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Understanding Musical Notes

When you hear musicians talking about the guitar (and other instruments) you may hear some terms that are unfamiliar. This article is a starting block to understanding music and specifically the guitar.

In music there are 12 notes. They are named using letters from the alphabet. You may have heard people talking about F#s (pronounced F sharp) or Bbs (B flat) and wondered what on earth they were going on about. Well it is reasonably simple and I am actually going to use the piano to show you what I mean because its visually easier to explain.



OK you see the piano. The black notes are the sharps and flats. The white notes start from A then to B then C the next white note is D then E then F then G. This is where it stops there is no such musical note as a H or a J or any other letters. The next note above the G is in fact an A one octave up. An octave means a note that is the same except higher up. The A note one octave up has the same qualities as the previously played A except it is higher. From here the whole pattern repeats itself.

So what about the Sharps and Flats? Well these are notes in between the others. You will notice that they are in a block of 2 then a block of 3. This is important to keep in your head.

Piano highlighting A

If we start off playing an A then the next note would be an A# then the next note will be a B the next note does not have a sharp or flat in between it so it goes to a C. Then comes a C# then a D then a D# then an E. Once again, because of the way the sharps are laid out E is another note that does not have a sharp. Then we have F then F# , G, G# and back to A.

So here are the 12 notes:

A – A# – B – C – C# – D – D# – E – F – F# – G – G#

So hopefully now you can understand how to count the notes on a piano. But what are flats?

Well fortunately this isn’t a lot more notes to have to learn. In fact, flats are the same as sharps – confused?

A sharp basically means the next note up, a flat means the next note down. It’s just a different way of looking at it. Check out this:

A – Bb – B – C – Db – D – Eb – E – F – Gb – G – Ab

So we still have the same notes but we choose whether we refer to them as a sharp or a flat. There are reasons for this which we will discuss at a later date.


One Response to “Understanding Musical Notes”

  1. Learn Guitar Says:

    Nice comparison to a piano- it can help a guitar player remember the steps between each note.

    Memorizing every note on the fretboard can be very valuable- I’d recommend everyone practice a few exercises each day to memorize them.

    It’s not fun, but down the road you’ll thank yourself :)

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