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# = flat/sharp?

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(@slodogg)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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title says it all. I saw a video where the guy said flats and sharps are the same thing, having the same sound. I noticed on the fretboard map that number looking symbol and was wondering if thats the flat/sharp sign?

SLODOGG62


   
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(@denny)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 452
 

#=sharp. b=flat


   
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(@elecktrablue)
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A # is a sharp.
A b is a flat.

To quote our very own David Hodge from the Absolute Beginner section, 'Your Very Own Rosetta Stone' article https://www.guitarnoise.com/lessons/how-to-read-musical-notation-part-1/

"The "#" means "sharp" or one half step above the note of the letter. C#, for example, is a half step above C. A "b" is a "flat" sign, meaning that we have moved a half step down from the note of the letter. Eb is a half step below E. And let's note here that this does indeed mean that some notes actually share the same name. "Ab" and "G#" are, for our purposes, the same note. Here's a handy chart:

A# - same note as - Bb
B - same note as - Cb
B# - same note as - C (natural)
C# - same note as - Db
D# - same note as - Eb
E - same note as - Fb
E# - same note as - F
F# - same note as - Gb
G# - same note as - Ab

In musical notation, the symbols for flats and sharps are called accidentals. There is also an accidental for "natural" meaning that the note should be the straight letter value, neither flat nor sharp. "

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(@dogbite)
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flats or sharps appear in modal scales. how they are used defines the scale.
when we think of a sharp as a half step above the root note it is not a far reach to understand
that two half steps makes an interval.
it gets interesting because we can shape the mood of what we play by messing around with
intervals and half steps.
Dorian
Lydian
Myxilodian
theres more.

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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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when we think of a sharp as a half step above the root note it is not a far reach to understand
that two half steps makes an interval.

No, any two notes always form an interval. If they are played together it's a harmonic interval, when played after each other it's a melodic interval. When both notes are the same it's called a unison. A semi-tone up is a minor 2nd, two semitones up is a major 2nd. So C-Db is a minor second interval.


   
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(@chris-c)
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Hi all,

This is something that I've been working on, with the idea that I can paste it into threads where beginners need some basic background info. What do you think?

So just what ARE Sharps and Flats?

One of the many things that confuses the hell out of newcomers to music is just what all this weird stuff about “sharps” and “flats” means. Nobody ever seems to give you any background on it before they launch into a bunch of technical gobbleydegook about how they're used. :shock:

So – if somebody would please give me a drum roll – I'll climb up onto the tightrope and attempt the amazingly difficult feat of getting across to enlightenment on the other side.

The short answer is all 12 'notes' or tones are equally good, but some ended up with weird names because of the way music developed over time. Over the years, they kept making improvements and additions to the range of sounds we use. But this happened gradually, so they kept squeezing them all into an old fashion system of naming and writing them down instead of coming up with a new one. Plus, the “squeezed version” works pretty well once you get used to it anyway.

Here's a longer version.

Back in time…

First, let's go back a few hundred years. There were various competing systems of tuning in fashion, and more than one way of ‘notating' or writing it out for others to play. Everybody didn't necessarily use the same number of sounds, or even use the same names to refer to the tones produced at the same frequencies.

But eventually, western music pretty much settled on what's called “Equal Temperament”. This refers to our current system of using 12 tones equally spaced apart. Some of us refer to these tones as ‘notes' - but ‘notes' can also mean something of a particular length, so let's stick with ‘tones' for now. These tones are equally spaced musically and also neatly spaced with regard to the mathematics of the wavelengths of the sounds.

Now these tones, which we know as A, A#, B, C, C#, D, etc are all equal. Equally spaced, equally strong, equally good. Sharps are not merely fillers, or weak and half-baked in any way. They aren't harsher or more 'pointy' in any way at all. :) They just missed out on the best names.

Huh? Then why not give them better names?

Why not indeed. Many people think we should have 12 separate note names and a different way of writing music. Other systems to write western music do exist (and other parts of the world also use musical systems that have either more or less than 12 tones). One good reason for not calling the ones we use A, B, C........ K, L, is that musicians would have to throw out millions of pages of traditionally written music and learn a whole new system. Some parts would then be easier but some would actually make life more difficult. It's also not that bad a system once you get the hang of it.


So what happened?

The reasons for adopting the current system are part historical, part practical and even part religious. (Back then the church was a major customer, and controller, not only of music but also many aspects of education such as reading and writing).

But the outcome of all the tinkering was that a system of names and writing that was originally intended for 7 now had to cope with 12.

Going from 7 tones to 12 gives a much wider range of musical possibilities, but it does pose some problems, mainly - 1) how to find new names without completely re-jigging the naming system, and 2) How to fit the newcomers into the existing "staff" that you write it all out on.

The way this was done was to call the ‘in between' tones – the ones that missed out on the “C Team” (the C Major scale that has all the best names) – either sharps or flats. This way they could ‘borrow' the space on the staff usually occupied by either the note above it or below it.

So the note above C for instance is called C# and can be written on the same line as a regular C. To let the player know what's going on, a # sign is printed, usually at the start of the staff, to show that the notes in that position are now all C sharps and not plain old C naturals. All fine and dandy, unless you want to have Cs and C# in the same piece, or you're writing out a key or scale and basically need to use one of each name in order to fit them all in. But in that case you can simply borrow the line above instead and call it a D Flat (Db). It refers to exactly the same place on the fretboard and it's exactly the same sound when you play it. It's just a practical matter.

So what are Keys and Scales?

Now, it's all well and good to have 12 tones to choose from, but the hunt is always on to find ways of picking smaller ‘teams' from the 12 that work well together to create the effect you want. Using all 12 together can get messy and discordant real quick. The goal is to find groups that act together in ‘harmony'.

This is the underlying idea of playing in a KEY and using a SCALE to build chords or play a solo – simply to use a small team that works well together. There are simple formulae that help you pick 'teams' that are known to work together, and a little of the theory of how this works is always handy to have. But these are really more "Tools" than "Rules" as they can be cheerfully bent and broken. They're just a very useful starting point.

I hope some of that that made sense. :wink:

Grateful thanks to Fretsource and NoteBoat for pointing out some of the more ourageous historical distortions in the original text, and adding useful and interesting extra info. 8)

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@slodogg)
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Topic starter  

Thats great info, thanks for that Chris !!

SLODOGG62


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2171
 

flats or sharps appear in modal scales.

They appear in all scales, not just modal scales.
ACCIDENTALS appear in modal scales -- that is, sharps and flats in addition to those in the key signature. But accidentals can appear for reasons other than the use of a modal scale as well.
how they are used defines the scale.

No. The intervalic pattern defines the scale.
when we think of a sharp as a half step above the root note

I don't understand your use of the term "root" here.

The sharp sign indicates that you raise the pitch one half-step. Thus an A becomes an A#.
it is not a far reach to understand that two half steps makes an interval.

As was already noted, any two notes make an interval. Two half steps make a whole step. But that has nothing to do with sharps and flats, per se.

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(@fretsource)
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Hi Chris - That's very useful and helpful info for beginners - and clearly presented in your usual engaging style.
As you asked for our opinion on its suitability for explaining to beginners, I'd say that, apart from the historical distortion (which might be deliberate simplification on your part), overall, it's very informative and easily followed.


   
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(@chris-c)
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Hi Chris - That's very useful and helpful info for beginners - and clearly presented in your usual engaging style.
As you asked for our opinion on its suitability for explaining to beginners, I'd say that, apart from the historical distortion (which might be deliberate simplification on your part), overall, it's very informative and easily followed.

Thanks mate, I very much appreciate your taking the time to plough through it. :)

As for the historical distortion, I'd have to agree. But I find that a combination of ignorance and over-simplification often works for me. :D

I actually don't know all the details of the history anyway to be honest. But if I did then I know that I'd tend to lengthen the explanation to such a degree that it would probably fail in its aim - something simple enough to serve the purpose.

I'm quite fascinated by the business of trying to explain things. You're always faced with the dilemma that short simple explanations are always frustratingly incomplete, or even to some extent wrong, but that fully detailed explanations are often impossible for newcomers to understand.

So I try to go for a sort of 'boiled down' version that contains the essence even if it plays a little fast and loose with all the facts. :wink:

I think that there's enough truth in there to get the point across. But I'm a sucker for leaning more accurate history if anybody can point me in the direction of some fuller historical details.

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@dogbite)
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when we think of a sharp as a half step above the root note it is not a far reach to understand
that two half steps makes an interval.

No, any two notes always form an interval. If they are played together it's a harmonic interval, when played after each other it's a melodic interval. When both notes are the same it's called a unison. A semi-tone up is a minor 2nd, two semitones up is a major 2nd. So C-Db is a minor second interval.

I erred. I meant steps, not half steps.

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(@fretsource)
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[ But I'm a sucker for leaning more accurate history if anybody can point me in the direction of some fuller historical details.

In that case, I'll fill in a few facts which may be interesting, if not useful.

The major scale didn't come about as a popular subset of the 12 notes that we now have. It happened the other way. There were only seven notes that, reasonably enough, were named A - G.
The C major scale and its cousins already existed built out of those seven notes - But composers gradually found that seven notes weren't enough for their needs. For example, they wanted a note that was lower than B, but not as low as A - so B flat was born - Others followed - A note higher than F but lower than G was required, so F sharp was born. And so it continued.
Many instrument designs had to be changed to accommodate this growing army of new notes, i.e., the sharps and flats. The most obvious reminder of that is in keyboards, the way the black notes that represent sharps and flats are squeezed in between two natural white notes - like an afterthought (which is exactly what they are).

As for the major scale having been considered Godly or divine in some circles, I've never heard of that. But I have heard of it being considered ungodly. In its earlier incarnation as the Ionian mode, it met with disapproval from church authorities, and so is not one of the original church modes. It was used in secular music though, which proves the saying that "The Devil has all the best tunes." :lol:

As music evolved away from the controlling influence of the church, and as harmony was being developed, the major scale soon proved its worth as being eminently suited to the new composition practices that were being developed. So it gradually ascended in importance and eventually became the standard western scale to which everything else relates.


   
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(@noteboat)
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Just to fill in another detail, the first accidental that was added was Bb, as Fretsource mentioned.

The note was originally written as a box-headed note when it was 'hard B' (b natural, called B duram), and a rouned head note when it was 'soft B' (b molle, now Bb). With the addition of a downward stroke, hard B evolved into our natural sign, and soft B into our flat sign.

The Germans expanded the musical alphabet to include 'H'. They used H to describe the 'hard B' sound... so their musical alphabet became A-B-H-C-D-E-F-G.

That order is a bit confusing, so everyone else took a different route. When the second accidental was added (F#), the Germans realized expanding the alphabet further would make it rather silly with the letters out of sequence... but still use their 'H' today as B natural!

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(@chris-c)
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In that case, I'll fill in a few facts which may be interesting, if not useful.

Brilliant! Much appreciated. I'll try and rework what I wrote to be more historically accurate.

I don't know where I read the tale about C major being thought of as more "divine", but that was actually something I had read rather than invented for the purpose, so maybe I'll remove that too! :) That's the trouble with being 60 - I've read so many millions of words over the years I can't remember the sources any more.... :(

I did know that I'd fudged the bit about all the various temperaments, modes , tunings, (or whatever they were more accurately called at the time) and just how it ended up with what we use today. But clearly the 'fudge ' could have been a lot better done. I'll try for an improved recipe. :)

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@fretsource)
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Grateful thanks to Fretsource and NoteBoat for pointing out some of the more ourageous historical distortions in the original text, and adding useful and interesting extra info. 8)

Cheers Chris - glad to help improve an already useful and very informative article. :D

NoteBoat - Please confirm if you can. Just as the flat sign came from the letter "b". The sharp sign (#) came from the letter F, didn't it? Somehow the origin of the flat sign is much stronger in my memory than the sharp.


   
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