The letters A through G are used indicate pitches. These pitches can be altered with symbols called accidentals.
To understand what accidentals do, it is important to know the definition of an interval: the distance between two pitches. The section on melody will go into much more detail about intervals, but for now it is helpful to understand that the interval of a half step is the distance from one pitch to the next possible pitch.
Here are the three most common accidentals:
The flat sign lowers a pitch by a half step.
The sharp sign raises a pitch by a half step.
The natural sign cancels out other accidentals that may have occurred earlier in a piece of written music. Therefore, saying that a pitch is “D natural” is the same as just calling it “D.”
In written music, the accidental always occurs on the left-hand side of the notehead that it effects.
However, when we refer by name to notes with accidentals, we always say the name of the pitch first, followed by the accidental. For example, the notes above are called “B flat” and “C sharp.”
There are two more accidentals which are rare, but do occur in written music: The double flat and the double sharp. The double flat looks like two flat signs next to each other, and it indicates that the written pitch is lowered by two half steps.
The double sharp looks similar to an “x,” and it indicates that the written pitch is raised by two half steps.
Go to the next section with an interactive keyboard and an explanation of enharmonic equivalents.