# Flat or sharp

### chrispike306

Full Access

Joined: 07/23/17

Posts: 27

Really random one from my brain.

Doing minor scales using the pattern in "Lets streamline the major scales"

I thought to myself "This is a good time to do fretboard note stuff too."

I started naming them to myself, G, A AsharpC D Dsharp F G

I then looked at wikipedia to check I had remembered correctly, but instead of Asharp, it was Bflat.

Any particular reason for that?

#1

Really random one from my brain.

Doing minor scales using the pattern in "Lets streamline the major scales"

I thought to myself "This is a good time to do fretboard note stuff too."

I started naming them to myself, G, A AsharpC D Dsharp F G

I then looked at wikipedia to check I had remembered correctly, but instead of Asharp, it was Bflat.

Any particular reason for that?

### jarkko.eklund

Full Access

Joined: 09/25/13

Posts: 162

Those flat/sharp notes between a whole step are enharmonic notes. A name of a note comes from a key signature, if it has sharps or flats.

Example:

E major (or C# minor) has four sharps in it (F#, C#, G#, D#), thus the scale is

E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E

Ab major (or F minor) has four flats in it (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db), the scale is

Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab

In these two scales we have three pairs of notes, which are the same pitches, but the context is different: G#/Ab, C#/Db, D#/Eb

#2

Those flat/sharp notes between a whole step are enharmonic notes. A name of a note comes from a key signature, if it has sharps or flats.

Example:

E major (or C# minor) has four sharps in it (F#, C#, G#, D#), thus the scale is

E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E

Ab major (or F minor) has four flats in it (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db), the scale is

Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab

In these two scales we have three pairs of notes, which are the same pitches, but the context is different: G#/Ab, C#/Db, D#/Eb

### derek.hanley

Registered User

Joined: 11/12/14

Posts: 1

Yep, should just point out that it is equally valid to use both enharmonic equivalents (ie A# or Bb) when there is no scale context to define the note names. So if you’re just naming the notes on the fretboard, you can use either name. The scale context is a convention in music which says that you can’t use the two of the same note names when spelling out a scale.

For example, the G major scale has one sharp – F#, and the enharmonic equivalent is Gb. If we were to use Gb when defining the scale, we would get:

G A B C D E Gb

This definition includes the G note twice, and so is technically incorrect when spelling the scale. The correct spelling is:

G A B C D E F#

So it is really just a naming convention which prevents any confusion when spelling out scales and which allows us to define the key of the piece (as defined by the number of sharps and flats in the scale) when writing notation.

If you’re more interested in this side of music theory, look for a circle of fifths or chord wheel, which maps out the notes in a scale and their enharmonic equivalents.

##### Guitar Tutor at Guitar Lessons Glasgow

#3

Yep, should just point out that it is equally valid to use both enharmonic equivalents (ie A# or Bb) when there is no scale context to define the note names. So if you’re just naming the notes on the fretboard, you can use either name. The scale context is a convention in music which says that you can’t use the two of the same note names when spelling out a scale.

For example, the G major scale has one sharp – F#, and the enharmonic equivalent is Gb. If we were to use Gb when defining the scale, we would get:

G A B C D E Gb

This definition includes the G note twice, and so is technically incorrect when spelling the scale. The correct spelling is:

G A B C D E F#

So it is really just a naming convention which prevents any confusion when spelling out scales and which allows us to define the key of the piece (as defined by the number of sharps and flats in the scale) when writing notation.

If you’re more interested in this side of music theory, look for a circle of fifths or chord wheel, which maps out the notes in a scale and their enharmonic equivalents.

### ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 5294

##### Originally Posted by: zmirlinazim

Can someone explain why we have two notations for semitones when you could do the same with just one? For example, if D sharp and E flat are the same note, why not just use one notation?

This tutorial covers natural & accidental notes & how the musical alphabet is organized on the guitar fretboard.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=1136

The musical term for 2 notes with 2 different spellings is enharmonic.

The reason for 2 different possibles names for accidentals (sharps & flats) is to create perceptual convenience & conceptual clarity. Whether we call a note sharp or flat depends on the musical context of the song being played.

The default setting of naming a scale or key signature is to only use each letter once if possible. So, the key of E major has 4 sharps.

E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

Rather than:

E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - Eb

This skips the note D, uses E twice. That makes for potential confusion in written form, in music notation & when communicating.

Also rather than:

E - Gb - Ab - A - B - Db - Eb

This is all flats, skips a lot of letters, uses E twice & again makes for a lot of potential confusion.

Let's try using th E-flat! The first key that contains an E-flat is B-flat major.

Bb - C - D - Eb - F - G - A

As opposed to:

Bb - C - D - D# - F - G - A

2 D's in a row! No use of E! Potential confusion!

By using all the letters in order & a consistent system of accidentals we get perceptual convenience & conceptual clarity. So, when possible, we make all of the accidentals either sharp or flat.

Hope that helps!

#4

##### Originally Posted by: zmirlinazim

Can someone explain why we have two notations for semitones when you could do the same with just one? For example, if D sharp and E flat are the same note, why not just use one notation?

This tutorial covers natural & accidental notes & how the musical alphabet is organized on the guitar fretboard.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=1136

The musical term for 2 notes with 2 different spellings is enharmonic.

The reason for 2 different possibles names for accidentals (sharps & flats) is to create perceptual convenience & conceptual clarity. Whether we call a note sharp or flat depends on the musical context of the song being played.

The default setting of naming a scale or key signature is to only use each letter once if possible. So, the key of E major has 4 sharps.

E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#

Rather than:

E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - Eb

This skips the note D, uses E twice. That makes for potential confusion in written form, in music notation & when communicating.

Also rather than:

E - Gb - Ab - A - B - Db - Eb

This is all flats, skips a lot of letters, uses E twice & again makes for a lot of potential confusion.

Let's try using th E-flat! The first key that contains an E-flat is B-flat major.

Bb - C - D - Eb - F - G - A

As opposed to:

Bb - C - D - D# - F - G - A

2 D's in a row! No use of E! Potential confusion!

By using all the letters in order & a consistent system of accidentals we get perceptual convenience & conceptual clarity. So, when possible, we make all of the accidentals either sharp or flat.

Hope that helps!

### mantismundi

Registered User

Joined: 09/16/18

Posts: 1

I've been thinking about a simpler way to explain it. It also explains why you can have double flats and double sharps (leading to 35 possible note names for 12 different pitches). Here goes...

the vast majority of western music involves 12 notes in an octave
the vast majority of western music is based around a scale consisting of 7 of those notes specific to the choice of key (the notes are called the diatonic notes for that key)
a particular note in a piece is functioning either as a diatonic note or as a note a semitone higher or lower than a diatonic note
when expressing a note that is functioning as a raised or lowered note, you use the same letter name as the diatonic note you are raising or lowering. e.g. a raised G is G♯ and a lowered G is G♭.
if the diatonic note is already written with a sharp, the raised note has a double sharp and the lowered note has a natural symbol
if the diatonic note is already written with a flat, the raised note has a natural and the lowered note has a double flat
but in all cases, the letter part of the note name stays the same
So, imagine you're in the key of Gm. The diatonic notes are: G A B♭ C D E♭ F. What does A♯ mean? It means you've taken the second note of the scale and raised it. What does B♭ mean? It means the third note of the scale.

In 12-tone equal temperament, they may sound the same;you may play them the same on the piano or the guitar. But if the function of the note at a particular point in the piece is as the third note in the Gm scale, you can only write it B♭ and not A♯. A♯ means something completely different.

It's the musical equivalent of "hear" versus "here". Just because they are homophonic doesn't mean they are the same word. Similarly, in western tonal music B♭ doesn't mean the same as A♯.

#5

I've been thinking about a simpler way to explain it. It also explains why you can have double flats and double sharps (leading to 35 possible note names for 12 different pitches). Here goes...

the vast majority of western music involves 12 notes in an octave
the vast majority of western music is based around a scale consisting of 7 of those notes specific to the choice of key (the notes are called the diatonic notes for that key)
a particular note in a piece is functioning either as a diatonic note or as a note a semitone higher or lower than a diatonic note
when expressing a note that is functioning as a raised or lowered note, you use the same letter name as the diatonic note you are raising or lowering. e.g. a raised G is G♯ and a lowered G is G♭.
if the diatonic note is already written with a sharp, the raised note has a double sharp and the lowered note has a natural symbol
if the diatonic note is already written with a flat, the raised note has a natural and the lowered note has a double flat
but in all cases, the letter part of the note name stays the same
So, imagine you're in the key of Gm. The diatonic notes are: G A B♭ C D E♭ F. What does A♯ mean? It means you've taken the second note of the scale and raised it. What does B♭ mean? It means the third note of the scale.

In 12-tone equal temperament, they may sound the same;you may play them the same on the piano or the guitar. But if the function of the note at a particular point in the piece is as the third note in the Gm scale, you can only write it B♭ and not A♯. A♯ means something completely different.

It's the musical equivalent of "hear" versus "here". Just because they are homophonic doesn't mean they are the same word. Similarly, in western tonal music B♭ doesn't mean the same as A♯.