Accidentals in Music

Accidentals in Music

Grade 1

So far we have looked at seven notes, A through to G. However, there are five other notes which are needed before we have covered the entire musical alphabet.
These nother notes come inbetween the first seven notes through the use of accidentals.

For grade 1 there are three accidentals that need to be known:

Sharp Symbol
The Sharp
Flat Symbol
The Flat
Natural Symbol
The Natural

Effects of Accidentals

All three symbols have different effects. Here is a brief summary of the effects of each of the symbols. Don’t worry if you don’t understand them, it will become clear by the end of the lesson.

The Sharp
The sharp (♯) raises the pitch of any note by one.
Therefore when a note is too sharp, or is sharpened, it is higher than it is normally.

The Flat
The flat (♭) does the opposite of a sharp, and lowers the a note by one.
Like the sharp, when a note is flat or flattened, it means it is lower than it is normally.

The Natural
The natural (♮) cancels out any sharp or flat that has previously been applied.

The other five notes

The effects of accidentals can be quite easily demonstrated on a keyboard:

Annotated Piano

The white keys are notes we have already looked at in previous lessons. However, the black keys are notes are the ones which we have not yet looked at. The black notes are only possible when the white notes are sharpened or flattened.
Therefore, the first note on the keyboard is a C. If we sharpen it to a C♯ you notice it goes to the next note up, which in this case in the black note.
Likewise, if we take another note, such as a B and flatten it to B♭ it goes to the next note down, once again a black note.

The Natural

Whenever an accidental is used in music, the accidental applies throughout the entire bar to that note. It does not need to be repeated.

Therefore, in the image below both the first and second bar are identical. The last note of the image is still B♭ as the accidental applies to it from earlier in the bar.
The accidental only applies to the note in each individual bar, however, so if a piece is to have constant B♭s throughout it will have to have a ♭ symbol next to the first B♭ of each bar.

This brings us onto the natural symbol – ♮. The natural symbol is used to cancel out any other accidental.
Therefore, in the image below the first note is a B♭, and the second is a B♮ (a normal B on the white note of a keyboard).

Additionally, although when you apply an accidental to a note it only applies for that one bar, if one bar has B♭s in it, and the second has B♮s in it, you’ll often see a natural sign in the second bar (as in the image below). This isn’t completely necessary, but it is good practice and is frequently done in most editions of must to make it easier for the performer to read.

Accidentals across bars


Enharmonics aren’t needed until grade four, so you can skip this bit if you wish, however it can be useful to cover enharmonics briefly now.

If you look at the keyboard again you will notice that the black notes all have two different labels. The first black note is labelled as both ♯ and D♭. Both of these are correct, the note simply has two different names. If the intention is to increase the pitch of C, a C♯ will be used, if the intention is to lower the pitch a ♭ will be used.
When two notes make the same sound, they are enharmonics. Therefore C♯ and D♭ are enharmonics.

Annotated Piano

Accidentals in Music

The following is a quick piece which uses all of the notes on a keyboard, thus being a great example of accidentals in music.
Although it is not necessary to understand a piece as complex as this, it is an excellent example of a piece with constant accidentals.
While not neccessary, if you like you can look at the music and see how each note is only sharpened or flattened once per bar, even if it is occuring again.

Rimsky-Korsakov - Flight of the Bumblebee