Sharps and Flats

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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!

Music Theory Academy Intermediate Course lesson 3 link