Music symbols that can sometimes cause confusion are natural signs. Should we rename these little guys as “confusion 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 first.
Here’s an example of how a natural sign can function: A note may have appeared in your music as an Ab. Only a few notes away, the “A” may now have a natural sign in front of it. What does this mean to do? Well, you would just play the note as “A”, like you would if there was never a flat or sharp around in the first place. The natural sign is cancelling the previously seen flat and letting the performer know exactly what note to play, “A”.
Think of it this way. A natural sign is telling the performer to play the note “in the natural”. Play it just like you normally would, erasing all thoughts of flats or sharps in your mind. In other words, natural notes are the notes of the musical alphabet: A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
Anything beyond that is a note altered by a sharp or flat. The natural sign cancels those alterations to move notes back to their original “natural” state as seen in the musical alphabet.
The flats or sharps a natural sign is cancelling can be found either in the key signature or written right into the music, regardless of what the key signature says.
On the keyboard, a note with a natural sign before it will always be a white key. You will never find them on the black keys. This is contrary to sharps and flats.
Natural signs always appear to the left of a note on the music staff. If the natural sign is attached to a line note, then the symbol will be centered on the same line. The same is true for space notes. A note appearing on a space will have a natural sign attached to it centered on the same space.
In spoken language, we always say the note first followed by the word “natural”. For example, “B natural” is how we talk about the note we see on the staff, even though the natural sign appears before the note in music.
At first, it may seem a little difficult trying to get use to reading natural signs. But, don’t fret too much. It doesn’t take very long to get used to reading these symbols. In fact, an easy way to handle these signs is to pretend there is no symbol at all and play the note like you normally would, in its “natural” state.