Sharps and Flats

January 1, 2014

how to read sheet music

Reading Sharps and flats

If you’ve looked at the lesson on Getting Started then you will now know how to read sheet music for the white notes (otherwise known as the naturals) on a piano/keyboard.

However, we need to also know when to play the black notes.

The black notes are known as sharps and flats and are shown by a “#” sign or a “b” sign placed before the note.

Look at the keyboard below – you will see that there are 12 notes separating the 2 “C’s” (7 white and 5 black) – these 12 notes are called the chromatic scale. The interval (or gap) between each of these notes is called a semitone.

piano sheet music flats and sharps

 

The Golden Rule

Sharps (#) raise the note by a semitone, whilst flats (b) lower the note by a semitone.

Normally this will move a note from a black to a white note (or vice versa). However, in some cases you will notice that if a movement of a semitone is between 2 white notes (e.g. E-F and B-C).

So, in this example below you will see that the note “C” is raised a semitone by a sharp sign (#) and lowered a semitone by a flat sign (b).

treble clef sharps and flats

Enharmonic Equivalents

You will have noticed from the picture of a piano keyboard above that every sharp has a corresponding flat. e.g. C# is the same note as Db. This is called an enharmonic equivalent. In the example above, you can see that C Flat will be the same note as B natural.

Double Sharps and Double Flats

Sometimes you will see a “x” before a note. This is called a double sharp and it means that the note should be raised by 2 semitones. The “bb” sign is a double flat sign and means the note should be lowered by 2 semitones.

Avoiding The Big Sharps and Flats Mistake

There is a big mistake which everyone seems to make when it comes to sharps and flats. And it is this…
Because a note is called G sharp or G Flat people assume that the sharp/flat symbol goes after the note (seems logical!).
But the symbol goes BEFORE THE NOTE.
Music Theory Sharps and Flats A really simple thing, but you will avoid so many problems if you just remember the symbol goes BEFORE the note!
Anyway, hope this helps!

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