After familiarizing yourself with sharps and flats, there’s a third accidental that we need to pay attention to, called a natural.
We’ve learned in the key signatures section that typically, most songs are made up out of only 8 different pitch classes. For example, if the key signature contains F Sharp, then all F’s should be played sharp unless otherwise noted.
But running with this example, what if we DON’T want F Sharp for a moment, and want to play a regular F instead?
This can be instructed in the music through something called the natural sign, which looks like this.
Introduction To The Natural Sign
This sign signifies that a note should be made natural – it essentially removes the sharps or flats applied to it. For example, a note that would normally be G Flat would instead become a regular G (a ‘G natural’), and a a note that would normally be a G Sharp would also become a regular G.
Let me illustrate with a brief example, this time using F notes:
Pay extra attention to the 2nd, 4th, and 6th notes. I’ve gone ahead and accented them in the audio.
The key signature indicates that F’s should normally be sharp. You can hear this when the 2nd note is played – F sharp.
When we reach the 4th note, the natural sign is introduced. This means instead of playing F sharp, we play F natural instead. If you listen to the audio example again, you can hear that the 4th note is definitely lower in pitch than the 2nd one.
Some confusion may arise when we reach the next ‘F’ note – note 6. If you listen closely, you’ll hear that the note being played is F Sharp – not F Natural as it was previously. Why is that?
This is because naturals only last until the bar is completed, or until another accidental (sharp or flat) is introduced. Because the bar ends after the 4th note, the natural no longer applies, and notes will be played according to their key signature. Because this key signature indicates that all F’s should default to being sharp, the 6th note is indeed F Sharp.
Cancelling Naturals With An Accidental
Just like a natural effectively ‘cancels’ out whatever is instructed in the key signature, a natural can be cancelled out by introducing another accidental (sharp or flat.)
It’s important to keep in mind that just like other accidentals, natural notes remain until cancelled, either by an accidental or the end of the bar. Here, we can see another example of how this works:
Looking over from left to right…
Note 1 is sharp, because this is indicated by the key signature.
Note 2 is natural, because the natural sign is introduced.
Note 3 is natural, because naturals carry out throughout the rest of the measure, or until another accidental is introduced.
Note 4 introduces a sharp, making the note (and any F’s after it), sharp again.
Just like sharps and flats, naturals work across all octaves. This means that in the above picture, the 3rd note is still natural – as both notes are F.
Cancelling Accidentals With A Natural
Sometimes, your key signature may call for a note to be played naturally, yet you may temporarily introduce an accidental into the music.
Utilizing a natural can cancel it out so you play the note naturally again. All accidentals, including naturals, work the same way in this regard.
We see that the key signature indicates that there are no sharps or flats in this key. Let’s look at the notes.
Note 1 is C natural, or just ‘C’.
Note 2 is C sharp.
Note 3 is B.
Note 4 is C natural. Without the natural sign, this would be C sharp (due to the accidental introduced on note 2.) Adding the natural sign indicates that the note should be played natural again.
Let’s review some of the key points about naturals:
1. Naturals are classified as an accidental, just like sharps and flats.
2. A natural takes whatever note is next to it, and makes it natural.
3. Naturals work across all notes in that pitch class. For example, if an F sharp becomes an F natural, then ALL F’s will be natural until cancelled out, regardless of where the F appears on the staff.
4. Like other accidentals, naturals remain in place until the bar ends, or it is cancelled out by another accidental. After the bar ends, the note reverts to whatever is indicated in the key signature.
5. Natural notes make up the white keys of the piano, while sharps and flats make up the black keys.
If you have any questions about naturals, feel free to ask them using the comment form below!