|Guitar Lessons - Understanding Sharps and Flats||| Print ||
As a beginning guitar student you have probably started to work on your major open chords, 7th chords and minor chords.
Then as you progress into scales, barre chords, inversions and various alternate chord positioning you start to notice notes and chords with symbols such as (#) or (b), indicating a sharp or flat.
So what the heck is a sharp or flat anyway?
The terms sharp and flat refer to a note or chord that is raised or lowered by an interval of a half step.
The relationship between musical notes is often discussed in terms of "intervals", and the distance of an interval is often referred to in terms of "whole steps" and "half steps".
On guitar, starting on any note on any string, if you go up or down 2 frets, that represents an interval of a whole step. Go up or down only 1 fret and that interval is a half step.
The terms sharp or flat refer to a half step interval either higher or lower than the original note. They are as follows:
- Sharp (#) = the interval is raised a half step (up 1 fret)
- Flat (b) = the interval is lowered a half step (down 1 fret)
For example, if you play a "G" note, then play the next higher note (up a half step or 1 fret), you are now playing a G# note.
Now here's the twist. Because that same note is also a half step (1 fret) "down" from an "A" note, you could also call that note an Ab (A flat).
Which one is correct? They both are. The note actually has two names and can be referred to as either one according to the key signature you are playing in.
At this stage it's only important to understand that the note in between G and A can be called either G# or Ab.
The same principle applies to chords.
For example, if you play a barre chord in the E shape at the 2nd fret you are playing an F# chord. This same chord could also be referred to as a Gb chord.
One important note. Sharps and flats can only occur between whole notes that are separated by an interval of a whole step.
There are two instances where whole notes are only separated by a half step interval, and that is between the notes E & F, and B & C.
A good way to visualize this is to look at a piano keyboard. On a piano, the black keys are the sharps or flats. Notice that the only notes not separated by a black key are E & F, and B & C.
In these cases, because there is nothing in between them, there is not the possibility of a sharp or flat. As a result, you will never find an E# or an Fb - or a B# or a Cb.
In the beginning, the concept of sharps and flats can be confusing to the new guitar player, but as you now can see, they are not too difficult to understand, and before long they will become second nature to you.
Keep on picking!
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Keith Dean is founder of http://www.AdultGuitarLessons.com and a 30 veteran of stage and studio. He toured extensively as a road musician throughout the US and Europe, was a former lead guitarist for Jason Aldean, and has shared stages with Little Big Town, Wild Rose, Winger, Confederate Railroad and more. He is a published songwriter, owned and operated a successful music store, and has instructed numerous students in guitar.
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