Music Theory

Understanding Accidentals in Music

By Jesse

Learn all about accidentals in music when you read this article now

Accidentals are incredibly important and appear frequently in music. As a student of the piano, have you ever wondered what an accidental is? Have you ever asked questions like: How many accidentals are there? What is the difference between the key signature and an accidental? What do I do with accidentals in music? This article is designed to help you answer those questions and can help you on your musical journey as you learn music or compose your own songs! Read on to learn more.

What are accidentals in music?

Accidentals are symbols like sharps and flats, which raise or lower a note a half step. For example, if you were to play a D on the piano, you would play the white key in the middle of a group of two black keys. To play a D#, you would raise that note one half step and play the black key directly to the right of the white key D. To play a Db, you would lower that note one half step and play the black key directly to the left of the white key D. Other accidentals in music, such as double sharps or double flats, raise or lower a note a whole step. 

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How many accidentals are there in music?

The three most common accidentals are sharps, flats, and naturals, but there are other accidentals too, such as double sharps and double flats! 

What are examples of accidentals in music?

What is a sharp in music?

A sharp raises the note that it precedes by a half step. As mentioned above, if you were to play a D on the piano, you would play the white key which is in the middle of a group of two black keys. To play a D#, you would raise that note one half step and play the black key directly to the right of the white key D. 

One important thing to note about sharps is that they don’t always have to be black keys! An example of this is E#. E# is another name for the white key F. Each piano key will have more than one name. The term for when one note has multiple names is enharmonics.

What is a double sharp in music?

A double sharp raises the note that it precedes by a whole step. For example, if you were to play a D on the piano, you would play a white key D. To play a D double sharp, you would raise that note one whole step and play the white key E to the right of the white key D.

What is a flat in music?

A flat lowers the note that it precedes by a half step. For example, if you were to play a D on the piano, you would play a white key D. To play a Db, you would lower that note one half step and play the black key directly to the left of the white key D. 

Just like with sharps, flats don’t always have to be black keys. An example of this is Cb. Cb is another name for the white key B! 

“What is a double flat in music”

A double flat lowers the note that it precedes by a whole step. For example, if you were to play a D on the piano, you would play a white key D. To play a D double flat, you would lower that note one whole step and play the white key C to the left of the white key D.

What does natural mean in music?

A natural cancels out a sharp or flat that may be indicated in the key signature or as a previous accidental. For example, if you previously had a D# within a measure, but then a D-natural appears within that measure, the sharp is canceled out and replaced with the natural note. 

An important tip to remember is that naturals are always white keys on the piano!

What are the rules when using accidentals in music?

When used, an accidental lasts until the end of a measure or until another accidental is used on the same space or line and cancels it out.

As mentioned above, another important rule to remember about accidentals is that sharps and flats don’t always have to be black keys, but naturals are always white keys!

What’s the difference between accidentals and key signatures?

Every song has a key signature at the beginning, whether it has no sharps or flats, such as C major or A minor, or has some (or a lot of) sharps and flats. Accidentals are different from key signatures, meaning that they are sharps, flats, or naturals that may appear within a piece of music, but don’t appear in the indicated key signature. A key signature establishes the scale that the piece of music identifies with the most, but an accidental sharp, flat, or natural may appear when a different scale or chord is used.

Now that you know more about accidentals in music and how they are used, you can begin to use and understand them as you learn music on the piano or compose!

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