Note: I’ve noticed that this article looks simply fine in many browsers, yet Internet traveler may have a tough time through the flat and sharp signs in the text.

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Not misfit notes…just misunderstood.

A small Background

To know why C♭ is together an weird note, you need to understand a little about music pitches, and also the best method to explain this is v a keyboard. On a piano keyboard, there space black keys and white keys. The white keys are usually totality steps apart, and also they acquire names favor A, B, C, D, and also so forth till you obtain to G. The black secrets exist at half steps between those white keys; notes like G♯ and also D♭ exist on the black keys.

Notice the an are between E & F and also B & C, however. There room no black keys in between these notes – definition they space already fifty percent steps apart. That means an F♭ is an E, and also an E♯ is one F. C♭ is B and also B♯ is C. (These are called enharmonic equivalents for those of girlfriend seeking to broaden your vocabulary. They create the same tone while written differently.) The inquiry remains, however, the if these are basically the exact same notes, why bother?

Learning to Spell

One explanation for the usage of enharmonic flats and also sharps boils under to order the chord to which the belongs. The an easy triadic chord because that A is order A-C-E. An A significant chord is order A-C♯-E, and you reduced the C♯ to C to do the chord A minor. If your chord is an A♭ major chord, then you would certainly lower everything by one half step and also spell it A♭-C-E♭. Lowering the 3rd to develop an A♭ young chord would necessitate the use of a C♭ if the triadic order is to remain intact. This likewise applies come the rare consumption of double-flats and double-sharps in particular keys.


In order: A major, A minor, A♭ major, A♭ minor.

If you were to instead of the C♭ through a B (its enharmonic equivalent), it would disrupt the triad spelling and also create a an extremely unusual-looking chord.


You could still ask, “What walk it issue so lengthy as both order sound the same?” Yes, they carry out sound the same. So do their and they’re, yet we wouldn’t support interchanging castle in writing since of their phonetic similarities. Correct spelling in music problem as much as it does in prose.

Where are You Going?

The other reason for utilizing these inexplicable notes is a bit much more subtle and also a little psychological. It has to do through voice leading — the way notes move from one key to another. In any type of given an essential signature, once you advanced a pitch by making use of an accidental, girlfriend are producing upward voice leading. That pitch should continue moving upward. The opposite is true if you reduced a pitch using an accidental.

I’m walking to remain in A♭ major for the next couple examples.


Pay attention to the note in the box. By adding a organic sign come the B top top the 2nd beat of measure up two, we produce an increase leading phrase. The next pitch, however, is lower, disrupting the circulation of the voice leading. It’s the musical equivalent of saying, “I to be going come a movie yesterday.” I to be going leader the reader to suppose a given time frame — later, tomorrow, following week etc. Words yesterday disrupts the expectation. Addressing a increased pitch downwards (or a lowered pitch upwards) create the same level of cognitive dissonance.

Instead, the passage should have been created this way:


Now, utilizing the C♭, the as whole chord will be order correctly as soon as put in context of the other parts, and the demonstrate sees exactly leading. The lower C naturally will draw the show in a diminish pattern. Likewise, the upward leading the E♯ and B♯ become very important in part minor scales and also a couple of modal scales.

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It might seem a tiny thing, but notes like C♭ and E♯ (as well as those double-flats and also double-sharps ns didn’t encompass in this post) serve a purpose in composing music correctly. Both in voice leading and in chord spelling, it might be important to usage a keep in mind whose enharmonic identical seems simpler at first blush. In spite of their auditory sameness through those equivalents, these misunderstood notes are necessary to composing with musical integrity.

featured picture from Haydn’s wire Quartet In E-flat significant Opus 33, No. 2 ‘ The joke ‘