In music theory, sharp is a musical sign from the family of symbols called accidentals.

Here's what a sharp looks like:


What does a sharp do?

The sharp in front of a music note, raises the sound of the note by a half step united states of america (semitone united kingdom).

What does a sharp do?

Little reminder of the half step and whole step concept:

The white keys on the piano keyboard correspond to the notes of the C Major scale, that are: C D E F G A B. The smallest distance between two notes is a half step, and in the C major scale, there is one whole step between two consecutive notes except between E and F and between B and C where there is only one half step. And off course, one whole step equals two half steps.

notes names on a piano keyboard
Tones and semitones in the C Major scale

You will notice that there are black keys between the keys C and D, D and E, F and G, G and A, A and B. We will be able to play these black keys with accidentals and in particular with sharpened notes (notes raised by one half step).

Here are all sharpened notes with a half step (this is the ascending chromatic scale):

Sharps on a piano keyboard
ascending chromatic scale

You will also notice that there are no black keys between the E and F notes and between the B and C notes, because as you just understood there is only one half step between E and F and between B and C. This does not mean that it is impossible to play an E sharp or an B sharp, but we will see it later.

Using sharps

The position of the sharp: The sharp can be placed in front of a note (it is an accidental) or next to the clef in the key signature.

With letters, we write "C sharp" or "C♯" for short. But on a staff united states of america (stave united kingdom), the sharp, like all the other accidentals, is written before the note, and here is a C sharp:

C sharp

And here are sharps in the key signature of E major scale:

Key signature with four sharps

This key signature with four sharps tells you that F, C, G, and D are raised by one half step:

E major scale

E sharp? B sharp?

We have learn that there is only one half step between E and F, and that sharp raise the sound by a half step, so a E sharp is played with the F key on a piano keyboard. and of course it is the same for B sharp which is played with the C key of the piano.

E sharp and B sharp on a piano keyboard

Double sharp

Don't worry, the double sharp concept is very simple, here's a double sharp and it can be written in two different ways:

Double sharp

the double sharp raises the sound of the note in front of which it is writen by two half steps (semitones), that is to say, it raises the sound by one whole step (tone).

The double sharp can be found in some scales, such as in the D sharp harmonic minor scale.

D sharp harmonic minor scale

Don't worry, triple sharps do not exist, but half sharps do exist! Quarter tone accidentals are not frequently used and are used in contemporary music or to transcribe the melodies of Western music.

Half sharps raises a note by a quarter tone and can be written in different ways:


Sharp-and-a-half (or three-quarter-tone sharp) raises a note by three quarter tones and can be written in different ways:


Major scales with sharps

Here are all major scales with sharps:

1♯: G major scale
G major scale
G A B C D E F♯ G

2♯: D major scale
D major scale
D E F♯ G A B C♯ D

3♯: A major scale
A major scale
A B C♯ D E F♯ G♯ A

4♯: E major scale
E major scale
E F♯ G♯ A B C♯ D♯ E

5♯: B major scale
B major scale
B C♯ D♯ E F♯ G♯ A♯ B

6♯: F sharp major scale
F sharp major scale
F♯ G♯ A♯ B C♯ D♯ E♯ F♯

7♯: C sharp major scale
C sharp major scale
C♯ D♯ E♯ F♯ G♯ A♯ B♯ C♯

A sharp major scale
A sharp major scale

E sharp major scale
E sharp major scale

D sharp major scale
D sharp major scale

B sharp major scale
B sharp major scale

G sharp major scale
G sharp major scale

Examples of sharps in famous works

Prelude and Fugue No.3 in C sharp major by J.S. BACH

The Prelude and Fugue No.3 in C sharp major by J.S. BACH is composed in C sharp major, and although this fugue is a masterpiece of classical music, it is also a very difficult exercise for pianists because this key is very difficult to play. Here is an excerpt from the fugue:

Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp major, BWV 848 J.S. BACH

Hashtag vs sharp

No longer confuse the hashtag with a sharp, they are two different symbols:

This is a sharp: ♯
This is a hashtag: #

The sharp (♯) is used for music, and the hashtag (#) which is used on social networks.

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