Enharmonics is nothing more than a fancy 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 white keys too. This is important to remember if you want to be able to play anything you encounter successfully.
Write this down and keep this list handy. There are nine pitches in music that can have two different names. They are:
1. C# is the same as Db
2. D# is the same as Eb
3. F# is the same Gb
4. G# is the same as Ab
5. A# is the same as Bb
6. B# is the same as C
7. Fb is the same as E
8. E# is the same as F
9. Cb is the same as B
We call this enharmonics and the notes are called enharmonic notes. Why not just give each note one name using only sharps, flats or naturals? Well, you usually find music written using either flats, sharps or naturals throughout. Depending on what key the music is written in, is usually how the notes will appear.
If you are reading a piece of music with mostly sharps, most likely you will see a C# written instead of a Db. When reading music written using mostly flats, you will probably read a Db instead of a C#. In music without any sharps or flats, you probably will see a B instead of Cb.
It is possible to see both a C# and a Db written in the same piece of music. The reasons for this can get complicated and it’s not really important right now. Just know that you can read both flat notes and sharp notes in the same song. They may even represent the same pitch!
If you have trouble remembering what a Gb is, memorize it’s equivalent sharp, F#, and you will have no problem. In fact, memorizing all nine of the enharmonics is an excellent idea. This will keep you from being stumped every time you see a note you “think” you don’t know.
I once had a student come in and tell me they didn’t practice their music all week because they didn’t know how to play a D#. Of course, they forgot the lesson on enharmonics when they went home and decided to remain defeated all week.
Don’t let this happen to you. If anything, keep a list of the nine enharmonics on your music stand or next to your piano. Anytime you encounter a note you don’t know, look at this list to see what the equivalent sharp, flat or natural is. Now you have a way of being able to play all of your notes all of the time. Doesn’t it feel pretty good to take charge of your own learning? Keep it up and you will be able to play anything you want!