Don’t Be Intimidated By Flats And Sharps

At some point, you may have scanned through a piece of music and ran across a few symbols that look foreign to you.  These symbols may have included flats and sharps.  So, what do these symbols look like and what do they mean?  Let’s go find out.

flats and sharps


Flats lower the pitch of a note down a half step.  Anytime you see the little flat symbol (b) written before a note on the staff, you play the next possible note lower.  On a keyboard, this means playing the very next key to the left.  The result is the pitch sounding lower.

flats and sharps

When we write flat signs on the music staff, the belly of the little “b” symbol is centered on a line or space, depending on the note it is attached to.  The flat symbol is always placed to the left of the note on the staff.

This is different from speaking or writing about flats.  We say “A flat” when we talk about it and write it that way too.  In writing outside of the music staff, the letter name is written first, followed by the flat symbol (Ab).

flats and sharps


The same holds true for sharp signs (#) with the exception of it functioning in the opposite direction.   A sharp raises the pitch of a note a half step.  At the piano, you would play the very next key possible to the right.  The pitch should sound higher.

On the music staff, the center of the little tic-tac-toe-looking sharp sign is placed on a line or space to the left of the note it is next to.  Again, this depends on whether the note is placed on a line or space.

When we talk about sharps we say “G sharp”.  In writing about sharps outside of the music staff, we write the letter name first followed by the sharp symbol (G#).


There is one myth about flats and sharps when it comes to the keyboard.  Many people believe these are only found on the black keys of the piano.  This is not true.  Whenever you see two adjacent white keys without a black key in the center, these can be considered flats and sharps too.

flats and sharpsFor example, E# is the same as F while Fb is the same as E.  B# is the same as C and Cb is the same as B.

When you see something like E# written in your music, you really do know what note this is.  Just look at the piano for help and go up a half step.  Seeing that E# is just F will take the mystery out of that note.

Now, when you see flats and sharps written next to the notes in music, you know exactly what to do.  Just think of either lowering (for flats) or raising (for sharps) the pitch by playing down or up to the very next key or note possible.  Don’t let these two simple symbols intimidate you.  They are pretty simple to learn and will become very easy to read and play with enough practice.

About Teresa

Teresa is a private music teacher & coach passionate about helping others achieve success in music. Sign up for updates through email and stay informed about the latest blog posts, products, and special announcements.


  1. [...] The flats and sharps along with natural signs you find in a piece of music and not in the key signature are called accidentals.  They are notes that are altered by using either a flat, sharp or natural in the music itself. [...]

  2. [...] may have learned that flats and sharps appear in the key signature at the beginning of a piece of music.  But, did you know that they [...]

  3. [...] only key signature we will not talk about is the Key of C.  It is the easiest key of all with no flats or sharps in the key signature.  Let’s talk about the rest of the key signatures in treble [...]

  4. [...] key signature is the area between the clef sign and the time signature.  Flats or sharps can be listed in this space.  By placing all of the sharps or flats used in a scale or piece of [...]

  5. [...] word that means two names for one pitch.  While learning about whole steps and half steps, and flats and sharps, you may have noticed that there are two names for the black keys on the piano and some of the [...]

  6. Who Said Sharps And Flats Are Easy To Learn? | Concerning Music says:

    [...] those little symbols aren’t too foreign after all. Sharps and flats are pretty easy to learn and understand. If you have a piano handy to see it on the keyboard, this [...]

  7. [...] what those little “b” symbols and tic-tac-toe signs mean in your music? They are called sharps and flats. The job of those guys is to alter the pitch of the note higher or lower, depending on the [...]

  8. [...] flat signs next to each other in your music?  What in the world does that mean?  Well, those two flats written next to each other are called double flats.  Their job is to lower the pitch of the note [...]

  9. Tips On Reading Sharps And Flats | Fad Source says:

    [...] tic-tac-toe signs and “b” symbols mean in your music.  They are nothing more than sharps and flats.  Those symbols mean to raise the sound of a note higher or lower, depending on which symbol [...]

  10. The Musical Alphabet - It's As Easy As Seven Letters | Learn Music says:

    [...] of the notes may sound higher or lower than others.  They also may be altered by a sharp or flat, giving it another very unique sound.  Nonetheless, music is a simple language to learn because it [...]

  11. [...] signs”?  No, we don’t need to go that far.  These little signs do nothing more than cancel a sharp or flat.  It’s pretty simple to understand, but many people find it a little tricky to get use to at [...]

  12. [...] sharps are used as a way of altering notes on the staff just like a sharp.  The only difference is that a double sharp raises the pitch of a note two half steps instead of [...]

  13. [...] 1.  When the scale goes up, it is called ascending.  An ascending chromatic scale uses sharp signs. [...]

  14. [...] top of the clock is C Major at zero o’clock.  It is “0″ because there are no flats or sharps in this [...]

Speak Your Mind



Copyright Music Reading Savant 2012-2014 All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy