Sharps and Flats Made Easy

May 18 07:59 2011 Ben Dunnett Print This Article

Understanding sharps and flats is a key part of learning how to read sheet music. However, it's easy if you follow some basic principles and avoid the big mistake most people make.

Folks may get totally overwhelmed by sharps and flats while studying how to read sheet music. However,Guest Posting the fundamental concept is straightforward to figure out if you decide to do so whilst looking at a piano keyboard. 

Have a look at the white keys on a piano/keyboard - they are known as naturals. They proceed "A-B-C-D-E-F-G" then start off back at "A" all over again. This spread of notes is called an octave.

You will see that the keys "C, D, F, G plus A" all have black notes off to the right of them - they are their sharps. So, for example, the black note to the right of "F" is called "F sharp", and the black note off to the right of "C" is referred to as "C sharp". The distance in between "C" and "C sharp" is known as a semitone. Thus it can be stated that a sharp raises a natural by a semitone. To write down "C sharp" we would locate a "#" symbol in front of the note. You will additionally spot that the keys "B, A, G, E and also D" all have black notes to the left of them - they are their flats. Hence, the black note to the left of "B" is called "B Flat", whilst the black note to the left of "E" has the name "E Flat". Once more, the distance linking "B" and "B Flat" is a semitone. Consequently it can be stated that a flat lowers a natural by a semitone. To write down a flat we would put a "b" sign before the note.

Avoiding the Big Mistake

The commonest oversight I observe is folks forgetting that a sharp/flat/natural indicator is put prior to the note it happens to be referring to. People sometimes get confused by this and it brings about incorrect reading of the notes.

Enharmonic Equivalents

You will have spotted every single black note may be both a sharp plus a flat. e.g. "C#" is actually the exact same sounding pitch as "Db". This is known as an enharmonic equivalent. It isn't really vital information for learning how to read sheet music, but will likely be the sort of fact you're able to astonish your friends and family with!!

Double Sharps and Double Flats

Periodically you are likely to notice an “x” right before a note. This is called a double sharp and it shows that the note has to be heightened by 2 semitones. The “bb” indication is a double flat symbol and means the particular note should be dropped by 2 semitones.

When is the natural indicator implemented?

Luckily for us, a natural mark isn't necessarily written every single time a natural note is to be performed. If it was, then sheet music would look and feel terribly untidy and unclear. There can be 2 occasions when a natural mark is needed:

1. When a sharp or a flat is employed on a certain note it stays as a sharp/flat until the conclusion of the bar. A natural symbol is required when the composer wants to alter the note to natural before the bar finishes. 

2. Anytime a composer chooses to write a note as a natural if the key signature says it ought to be a sharp/flat.

Overall Thoughts

Learning to read sharps and flats is actually quite easy - look at the symbol just before the note to see if it is a sharp, flat or natural. However, it'd help loads when learning how toread sheet music if we were to know when to expect them to appear instead of them just simply arriving as a surprise. In order to learn how to read sheet music swiftly you need to obtain a rudimentary understanding of the notion of scales/keys plus key signatures.

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Ben Dunnett
Ben Dunnett

For video lessons and music theory worksheets helping you learn how to read music go to

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