with the middle notes they form the main theme of a fragrance. It is the job of the base notes to create a lasting impression of the fragrance on those who smell it. For this reason it is common for base notes to linger on your skin even hours after the top notes have faded away. Base notes are usually rich, musky, and/or woody.
You maybe wondering why is it that a perfume cannot be made with only one or two of these notes. For sure this can be done, but to create a true fragrance that is aromatically pleasing, all three notes should be incorporated. This is the way fragrances have been made for thousands of years and, while we never know what the future has in store for perfumery, so far combining these three types of notes has led to the creation of beautiful, fragrant scents.