Monday, 28 February 2011

Difference between Sharps & Flats

Some people may be confused when it comes to sharps and flats and what the difference is between them because you could refer to certain notes in either way although with a different root note.This will be a long lesson but let's first understand what those words mean...

SHARP is when the note is raised a semitone or half-step (One fret on a guitar, or the key directly to the right on the piano which are the black keys).

FLAT is when the note is lowered a semitone or half-step. So it's the same as the sharp except in the opposite direction.

If we take the note C and Sharp it, we get C# (C Sharp). This note is the same pitch (so it sounds the same) as the note Db (D Flat). On the guitar fretboard, this is the 4th fret on the A string (between the notes C which is 3rd fret and D which would be the 5th fret). On the piano this would be the black key in between C and D.

"REMEMBER: B and E do not have Sharps, if you sharp B, you just get C. If you sharp E, you just get F. And vice versa with the flats. C does not have an effective flat, neither does F!"

Practically they are the same thing, the main difference comes when it comes to key signatures and something called the cycle or circle of fifths which I will detail in a later blog. In traditional music sheets, they have their lines and each line represents certain notes all the time. So in order to get those sharps and flats, the composer would indicate on the lines to say "This note is not actually C, its C Sharp!". Key Signatures are also defined by how many sharps or flats they have.  F is defined by 1 flat, G is defined by 1 sharp and you know which note because they are in a certain order but those are details for another lesson!

Another difference is when you are trying to keep scales diatonic and clean. It is "proper" to never repeat a letter when writing out your scale so take the C Major Scale. It is C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Notice that NO LETTERS REPEAT, THEY ARE ALL UNIQUE. Now write out the E Major Scale (If you use only Flats for those middle notes) it is:

E, Gb, Ab, A, B, Db, Eb.    ---- UH OH!!! PROBLEM!. A and E are repeating! The proper way (which again is layed out in the circle of fifths) is to actually use 4 Sharps.

E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D# ---YAY! See, Nice and Clean.

This is kinda nit picky stuff and could be seen as music "grammar". Like when you correct someone for using "me" instead of "I". Nevertheless, its good to learn the proper way.

An odd trend to notice is that certain notes tend to be viewed in certain ways. C# is commonly called C Sharp instead of D flat although both are valid. Counter to that, almost all people seem to always refer to D# as E flat, such as guitarists who tune their guitars half-step down to "E Flat", See how we came full circle there lol. In any case, learn the notes and keep on rockin guys. That's all for today! Huge lesson!


  1. This reminds me, I need to get my guitar out of storage. Long time no play. Thanks for the nostalgia Project Viper.

  2. Very useful blog! I have my guitar almost forgotten too. I'll try to study a little bit of theory

  3. I remember this from school. My teachers name was Mr E Sharp haha

  4. Now this is the kind of stuff I wish I was taught in my younger schooling days. :(

  5. I've always wondered about flats/sharps. Recently I played "Almost Easy" by Avenged Sevenfold on guitar, which is Drop D half step down. The different tunings I found all had different sharps and flats, which left me really confused. This cleared it up a lot, thanks!

  6. @Jonny Me too, had to learn all this by heart

  7. Very cool that you add pictures :)
    I following :)

  8. Great post, I really gotta learn to play

  9. i never wanted to see this again.

  10. Oh well, finally someone who clarifies stuff. But be warned that every answer brings more questions. I.e. I don't know why major sounds are connected with minors 3 flats away...

  11. We need a name that's witty at first, but seems less funny each time you hear it.

    How about The Be Sharps?