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Accidentals in Piano Playing

accidentalsAccording to musical theory, there are seven notes in music; A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. So if that is true, why are there so many keys on the piano? Why are there so may frets on the guitar? Why do we spend time learning different scale properties?

This is all due to something called an accidental. In this article, we will go over accidentals and double accidentals to give you a better idea of what your notes are all about.

An accidental can refer to one of two things; a sharp, or a flat. Sharps are a half step above a note, and flats are a half step below a note.

The reason for accidentals is that all of our movements in music consist of half steps. Whether you are moving an octave away or a major third away, all movements are done through half steps. All intervals consist of half steps.

When we use certain scales, such as the harmonic minor, we are required to move a note name up a half step. This is what gives the scale its particular feel. Take for instance the A minor scale. The A minor scale consists of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

In order to make the A minor scale the A harmonic minor scale, we would need to raise the seventh note name, or the leading tone up a half a step. This would transform our A minor scale of A, B, C, D, E, F, G to the harmonic minor of A, B, C, D, E, F, G#.

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double accidentalsThis is just one of many purposes of accidentals; to change scale properties. If we didn’t have accidentals, the only scale available to us would be the C Major scale and its modes. Chromatic scale would not exist.

Double accidentals are slightly different than normal accidentals. This is because double accidentals are used to mimic other notes. Take for instance a D double flat, or a Dbb. This note is equivalent to a C. The reason for using a double flat is so that we can use notes that don’t belong within the context of a scale or piece within that scale or piece.

A double flat or double sharp note is equivalent to a full step, yet is still counted as the note itself. This means that if we are playing within a triad or a seventh chord, we can technically still have the proper note while playing it as another note. It is almost the same principal as an enharmonic note, where the two notes sound the same but are played differently. A Dbb is a C, but is played as a D.

The best way to get a hang of sharps, flats, double sharps, and double flats is by studying the circle of fifths. This will allow you to understand the properties of each scale, which in turn will allow you to determine when using a double sharp or flat is necessary. It will also allow you to keep track of the sharps and flats within different keys.

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