What Are Accidentals, Natural Notes, And Enharmonics

Lesson 5: Accidentals. natural Music Notes & Enharmonics

Ever wondered what does the black and white keys on the piano keyboard mean? In this lesson, we will learn about different accidentals used in music.

What are accidental?

In music theory, an accidental is a symbol that can raise or lower the pitch of any musical note.

Accidentals can convert the pitch of the musical note into a sharp, flat or natural tone.

The commonly used accidentals are the sharp (♯), the flat (♭), and the natural (♮). These accidentals alter the pitch of the note by a half step.

Apart from these common accidentals, we can also use other double-accidentals called double-sharp and double flat.

The following illustration shows the symbols used for these accidentals.

Accidental Symbols - Sharp, Flat & Natural
Accidental Symbols – Sharp, Flat & Natural

What is a natural music note?

The musical tones denoted using the English alphabets A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are called the natural notes.

All the white keys on the piano keyboard are natural notes. That means, these notes are unaltered and purely based on the universal musical formula.

All the black keys on the piano keyboard are the enharmonic equivalent notes or simply the sharp or the flat keys.

So, if we have to name all the notes on a standard 88-key piano, the musical notes shall keep repeating itself after octaves – as shown in the illustration.

However, the pitch of all the notes is different.

What is enharmonic equivalent?

An enharmonic equivalent is a note that has the same pitch but named or spelled in different ways.

Enharmonic Equivalents
Enharmonic Equivalents

For example, the note C♯ is enharmonic equivalent of D♭. That means both represent the same key on the keyboard, but the names are different.

It’s just like having a nickname or an alias for a musical note.

How do the accidentals work?

Accidentals are always placed BEFORE the notehead of the musical note.

The effect of the Accidentals lasts till the vertical bar line.

Within a measure, we can always nullify the effect of the sharp or flat Accidental using the natural (♮) sign.

Example:

How Accidental Works?
How Accidental Works?

What is the sharp accidental?

The sharp accidental (♯) raises a pitch of the musical note by a half-step.
The sound of the raised pitch is called a semitone – since the pitch of the sound is increased by a half step.

For example, when you see a sharp (♯) accidental sign before the musical note C, you would play the note C♯ until you encounter a natural sign (♮) or a bar line.

What is the flat accidental?

The flat accidental (♭) lowers a pitch of the musical note by a half-step. The sound of the lowered pitch is called a semitone since the pitch of the sound is decreased by a half step.

For example, when you see a flat (♭) accidental sign before the musical note B, you would play the note B♭ until you encounter a natural sign (♮) or a bar line.

Now the question is:
How do musicians know how long one has to play the note displayed on the sheet music?

Thanks for reading my 75th article in the series 100-day music blogging challenge. Stay tuned for more such informative articles.

100 Days Music Blogging Challenge Music Theory Lessons

Author: Bharat

Hi, I'm Bharat. An artist, blogger, musician and digital marketing professional dedicated to sharing musing and stories about music, art and mindful resonance! Follow me @bharatpc

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