Flats And Sharps: What Are They + How To Find Them

Flats And Sharps On The Piano

Flats and sharps can sometimes confuse new piano players. After learning that there are 6 letters in the musical alphabet, it can be a surprise that there are other ways to name the notes on the piano. I’m sharing what sharps and flats are in music, plus how to find them on the piano.

If you missed “The Theory Behind Creating Major and Minor Chords“, I would recommend reading that first. We talk about a very important concept that is covered in this article.


A Simple Mistake

As an online piano teacher, I get a great look at student faces during piano lessons. And when a note sounds off, there are a few reactions. Disbelief, confusion, frustration when they can’t find the right sound.

Yet, one of the most common causes of a note sounding ‘wrong’ (or downright horrible) is missing a sharp or flat in their music. When looking at a piano keyboard, a note that is sharp or flat is awfully close to one that isn’t. And, yet the sound can either be cringe-worthy or music to the ears (pun intended).


Quick Review

Understanding what up and down sound like is one thing. What these look like on the piano is something that often trips up new students.

Just remember:

  • Up = going right on the keyboard
  • Down = going left on the keyboard

In “The Theory Behind Creating Major and Minor Chords“, we looked at half and whole steps. We use half steps (or semitones) to find flats and sharps.

And with that review out of the way …


Flats on the Piano

Oftentimes imagery can make something complex much easier to understand or remember. Which is exactly why we are going to use this for finding flats and sharps!

Imagine a tire that is going flat right in front of your eyes. Why? We don’t know. But, as you watch this tire … which direction is it going?

Down!

Based on what we reviewed above, we know that this is left on the piano keyboard.

Try this out on a G on the piano. Go down one half step to the left. Notice this leads you to play a black key.

While this works for many of the white keys, there are two exceptions: C and F.

The overwhelming majority of new students will automatically assume they need to move to the next black key. But, this a whole step … not a half step. In both cases, you need to play a white key!

In other words, C flat is the same note as B. F flat is the same note as E.

Want to see this action? Watch the video below or click here.


Sharps on the Piano

Let’s use another piece of imagery to think about the other part of ‘flats and sharps’ … the sharps on the piano!

Imagine a pushpin has been placed on a chair. Which direction will you move if you sit on that pushpin?

Or for the parents out there, imagine you just stepped on a piece of Lego. (How do those end up everywhere!) Which direction is your foot moving?

Up!

Based on what we reviewed above, we know that this is right on the piano keyboard.

Let’s try this out on a C on the piano. Go up one half step to the right (opposite of a flat). Notice this leads you to play a black key.

And, just like with our flats we have two exceptions to a sharp being played on a black key: E and B.

While you might subconsciously want to jump up a whole step, resist the impulse!

E sharp and F are the same note. B sharp and C are the same note on the piano.

Want to see this action? Watch the video above or click here.


Flats And Sharps On The Piano

One of the best ways to practice new concepts in piano is to experiment on the piano. In the video I share an easy way to get used to moving in half steps on the piano. Once you are moving in half steps, you are automatically playing with flats and sharps! If someone were to write out what you play as sheet music, you would see plenty of flats and sharps on the page. But, you would know that they are a lot less intimidating after having played them plenty of times on the piano, right?

What visual will remind you where flats and sharps are on the piano?


If you like this approach to learning piano, click to set up an interview to join our online piano studio!

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