Sharps and Flats – Steps and Accidentals
Steps and Accidentals
A half step is the distance between two adjacent keys on a piano keyboard. In music theory, the distance between two notes is called an interval.
The half step is the smallest musical interval in music. (A half step is called a semitone in British English.)
A whole step is the distance equal to two half steps. (A whole step is called a whole tone in British English.)
Accidentals are signs used to raise or lower notes by half steps.
Sharps and Flats
A Sharp is an accidental that raises a note by a half step.
A Flat is an accidental that lowers a note by a half step.
Double Sharps and Double Flats
To raise a note by a half step means moving to the right to the next adjacent key on the piano keyboard. To lower a note by a half step means moving to the left to the next adjacent key.
For example, a half step higher than C on a piano keyboard is the black key immediately to the right of C. The note name is C sharp (C♯).
C sharp (C♯) is half step above C. On the staff, the Sharp ♯ symbol is placed to the left of the C note to raise the C note by a half step, making it a C sharp (C♯).
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Since, the same pitch on the piano keyboard can have more than one musical note names, the same black key that represent C sharp can also be called D flat (D♭). A half step below D is D flat, which is the black key immediately to the left of D. D flat share the same black key as C sharp.
These two notes are called the enharmonic equivalent or enharmonic notes. The enharmonic notes are notes that share the same pitch and sound exactly the same when played on a piano, but have two different musical note names.
Natural notes, sharps and flats on a piano keyboard:
The Natural Sign
The natural symbol ♮ is an accidental which cancels out any previous accidentals. The natural symbol is placed to the left of the note and applies only to the note for the rest of the measure.
For example, the key signature of G major scale has one F sharp. The key signature indicates that all F notes are sharp. If a natural symbol is placed before a specific F note, that F note is to be played as the natural F for the rest of the measure. After the measure ends, all F notes are to be played as F sharp again.
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