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Accidentals & Enharmonics

An accidental in music is not something you do by mistake. It is commonly referred to as the black notes on piano. (Even though for all cases it isn't true.)


An accidental is a symbol that you attack to a note/letter.


There are 3 symbols we associate with accidentals.


The Sharp.

The Flat

And The Natural.


(We will be going over half-steps and whole steps in the next task so I recommend re-reading this entire post after reading the next one!)


First off these symbols are added on the upper right of the note. When writing it out. But when you write it in music it is on the left side. I will show examples later on.


The Sharp is a symbol that looks exactly like the hashtag/number sign: #

It raises the note by a half step. (Example #1)


The Flat is a symbol that looks exactly like a lower case b. It lowers the note by a half step. (Example #2)


The natural is a symbol that is kind of odd to explain. It is an angled square that has a line going up on the left side and a line that is going down on the right side. The natural just makes the note natural. So if you are coming from a sharp and want to play the letter note again. So going from Bb - B(natural). You need the symbol or if you write just a B with no natural it will be played as a Bb again because accidentals carry over until the measure ends or you add a natural. I will show examples of this as well. (Example #3)


Every note can have a sharp, flat, and natural. (Example #4)

Like so:


Now when you write an accidental in music it is on the left of the note. Like this: (Example #1)


Here are all the notes on a staff with sharps, flats, and naturals. I will use all quarter notes. (Example #2)



Now last but not least Enharmonics.


An enharmonic is a note that sounds exactly the same as another. But spelt differently.

An example would be C# and Db. They are the same pitch and are in the same location on instrument but are spelt differently.

There are technically an infinite amount of enharmonics. So I will list the most common ones here:

A# & Bb

B & Cb

B# & C

C# & Db

D# & Eb

E & Fb

E# & F

F# & Gb

G# & Ab

We will also be going over some of this in the next task as well so make sure you re-read this after reading the next task!

Task Discussion

  • Paul Fredericks   Jan. 5, 2013, 3:42 p.m.

    Here is a sound clip so you can hear what these notes sound like, in this order:


    A# & Bb

    B & Cb

    B# & C

    C# & Db

    D# & Eb

    E & Fb

    E# & F

    F# & Gb

    G# & Ab

  • Paul Fredericks   Dec. 7, 2012, 7:15 p.m.

    1.) There is technically an infinite amount because note range never ends. From the extremely low to the extremely high. It gets into very theoretical terms with more advanced theory. But a simple explanation is that there are double, triple, quadruple, pentuple, sextuple and so on amounts of sharps and flats. We have not yet discussed this but technically there can be a B - octuple flat: Like so: Bbbbbbbbb.


    2.) Yes there are 21 in our chromatic systems of standard notes. We keep it low in basic theory and don't want too many since so many are the same pitches/notes/tones.


    3.) You are wrong, there are 21 key signautres not 15. And if you want to be very technical there are also an infinite amount of key signatures.


    4.) Yes as I said there can be double or triple etc... sharps and flats


    Hope this helps!

  • ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 8:35 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Paul Fredericks   Dec. 7, 2012, 7:15 p.m.

    Thank you for the explination.  I had assumed that double sharps and double flats were only used for secondard dominance, which is only a temporary key center.  Interesting.

  • Paul Fredericks   Dec. 7, 2012, 8:39 p.m.
    In Reply To:   ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 8:35 p.m.

    Your welcome!

  • ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 1:35 p.m.

    Question -- why are there technically an infinite number of enharmonics?  It seems like a finite answer to me, unless you allow for an infinite number of enharmonic modifiers per note letter...

  • ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 1:33 p.m.

    A Puzzle -- How many key signatures exist?  You would think 21 -- 7 notes time the 3 accidential modifiers (natural, sharp, flat).  We haven't learned enough to solve this puzzle yet.

  • R   Dec. 7, 2012, 3:34 p.m.
    In Reply To:   ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 1:33 p.m.

    Technically, you're right. It could be 21. Seems that someone just chose to keep the number low and set the keys as we now use them. Interesting question.

  • ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 3:48 p.m.
    In Reply To:   R   Dec. 7, 2012, 3:34 p.m.

    Actually, there are 15 key signatures, but we haven't learned why yet.  I just wanted to throw in the puzzle.  Here is a hint -- in any key we have to use each of the 7 letters of the musical alphabet once and only once, and each letter can be natural or modifed by a single sharp or a single flat..

  • R   Dec. 7, 2012, 3:56 p.m.
    In Reply To:   ToddF   Dec. 7, 2012, 3:48 p.m.

    I'm confused with your math, but agree in principle that there is more than 1 way to define a key (Ab can also be G#). I'm even more fonfused about the concept of "infinite" number of keys. Do I remember correctly when I say that notes can be double sharp or flat?