Sharps and Flats

We just learned that the musical alphabet consists of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G. It is also important to know that there are 'sharps and flats' (also called accidentals) between most of these letters. We use the hash mark (#) to indicate a sharp and the letter ‘b’ to indicate a flat.

This mnemonic can help with sharps and flats: notes made slightly higher are sharp, and notes made slightly weaker or lowered are flat. For example, the note G can become G sharp or G#. Gb then stands for the opposite: G flat.

How exactly do we raise and lower notes?

By going up a semitone (or half step) for a sharp and down a semitone for a flat. We will look at (semi) tones (or steps) in more detail in the coming part about intervals.

How many sharps and flats are there?

Theoretically, any letter in our musical alphabet can be made sharp or flat. While this is possible, with the letters E and B this is not practical. When we place these letters a semitone higher or make them sharp, we end up with the letters F and C. We’ll explore further later on.

Try to understand this by looking at the picture below. Did you notice that after E and B (Mi and Si), there are no black keys?


Sharps and flats can be applied in two ways. When we want to make note, for example a C, sharp, we end up with C#. On a piano keyboard, this is exactly the same key as 'D flat' or Db. Likewise, D# is the same key as Eb and so on. Practice this using the picture above; try to name each black key. You will find the correct results below.

Did you succeed? Feel free to repeat the exercise a few times until you have fully mastered the principle. We will come back to this later in this chapter. First, we will go deeper into musical intervals and discover how to start building notes within a certain key. Once we've reached that point, you can create different musical families and we're off!