How To Read Sharps, Flats and Naturals in Sheet Music

Flats, sharps, and naturals are accidentals applied to any particular note that fall within a measure on the music sheet. You may also find them located at the beginning area of a staff or a line in music. The differences between this three can easily be deciphered. When a sharp is present, a note moves half a step higher. A flat sign signifies that it must go lower a half note as well. The natural sign means that the note goes back to its original state, minus a flat or a sharp. These accidentals last for as long as the particular measure from which they are in. once the measure is done, a note will automatically return to its original state. Music sheets that do not show any of these accidentals will always be much easier to read. Complications appear the moment any of them are present, especially for the beginner who may have the tendency to get confused by the markings on their sheets. This means that they may have difficulty figuring whether a particular note should be played higher or lower, or left just as it is. Mastering this skill takes some patience and a lot of practice, and with persistence, you can actually be a sight reader, ready to read and play upon first view. Here are some tips to help you.

  • Study the shapes of each symbol. It would be impossible to read and play the correct notes with their respective symbols if you do not know how each of them looks like. Study and memorize them so they are easily recognizable to you at a glance. The sharp looks exactly like a number or pound sign (#). The flat on the other hand looks like the small letter B (b). The natural sign is similar to a box or square shape with the point at its top left corner and the one on it lower right corner jutting out from the line. By remembering their shapes and associating these shapes with items you frequently encounter, you will easily be able to tell one from another.
  • Remember what they are used for. Another thing you need to memorize is the direction you are going when encountering these symbols on your sheet. A natural note does not contain a sharp or a flat symbol. The sharp symbol tells you to play your note a half-step higher and the bass, a half-note lower.
  • Understand key signatures. Key signatures play an important role in a music sheet and they do have these symbols on them as well. You can easily tell what the key signature is by the sharp and flat symbols gathered together on the left-hand side of the lines on the staff in your music sheet. Each line should have a key signature for you to know which key you are using to play the music. If you observe the accidentals on your key signature, take note that these particular notes will remain this way unless a natural sign is placed in. If the symbol is not present on the key signature, you will only play a flat or a sharp note if its symbol appears in front of a note within the piece.

These are the basics of learning how to read music. Once they are studied carefully and kept in mind, playing them correctly will soon follow. They key element is constant practice and no piece of music, no matter how complex looking, will be too difficult to read.


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