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 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.
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).
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.
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.