So far, we’ve learned about all the major notes, or pitch classes.
Just to recap, the main pitch classes are:
We have also learned about octaves, and how there are multiple instances of different notes within the same pitch class. For example, how each of the notes in the audio below are all the note ‘A’:
One way to remember these notes, is that they correspond to the white keys on a piano. See the example below:
Bonus tip: This pattern holds true throughout the entire piano. For example, the C is always to the left of the two black keys that are near together. Using this, you can count up or down in order to find the note that you’re looking for.
Okay, so, we have all of the white keys covered. What about all the black keys?
Sharps And Flats
In between some of the white keys, you can also see that we have some black keys between them.
The piano is set up to go from the lowest notes all the way on the left-hand side, to the highest notes on the right-hand side. This same sort of system applies for all keys on the piano, including the black keys.
Let’s look at that first black key in the illustration above, which sits between the notes ‘C’ and ‘D’.
Using the previous logic, we can imply that the pitch of the note also rests somewhere between C and D. And it does! This note is a little bit higher in pitch then the ‘C’ right next to it, and a little bit lower in pitch than the ‘D’ right next to it as well.
In music, we use two terms to talk about these ‘in between’ notes – sharps and flats.
First up, we have what’s called a ‘sharp’, which looks similar to a hashtag or a number symbol. A sharp takes whatever pitch is next to it, and raises it slightly.
This symbol means that you take whatever note is next to it, and make it sharp. For example, if you have the note ‘C’, and the sharp symbol appears next to it, you would instead play the note C sharp. C sharp sounds higher in pitch than a regular C, but lower in pitch than D.
Keep in mind that notes won’t change their position on the staff when a sharp is added. It will appear at exactly the same spot, which means you’ll need to look for the symbols while you’re playing. You can see this with the example below.
All notes have a sharp variant, except for the notes E and B. You’ll never see the names ‘E sharp’ or ‘B sharp’ referenced in music until you get into very advanced music theory, and for all practical purposes you can safely assume they don’t exist right now.
To recap, theses are the following sharp notes:
- C Sharp
- D Sharp
- F Sharp
- G Sharp
- A Sharp
Notice that in every case, the word ‘sharp’ comes after the note name, not before it. This is always the case – we never call a note for example, Sharp A or Sharp G. It Is always A Sharp, or G Sharp. The same idea applies with flats, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Opposite of sharps, we have something called flats. The flat symbol kind of looks like a funky looking letter b. A flat takes whatever note is next to it, and lowers it in pitch slightly.
For example, if you have the note ‘B’ and lower it a bit, you’ll get the note ‘B flat.’ B flat is lower than B, but higher than A, as seen in the picture of the keyboard above.
Like the sharps, the flat symbol will not change the position of the note on the staff – a B flat for example will appear on the same line or space as a regular B note. Therefore, it is only the presence of the symbol that can indicate which note to play.
All notes have a flat variant, except for the notes C and F. To recap, here are the following flat notes:
- D flat
- E flat
- G flat
- A flat
- B flat
You may be wondering, why are these two notes different than with the sharps? This may make more sense in a moment.
Putting The Two Together
This concept can be a little confusing, so have a little patience here.
With the regular pitch classes – A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, the notes are always called the same thing.
With these ‘in between’ notes – the black keys on the keyboard, each note has two separate names. Let’s look at the piano again:
As you can see, each note represented by a black key, is called two separate things – with one of the names having a sharp, and one of the notes having a flat.
Let’s take the black key between C and D. We know that this note is higher than C, and lower than D.
We also know that when a pitch is made higher, that pitch is sharp. In this case, we take the note C, raise it higher, and it becomes C Sharp.
We also know that when a pitch is made lower, that pitch is flat. So, we take the note D, make it lower, and we have the note D flat.
In plain terms, this means that we can refer to that first black key as either C sharp, OR D flat. They are both the same note, and will always sound exactly the same.
This holds true for the other black keys as well. The easiest way to understand this is to study the picture referenced above.
Drilling It In:
- As just mentioned, the note between C and D is C Sharp, or D Flat.
- The note between D and E, is D Sharp or E Flat.
- There is no E Sharp, and there is no F Flat. For all practical purposes, these notes do not exist.
- The note between F and G, is F Sharp, or G Flat.
- The note between G and A is G sharp, or A flat.
- The note between A and B is A sharp, or B flat.
- There is no B sharp, and there is no C flat. For all practical purposes, these notes do not exist.
Why Do We Have Both Sharps And Flats?
Alright, so now we know what sharps and flats are, what they do, and where they’re located, you may be asking yourself this – why the heck did we agree to use two different names for the same notes? Doesn’t that only complicate things?
It may seem that way, but there’s actually a good reason for it.
We’ll learn more about when to use sharps and when to use flats when we study keys and scales later on in this course, but ultimately it comes down to readability.
For example, if we were playing a song that was using primarily flats, we would usually want to keep this consistent and continue to use flats throughout the song.
Another example is with scales. Looking at the two scales below, which one seems easier to read to you?
Now, both scales are played and sound exactly the same. There are no differences between them in terms of sound.
However, most people in this instance would find the first scale easier to read, especially if they were going through the music quickly. The placements of the notes are going up evenly as you move through them.
In the second scale, one space is skipped, and then two appear on the same line next to each other. When you’re reading through music quickly or for the first time, these little differences can add up and make it more challenging to play.
Again though, the biggest differences come when we talk about the song’s key, which we’ll get into later in the course. For now, just remember that the same note can be called two different names.
Conclusion And Summary:
Congratulations! Now that we have covered sharps and flats, we are now familiar with all of the different notes available to us in music. This is a huge milestone, and now means that you can determine just about any pitch on the staff.
It takes time and practice to be able to do this quickly, but after reviewing everything we’ve learned in the course so far, there is nothing stopping you.
Let’s review sharps and flats one more time:
- A sharp is a symbol that looks like a hashtag. It takes the note next to it, and raises it in pitch slightly.
- A flat is a symbol that looks like a funky letter b. It takes the note next to it, and lowers it in pitch slightly.
- Sharp and flat notes are represented by the black keys on the piano.
- These notes can go by two separate names. For example, the note between C and D can be called either C sharp, or D flat.
- There are no notes between the notes E and F, and the notes B and C. This means that for all practical purposes, there is no such thing as B sharp and E sharp, or C flat and F flat.
I understand this can be a bit confusing, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them using the comment form below.
Thank you, and I hope to see you in the next lesson!