#1
I've always found it puzzling that we call notes sharp or flat when they are infact the same note. i.e. A# is the same as Bb.

I've been vaguely aware that there is some reason for the difference in terminology but it's something that I just put to one side in my mind as I thought that as long as I know that A# is the same as Bb i will still play the right note not matter what the music says.

My curiosity was spakered when I told someone that my favourite key is G# Minor and played them a few of my songs but they said that what I was playing was in fact Ab Minor which sparked a 'debate' about whether they're the same thing or not.
(FYI the song i played has the chord shapes Em, C, D, G but with a capo on the 4th fret)

Can anyone explain what the difference is (baring in mind I'm thick! ) and why you would refer to something as a flat key instead of sharp key (or note)
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#2
For guitarists, the difference is fairly arbitrary. To my knowledge, G# minor is the most common term, music theory buffs will tell you why but it makes little difference guitarists.

If your talking purely about the notes themselves, A# and Bb are exactly the same.
Last edited by Serotonite at Aug 25, 2015,
#3
In notation, a note of the scale is key dependent so even though it is played in the same position it will be written as # or b based on the key signature. Choosing a key signature is probably arbitrary depending on the composer preference.
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#4
G# minor is a heckuva lot easier to write than Ab minor. 5 accidentals vs. 7.

Once you stick to a key, you're committing to all relevant accidentals. Notes and their naming are determined by intervallic relationships and not merely half-step, whole-step stuff.

Sharp or flat comes from the natural note names, i.e. A B C D E F G. From there, if you want to go up 1/2 step, you append a sharp. Otherwise, if you want to go down 1/2 step, you append a flat.

A# and Bb are not exactly the same - even outside of theory - particularly to those who play fretless instruments. A# is generally played sharper than its "enharmonic" flat counterpart. For the sake of sanity and intonation, however, most instruments with discrete keys ignore this distinction.
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you're acting like you have perfect pitch or something
#5
This whole enharmonic thing goes back to before equal temperament was used, back when G# and Ab were indeed different notes.
Last edited by GoldenGuitar at Aug 25, 2015,
#6
^Yep. +1 to Neo and GG.

Also, from a non-historical/acoustics perspective, A# and Bb SOUND the same, but do not behave the same.
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#7
what they're saying above.

however, in addition (and this might aid your understanding a little better since it's a lot more basic than what they're saying) by convention you only have the one letter name per scale.

So, if you already have a G in a scale, and the next note is either G# or Ab, you would call the next note Ab because (again, by convention) you don't have two "Gs" in the same scale.
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#8
Quote by NeoMvsEu
A# and Bb are not exactly the same - even outside of theory - particularly to those who play fretless instruments. A# is generally played sharper than its "enharmonic" flat counterpart. For the sake of sanity and intonation, however, most instruments with discrete keys ignore this distinction.


For the purpose of the OP's question, A# and Bb are effectively the same. I presume he is a guitarist so they literally the same sound. Minor differences are down to how individual musicians choose to play each note, there is no technical difference that the OP needs to acknowledge.
#9
No, there is.

If he called the note Bb in the key of Bb an A#, he would be dead wrong regardless of whether he plays guitar or a kazoo. Granted, the exist in the same physical location on the guitar, but that's no excuse to go around calling everything the wrong, inaccurate thing.

Also, to relate everything back to OP:

Ab minor has 7 flats.

G# minor 5 sharps.

One of those is much easier to think in, which is why we use G#m more often. You're more than likely right about that.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#10
Keys are usually referred to by the name that requires the fewest accidentals. e.g., to take an extreme example: compare thinking in Bb (two flats) vs A# (10 sharps, including some double sharps). Isn't it easier to think of Bb C D Eb F G A than A# B# C## D# E# F## G##?

As guitarists, when we use a capo, it's often easier to think in terms of sharps. e.g., most of the time we'd play in Ab by capo-ing up one and playing as if we were in G. That's an easier mental leap than shifting every note name down a half step in your head, because then the letter changes.

Diatonic scales generally have one of each letter in them. So, for example, you could list the notes in F major as F G A Bb C D E F rather than F G A A# C D E F. This has a variety of advantages when it comes to notation (separate lines on the staff) and communication (jamming in F, somebody might call out "switch to B" and they would usually mean Bb rather than B-natural).

But the thing to remember is that this is all about communication. If you're thinking about playing something in G# rather than Ab, it doesn't really matter so long as it's just you. And generally somebody is being pretty pedantic if you're showing them some chords casually and you say G# when you should say Ab for vice-versa.
#11
Quote by Jet Penguin
No, there is.

If he called the note Bb in the key of Bb an A#, he would be dead wrong regardless of whether he plays guitar or a kazoo. Granted, the exist in the same physical location on the guitar, but that's no excuse to go around calling everything the wrong, inaccurate thing.

Also, to relate everything back to OP:

Ab minor has 7 flats.

G# minor 5 sharps.

One of those is much easier to think in, which is why we use G#m more often. You're more than likely right about that.

Yes there is a difference if you are thinking relative to the key, but my reply was referencing the statement above that Bb and A# aren't the same note (some people play A# higher than a Bb on fretless instruments) but as far as the OP's question is concerned, the notes themselves are the same or can be treated as such. What you call them varies depending on the key you're playing in but it's still the same note.
#12
Quote by Serotonite
Yes there is a difference if you are thinking relative to the key, but my reply was referencing the statement above that Bb and A# aren't the same note (some people play A# higher than a Bb on fretless instruments) but as far as the OP's question is concerned, the notes themselves are the same or can be treated as such. What you call them varies depending on the key you're playing in but it's still the same note.

That's the thing, though. You can't just view it as a micro-instance. You have to look at the big picture. It makes no sense to call it A# in the key of Bb or to call it the key of Ab minor vs G# minor.

It makes it all meaningless if we go around thinking it doesn't matter because the enharmonic notes occupy the same space on the guitar.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Aug 25, 2015,
#13
Right. They are in fact the same pitch, but that's basically it.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#14
It comes down to the role of each scale degree within a given key. Altering natural pitches within a key can usually be theoretically justified, and it matters when you are notating a pitch either sharp or flat for it to make sense on paper.

Like if I were to say to you "come hear so you can here me better," you would understand what I was saying. However, if you were to read it on paper, it wouldn't make any sense. It's the same as if I notated a Ab where I should have written a G#, you wouldn't notice it if you were listening to a piece of music that I notated incorrectly. However, if you are reading a piece of music where an Ab is notated when it should have been a G#, it wouldn't make as much sense.

It really comes down to spelling your chords correctly
#15
In context it does matter. Out of context it doesn't. I would get confused if I saw an A# used in the key of F major. That note has a way different function than Bb. Bb is the fourth scale degree of F major, A# is the sharp third scale degree. I wouldn't expect to see an A# in an F major song. It could imply a modulation or something. But yeah, if I saw an A# in an F major song, I would expect something strange to happen, and I would definitely expect it to sound different than Bb.

It also has to do with chords. If you have a G minor chord, it doesn't have an A# in it. It has a Bb in it. That's because a minor chord has a root, third and fifth in it. A# would be an augmented second. Again, seeing A# used in G minor chord would just confuse people.

Also, using correct flats and sharps looks prettier when you notate it. It's easier to read.
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#16
Quote by Matriani
I've always found it puzzling that we call notes sharp or flat when they are infact the same note. i.e. A# is the same as Bb.

I've been vaguely aware that there is some reason for the difference in terminology but it's something that I just put to one side in my mind as I thought that as long as I know that A# is the same as Bb i will still play the right note not matter what the music says.

My curiosity was spakered when I told someone that my favourite key is G# Minor and played them a few of my songs but they said that what I was playing was in fact Ab Minor which sparked a 'debate' about whether they're the same thing or not.
(FYI the song i played has the chord shapes Em, C, D, G but with a capo on the 4th fret)

Can anyone explain what the difference is (baring in mind I'm thick! ) and why you would refer to something as a flat key instead of sharp key (or note)


Sharp means to raise a note one semitone.
Flat means to lower a note one semitone.

With that in mind:
Ab is an A that is lowered one semitone.
G# is a G that has been raised one semitone.

In regard to intervals this makes all the difference.

A major third above E for example is always going to be some kind of G. (Count the letters E=1 F=2 G=3) But a MAJOR third is always the same number of semitones (four semitones). So if we want a note that is four semitones above E then we need to raise that G to a G#.

On the other hand if we wanted a diminished fourth then this indicates a perfect fourth that has been lowered a semitone. A fourth above E is some kind of A (count the letters). The perfect fourth is five semitones and this makes a perfect fourth above E to be A. If we wanted a diminished fourth then we would need to lower the fourth one semitone so that A would become Ab.

Thus the difference between G# and Ab would be determined by whether the note has been raised a semitone from G or lowered a semitone to become A.

It is a matter of context.

In a scale/ key for example we want each letter to be used once. Thus in the key of E major we don't have E F# Ab A B C# D# E. This has no G and uses A twice. So we would call the Ab G# to get E F# G# A B C# D# E

In a scale /key we typically want to use as few sharps and flats as possible (and definitely want to avoid double sharps).
Thus if we look at G#minor and Ab minor:

G#minor is G# A# B C# D# E F# G# (five sharps)
Ab minor is Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab (seven flats)

5<7 - So typically we would refer to it as G#minor, but Ab minor is also valid.

For example if we had tuned our guitar down a half step and played something in what would be A minor in standard tuning then we would likely think of it as an A minor piece that has been lowered a semitone and call it Ab minor. -a perfectly valid call.

However, if someone else found it easier to call it G# minor then that is perfectly fine too.

Although there are times when the difference between calling a note Ab or G# is definitively right or wrong, in the context you gave the argument you had with your friend is essentially pointless. It is two names for what is effectively the same thing. It is very much like arguing over whether there are six eggs or half a dozen eggs.

(Just because I wanted to join the party and say what everyone else has already said )
Si
#17
Thanks for all the explanations guys. That makes far more sense than what I was able to find on google!
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#18
Between Abm and G#m, I'd choose Ab. With 7 flats guitarists can just read it as Am in transposition. Plus, the V would only have a G natural, instead of an F##.
Last edited by cdgraves at Aug 26, 2015,
#19
I said in my original post that the chords were Em, C, D, G but this is actually wrong! LOL

They are Em, C, G and D

However, I tried it with the G and D the other way round and it sounded pretty cool so I've essentially got a whole new song out of my mistake
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#20
Quote by Matriani
I said in my original post that the chords were Em, C, D, G but this is actually wrong! LOL

They are Em, C, G and D
That's a classic cliche rock cycle, although it would usually begin on the G. (G-D-Em-C, try it, you've heard it 100s of times....)
Quote by Matriani

However, I tried it with the G and D the other way round and it sounded pretty cool so I've essentially got a whole new song out of my mistake
Well, the sequence (Em-C-D-G) is not new:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO8kTRv4l3o
- but many songs share the same progressions, so nothing wrong with that. It just means you're in good company!

(Just remember you haven't actually got a "song" until you have something you can sing - i.e., a melody and hopefully some lyrics. A chord sequence is not (yet) a song.)
Now you just have to try not to start singing Heart of Gold when you play your chords...
Last edited by jongtr at Aug 27, 2015,
#21
Quote by jongtr
That's a classic cliche rock cycle, although it would usually begin on the G. (G-D-Em-C, try it, you've heard it 100s of times....)

I don't even know which one is more common. I could name dozens of songs that use the one that starts on minor chord. But yeah, both are very common.
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#22
Quote by MaggaraMarine
I could name dozens of songs that use the one that starts on minor chord.
Please do! I seem to have acquired a hole in my brain where they used to be...
#24
Still Loving You (Scorpions)
Self Esteem (The Offspring)
Holiday (Green Day)
21 Guns (Green Day)
The Passenger (Iggy Pop)
Bullet with Butterfly Wings (The Smashing Pumpkins)
Don't Forget Me (RHCP)
Otherside (RHCP)
Snow Hey Oh (RHCP)
The Evil That Men Do (Iron Maiden)
Different World (Iron Maiden)
Can I Play with Madness (Iron Maiden)
Alexander the Great (Iron Maiden)
Surfing with the Alien (Joe Satriani)
Africa (Toto)
It's My Life (Bon Jovi)
Drive By (Train)
One of Us (Joan Osborne)
If I Were a Boy (Beyonce)
U + Ur Hand (Pink)
Tacata (Tacabro)
Poker Face (Lady Gaga)

Well, that's more than 20, so I guess that counts as "dozens".

Some of these are completely based on that progression, others use it in a part of the song.

There are a lot of pop songs that use that progression. I feel like especially in today's pop the progression that starts with the minor chord is more common. Well, I can't name that many of those songs because I have already forgotten most of them. But I just hear the progression all the time when I open the radio.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#25
Thanks! I like that Iron Maiden used it 4 times, and RHCP 3. If it ain't broke....
#28
Take the chain of fifths:
C - G - D - A - E - B - F# - C# - G# - D# - A# - E# - B#(C) - G - D - A - E(Fb) - Cb - Gb - Db - Ab - Eb - Bb - F -C - G....etc

Then circle any five neighbouring notes. (if you rearrange these notes you will find you have the pentatonic scale )

Build a major chord off each of those notes.

It is pretty difficult to arrange any two three four or five of the resulting chords in an order that sounds like they don't go together. (at least if you playing rock or popular music)

Alternatively you can build minor chords off the last two notes in the group of five neighbouring notes without introducing any fragility to the mix.

Depending on how the chords are arranged and played any of the five chords could end up functioning as the tonic chord.

The chain of fifths is a powerful thing.
Si
#29
Note: "Kids" (at 4:20 in the video) is definitely NOT a I V vi IV, even though the melody does work. It's i VI III VII6, which is the generic progression that Magga made a list for above.
Last edited by cdgraves at Aug 27, 2015,
#30
Quote by cdgraves
Note: "Kids" (at 4:20 in the video) is definitely NOT a I V vi IV, even though the melody does work. It's i VI III VII6, which is the generic progression that Magga made a list for above.

Yeah, they change it at one point and play some of the songs I mentioned. Or I'm not sure about the live version, but at least that's what happens in the studio version.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#31
Quote by 20Tigers

The chain of fifths is a powerful thing.
Indeed. As you say, neighbouring chords on it sound good together.
You can also use a circle with the relative minor keys on the inside, to find the six main chords in any one major key, contained in a quarter sector block. I is centre outside, IV is anticlockwise, V is clockwise, and ii, vi and iii are inside those three.
Chords from either side of this block will be outside the key, but still have a reasonable affinity. The further away, the less connected - but their dramatic effect can still be useful.

Of course, this is not to deny that an understanding chord function will also help...
#32
Quote by cdgraves
Note: "Kids" (at 4:20 in the video) is definitely NOT a I V vi IV, even though the melody does work. It's i VI III VII6, which is the generic progression that Magga made a list for above.
Yes, they cheat.
Same as that guy who did a rap on how Pachelbel's Canon sequence (I-V-vi-iii) keeps irritatingly occurring in pop songs cheated by including some of these tunes.
#33
Matriani I have been trying to find a good explanation for this and the circle of 5th's. I've watched several videos about the topic and non of them made any sense to my thick noggin. After reading your question I had hoped to get a easy to understand explanation but every reply here is someone who has a good understanding of the topic explaining it in a way that only someone else with a vast knowledge of music would understand.
For instance WTF is an enharmonic or an accidental etc. Can anyone recommend a site where you can find a beginners explanation?
#34
Quote by dforce10
Matriani I have been trying to find a good explanation for this and the circle of 5th's. I've watched several videos about the topic and non of them made any sense to my thick noggin. After reading your question I had hoped to get a easy to understand explanation but every reply here is someone who has a good understanding of the topic explaining it in a way that only someone else with a vast knowledge of music would understand.
For instance WTF is an enharmonic or an accidental etc. Can anyone recommend a site where you can find a beginners explanation?


a two year old thread ..and you have not found out anything on basic music theory or diatonic harmony...put some juice in your research..you can find answers to your questions in less than a week if you really put some heat into it...
play well

wolf
#35
wolflen the thread might be 2 years old but I am only a beginner guitar player that found this thread 5 minutes before commenting so unless I have a time machine that I'm not aware of I fail to see the point of your comment
#36
It's simple if you start with the proper definitions. People casually speak and write as if note and pitch mean the same thing, but when considering music theory concepts you must stop and recall the definition of "note" and remind yourself that notes aren't pitches. If that blows your mind you're not alone.

"Note" means only one thing; the letter name that corresponds to the space or line on the staff. Period. Absolutely nothing else.
That means Bb and A# are not the same note, they are two different notes.

So, since Abb, Ab, A, A#, and A## all reside at the same place in the staff (in the G clef "treble clef" it is the second space from the bottom), all three are the same note - A.

Now, Bb and A# are the same pitch, and Abb, Ab, A, A#, and A## are different pitches.

That is OK, because notes are not pitches - they are letter names.

The note "A" can indicate multiple pitches depending on the application of key signature and accidentals.
Likewise, the note "A" may be a whole, half, quarter, eight, etc. note depending on the application of the figure that corresponds to duration.
The concept of the bare note A "off the staff" without a context of key signature, or accidentals, or duration is abstract, and without pitch.

A similar thing happens with the proper definition of intervals (distance between notes - the count of lines and spaces between them, inclusive, on the staff; not the distance between pitches), but let's save that for later.
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Last edited by PlusPaul at Aug 5, 2017,
#37
Quote by dforce10
Matriani I have been trying to find a good explanation for this and the circle of 5th's. I've watched several videos about the topic and non of them made any sense to my thick noggin. After reading your question I had hoped to get a easy to understand explanation but every reply here is someone who has a good understanding of the topic explaining it in a way that only someone else with a vast knowledge of music would understand.
For instance WTF is an enharmonic or an accidental etc. Can anyone recommend a site where you can find a beginners explanation?

Enharmonic = same pitch, different note name. For example G# and Ab.
Accidental = sharp (#) or flat (b). Also, a note that doesn't belong to the scale (for example if we are in the key of E major and you play a G, that's an accidental because it doesn't belong to the E major scale).

Why do we need sharps and flats? Well, first of all, all diatonic scales (for example major and minor scales) need all the seven different note names (A B C D E F G). If we decided to use sharps only, then F minor would be F G G# A# C C# D#. It makes a lot more sense if we use flats - F G Ab Bb C Db Eb. And if we decided to use flats only, then E major would be E Gb Ab A B Db Eb. Using sharps would make a lot more sense - E F# G# A B C# D#.

But sharps and flats matter even if we are talking about notes that don't belong to the scale (i.e. accidentals). For example if we are in the key of C major, both Ab and G# are common accidentals. They are the same pitch, but they function differently. Generally speaking, sharp accidentals want to resolve up, flat accidentals want to resolve down. So in the key of C major, G# would usually resolve up to A and Ab would usually resolve down to G. But this all makes a lot more sense when you learn about voice leading.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
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Hartke HyDrive 210c
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Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#38
Quote by dforce10
wolflen the thread might be 2 years old but I am only a beginner guitar player that found this thread 5 minutes before commenting so unless I have a time machine that I'm not aware of I fail to see the point of your comment


ahh..my comment was directed at matriani..not at you...sorry it was not clear...
play well

wolf