Learning Music Theory Part 6 (Accidentals)

To learn about half step, whole step, sharp, flat, natural, and scale, it’s kind of easy for me to use piano’s keys to do so.  Perhaps, I’m not familiar with any other musical instrument, thus learning about the things that I just mentioned through piano is natural since I’m a bit more familiar with the piano than any other musical instrument.  Anyhow, if you like, read on to see what I’d learned about the half step, whole step, and so forth.

Looking at the piano, there are white keys and black keys.  The white keys are known as natural, and the black keys are the sharp or flat.  The black keys are somewhat confusing since each black key can be either sharp or flat, depending on how we want to describe it as an adjacent key of a white key either to the left or the right of the black key.  For an example, C natural which is the white key can be increased in pitch by a half step if #C is used, but bC can also be used to decrease the C natural’s pitch by a half step.  bC?  The symbol for flat is somewhat resembling to a small letter b, thus I’m using b as a flat symbol.  #?  The sharp symbol looks like a number sign.  I sneaked in the half step without explaining it, but it’s simply meaning that an adjacent key to any key is a half step movement.  This means a whole step is a key farther away from the adjacent key.  If you look at the piano layout, the bC (C flat) is not a black key but a white key, and this white key is a B natural.  In a sense, any key on the piano can be either flat or sharp, depending on the relativity of the adjacent key in term of how we want to describe a key movement.

In music, people use the term accidentals to describe the lowering and increasing of pitches, thus we have sharp, flat, and natural.  Furthermore, sometimes people think that sharp and flat are there to describe the black keys on the piano keyboard layout, but as I had mentioned earlier, a bC (C flat) is also a B natural.  Why do people think like this?  Although they are somewhat right in thinking black keys are representing the accidentals, but they are wrong in term of thinking that black keys are the only accidentals.  According to Wikipedia and I’m going to quote:

The twelve notes of the Western musical scale are laid out with the lowest note on the left;[1]  The longer keys (for the seven “natural” notes of the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B) jut forward.  Because these keys were traditionally covered in ivory they are often called the white notes or white keys.  The keys for the remaining five notes—which are not part of the C major scale—(i.e.,C♯/D♭, D♯/E♭, F♯/G♭, G♯/A♭, A♯/B♭) (see Sharp and Flat) are raised and shorter.  Because these keys receive less wear, they are often made of black colored wood and called the black notes or black keys.  The pattern repeats at the interval of an octave. (Source: link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_keyboard)

Since the black keys are not the member of the C major scale, historically, they were used less and thus received less wear and tear, and according to Wikipedia’s quote above these black keys were black accidentally since they were made by black colored wood.  Perhaps, this is why they are calling the sharps and flats as the accidentals, but I’m not sure.  Anyway, C major scale isn’t the only scale in town, and so it cannot rule out that a half step lower from C cannot be a bC (C flat).  Remember, bC is also a B.  They have a name for this bC (C flat), and they call it as C flat natural.  After all, the C flat natural is a B natural key.

I mentioned that C major scale isn’t the only scale in town, because there are many scales out there.  This is why we have to know the meaning of the scale!  Regardless, I’m still learning on the scale part, and so I’ll be back with another blog post on the meaning of a scale or scales.


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