Until now we have avoided sharps and flats, but unfortunately they cannot be avoided for long. The first place you are likely to encounter them is in your scales as you move on from C Major as well as in your chords.
Sharps and flats are noted in two distinct ways on a piece of music and will determine how that note is to be played throughout the piece. The first is in the key signature.
The indication of a sharp or a flat in the key signature (to the left of the time signature) indicates that the note on which the symbol rests should always be played in half a step higher or lower than it would otherwise be played.
This particular example indicates the piece is to be played in the key of D minor. So, the indication of a flat on ‘B’ means that each time a B note is to be played it should be played half a note lower, that is instead of playing B, the black note between the A and the B notes should be played.
The other way you may find a sharp or a flat in a piece of music is next to the note itself. In this instance it indicates that during the piece of music you should play all G notes normally, however at this point you should play the G a half step higher.
You should also play any other G that occurs within the same bar as this G as a sharp, even though it does not have the symbol next to it. The only time this should not occur is when the next occurrence of the same note within the same bar has a natural sign next to it.
Hitting the note a half step higher than the one indicated on the sheet of music is to play that note’s sharp. So for G sharp, the note to be played is the black key between the G and the A.
Hitting the note a half step lower than the one indicated on the sheet of music is to play that note’s flat. So for B flat, the note to be played is the black key between the A and the B.
A note can have a sharp and a flat, for example D can be played a half step higher, D sharp or a half step lower, D flat. Other notes such as C can only be played as a sharp as there is no note a half step lower.
Black keys are sharps or flats so all the white keys are normal. These are called ‘natural’ keys. All notes depicted on music are considered to be natural unless a symbol is present to state otherwise. The exception to this rule is where a note within a bar has a sharp or flat symbol in front of it and the next use of that note has a natural symbol next to it, or where the key signature indicates that there is a sharp or flat, in this case D minor, which means ‘B’ notes should be played a half step lower, with the exception of the B in the music below with the natural symbol next to it.