How to Write Music

This is our old "How to Write Music" course. It has been replaced by our new Pop Music Theory course.

9. Pitch Names - Sharps & Flats


Lesson 9: Pitch Names - Sharps & Flats

You learned the letter-named pitches in Lesson 8: Pitch Names - Letters; this lesson shows you the other pitches in between some of the letters.

Here is an octave of pitches again, this time all the pitches in an octave, using "?" marks for the new in-between pitches:

Sound requires Google Chrome (see Enabling Sound).
... A ? B C ? D ? E F ? G ? A ...

Now do the following with the row above:
  1. Click just the letters, left to right (going up), then right to left (back down), just like you did in Lesson 8: Pitch Names - Letters. Skip over the ? notes.
  2. Now click all the notes in order, left to right, including the ? notes, to hear what the missing notes sound like.

So what are the extra pitches called? To answer this, you need two new musical terms: sharp and flat.

  • Sharp means "the next pitch higher". The symbol for "sharp" is . So, the pitch between A and B is called "A sharp" (written A♯), because it's "higher than A".
  • Flat means "the next pitch lower". The symbol for "flat" is . So, the pitch between A and B is called "B flat" (written B♭), because it's "lower than B".

So which is it, A♯ or B♭? That's right, there are two different names for the pitch between A and B: A♯ ("A sharp") and B♭ ("B flat"). In fact, each of the following pairs of names are just two different names for the same pitch:

  • A♯ and B♭
  • C♯ and D♭
  • D♯ and E♭
  • F♯ and G♭
  • G♯ and A♭

What about B-C and E-F? What's between them? Nothing! There's an extra pitch (sharp/flat) between A-B, C-D, D-E, F-G, and G-A, but no extra pitch between B-C or E-F. This is important and you'll need to remember it.

Now that we have sharps and flats, we can show an octave of pitches again, but now we can give names to all of them:

Once again, click the notes above, in order, to hear what they sound like.

Next, we'll learn a better way to visualize the sharps and flats, in Lesson 10: Pitch Names on the Keyboard.

by Conrad Albrecht 2015. Questions, comments, ideas? Tell me on Facebook!

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