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How do I know when to call a note flat or sharp???

This is Mike's "knowledge chest". This is were he stashes lessons that are in the works, conversation from other forums related to theory, as well as details about many area's of theory and guitar.

How do I know when to call a note flat or sharp???

Postby mikedodge » Tue Mar 18, 2008 3:26 pm

You want to freshen up on your Intervals. Once you know the Interval sequence of any scale you can find it anywhere...and it works for Major AND Minor Keys...

W=Whole-step=2 frets
H=Half step=1fret

W W H W W W H = Major scale
W H W W H W W = Minor scale (Natural Minor scale)

You get get a crash course on it at my lesson site: http://lessons.mikedodge.com, you'll see the link for the Interval Series.


There's a simple way to know the note names and how the sharps and flats are laid out. It's simple but let me see if I can explain it simply ;)

First realize that you will only have one note name in each scale, IOW...you won't find a Bb and a B in a Key/scale. It would either be A# and B, or Bb and Cb.

You WILL NEED to know those Intervals and the Cycle of Notes from my lesson info.


always start by writing down the notes, starting from your root, IN ORDER through the first octave. Say we want to learn the notes of the A Major scale. First write the Cycle of Notes starting on A trough the first octave...


Now use the WWHWWWH Interval formula..

A is A,
a whole step from A is B...so B is B,
a whole step from B is...C#
a half step from C# is D
a whole step from D is E
a whole step from E is F#
a whole step from F# is G#
a half step from G# is A

So, you have A B C# D E F# G# A

So by starting with the note names/cycle written out, you just add the sharps (of flats if needed) and you end up with one of every note and the correct enharmonic name for it...so you don't mix sharps and flats, and you don't double the letters.

Look at F Major...

1. F G A B C D E F cycle using each note in one octave
2. WWHWWWH Interval formula

F is F
a whole step from F is G
a whole step from G is A
a half step from A is Bb
a whole step from Bb is C
a whole step from C is D
a whole step from D is E
a half step from E is F

You would use Bb not A#. Because you DON'T want A AND A# in your scale.

So write the notes out, let them determine the closest note name, then fill in the sharps and flats as you go through the cycle of notes.

This will also keep you in line with your Key Signatures stated in the Cycles of Fifths.
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