Accidentals

Different kinds of accidentals

An accidental is a sign to raise or to lower the pitch of a music note.

Below are the most common accidentals:

Sharp

When added to a note, a sharp (♯) raises the note by a half step united states of america (semitone united kingdom).

Flat

When added to a note, a flat (♭) lowers the note by a half step.

Natural

When added to a note, a natural (♮) cancels the previous accidentals.

Double sharp

When added to a note, a double sharp raises the note by two half steps.

Double flat

When added to a note, a double flat lowers the note by two half steps.

Recapitulation:

sharp+ 1 half step
flat- 1 half step
naturalcancel
double sharp+ 2 half steps
double flat- 2 half steps

Accidentals on a piano keyboard

To visualize accidentals, here are accidentals on a piano keyboard:

Sharps on a piano keyboard:
Sharps on a piano keyboard

Flats on a piano keyboard:
Flats on a piano keyboard


With this piano keyboard you can notice that:

  • C♯ (C sharp) has the same key as D♭ (D flat)
  • D♯ (D sharp) has the same key as E♭ (E flat)
  • F♯ (F sharp) has the same key as G♭ (G flat)
  • G♯ (G sharp) has the same key as A♭ (A flat)
  • A♯ (A sharp) has the same key as B♭ (B flat)

As there is only 1 half step between E and F:

  • E♯ (E sharp) has the same key as F
  • F♭ (F flat) has the same key as E

As there is only 1 half step between B and C:

  • B♯ (B sharp) has the same key as C
  • C♭ (C flat) has the same key as B

And notice some examples with double sharps and double flats:

  • C♯♯ (C double sharp) has the same key as D
  • A♭♭ (A double flat) has the same key as G
  • E♯♯ (E double sharp) has the same key as F♯ (F sharp)) or G♭ (G flat)

Accidentals in music score

Accidentals are always written before the note

Accidentals are always written before the note, here is an example:

Accidentals are always written before the note

Accidentals only affect on the current measure (bar)

After an accidental has been written, every same note is also affected for all the current measure united states of america (united kingdom bar) in which they occur, unless explicitly changed by another accidental. The note on next measures (bars) will not be affected by the accidental from the previous measure.

Example #1:


Example #2:

Accidentals and ties

As ties connect notes, two notes tied have the same pitch, even crossing a bar line:


Courtesy accidentals

A courtesy accidental, also called a cautionary accidental or reminder accidental, are accidentals that are not necessary, but that are used to remind the musician of the correct pitch.

Example #1 of a courtesy accidental:


Example #2 of a courtesy accidental:


Accidentals affect key signature

Accidentals affect the key signature.

In this example (below), this key signature means that all E notes are E flat (E♭) and that all B notes are B flat (B♭). But the accidentals on measures (bars) affect the key signature:


Accidentals and octaves

With the key signature, all notified notes are affected, regardless of the octave:

key signature and octaves

With accidentals that are not in the key signature, only the notes on his position on the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom) is affected:

accidentals and octaves

Accidentals do not accumulate

Accidentals do not accumulate, example:

Accidentals do not accumulate

Here, the note is a C sharp (C♯) and it is not a C double sharp...

Accidentals order on the key signature

The accidentals on the key signature are always written in the order of flats and in the order of sharps:

Order of flats

The order of flats is: B♭ E♭ A♭ D♭ G♭ C♭ F♭

C flat major key signature in treble clef

Read more about order of flats.

The order of sharps

The order of sharps is: F♯ C♯ G♯ D♯ A♯ E♯ B♯

C sharp major key signature in treble clef

Read more about the order of sharps.

Accidentals in contemporary music

In contemporary music you can find this kind of key signature that don't respect the usual order of accidentals:

Accidentals in contemporary music

Obsolete accidentals

Some accidentals have become obsolete and are no longer used, but you may find them in old music scores:

  • The double natural (♮♮): cancels the effect of the double sharp or the double flat, nowadays a single natural is sufficient.
  • The natural & sharp (♮ ♯): cancel one sharp of previous double sharp, nowadays, a single sharp only is enough.
  • The natural & flat (♮ ♭): cancel one flat of previous double flat, nowadays a flat only is enough.

Example of a double accidental "natural & sharp" (measures 2 and 5) in Fugue n°18 BWV 863 in G sharp minor (book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier) by J.S. BACH:


Royalty-free sound sample recorded in 2015 by pianist Kimiko Ishizaka (Attribution 4.0 International license, source).

Accidentals in the chromatic scale

Traditionally we use the sharps in the ascending chromatic scale and the flats in the descending chromatic scale:

ascending chromatic scale


descending chromatic scale


Test your knowledge



What does the sharp (♯) do?

A sharp (♯) raises the note by a half step (semitone)

  • raises the note by a whole step
  • lowers the note by a whole step
  • raises the note by a half step
  • lowers the note by a half step
  • It's just to look pretty


What does the flat (♭) do?

A flat (♭) lowers the note by a half step (semitone)

  • raises the note by a whole step
  • lowers the note by a whole step
  • raises the note by a half step
  • lowers the note by a half step
  • It's just to look pretty


What does the natural sign (♮) do?

A natural sign (♮) cancels the previous accidentals

  • it cooks
  • it's useless
  • raises the note by a half step
  • lowers the note by a half step
  • cancels the previous accidentals


What does the double flat (♭♭) do?

A double flat (♭♭) lowers the note by a whole step (tone)

  • raises the note by a whole step
  • lowers the note by a whole step
  • raises the note by a half step
  • lowers the note by a half step
  • nothing


What does the double sharp (♯♯) do?

A double sharp (♯♯) raises the note by a whole step (tone)

  • raises the note by a whole step
  • lowers the note by a whole step
  • raises the note by a half step
  • lowers the note by a half step
  • nothing


What is the order of sharps (♯)?

The order of sharps is: F♯ C♯ G♯ D♯ A♯ E♯ B♯

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


What is the order of flats (♭)?

The order of flats is: B♭ E♭ A♭ D♭ G♭ C♭ F♭

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

Others articles from this category:

Sharp

Sharp

The sharp symbol in music theory: Learn all about this accidental that affect music notes whit great examples.

Flat

Flat

The flat symbol in music theory: Learn all about this accidental that affect music notes whit great examples.

Natural sign

Natural sign

The natural sign in music theory: Learn all about this accidental that affect music notes whit great examples.

Double sharp

Double sharp

The double sharp symbol in music theory: Learn all about this accidental that affect music notes whit great examples.

Double flat

Double flat

The double flat symbol in music theory: Learn all about this accidental that affect music notes whit great examples.

rder of flats

Order of flats

Learn the order of flats and find a trick to memorize the order of flats. With the order of flats you will be able to know all Altered notes and to find the key

Order of sharps

Order of sharps

Learn the order of sharps and find a trick to memorize the order of flats. With the order of sharps you will be able to know all Altered notes and to find the key.

Quarter tones

Quarter tones

Quarter tones: learn all about half flat, half sharp, three-quarter-tone flat and Sharp-and-a-half. Learn why to use quarter tone in music.


External links to learn more about :

1 - https://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory9.htm
2 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accidental_(music)
3 - https://musicterms.artopium.com/a/Accidentals.htm


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