An introduction to music theory
An introduction to music theory

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

An introduction to music theory

6.2 Accidentals in practice

Let’s look at some examples to see how accidentals work in practice. In Example 57 (a), the key signature is for C major (no sharps or flats), but we want to have E s. We therefore add a flat before the first E to lower it a semitone to E. Accidentals, unless cancelled, last throughout a bar, and so the second E will also be an E.

If we want to write an E rather than an E later during the bar as in Example 57 (b), we have to cancel the earlier flat by writing a natural before the second E.

Example 57

Download this audio clip.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Example 57 (c) will produce exactly the same melody as Example 57 (b), but uses the C minor key signature. The first E will be E because of the E in the key signature (and does not therefore need a flat), but the second E will need a natural to raise it a semitone from E to E.

Finally, in Example 57 (d), the first F needs a natural to cancel the effect of the F in the key signature, but the second F then needs a sharp to cancel the effect of the natural before the first F.

Three final points (which mostly reinforce what you’ve learned already):

Accidentals in practice: summary

  • Notice that we use ‘sharpen’ to mean ‘raise by a semitone’. So, we can say: ‘We need to sharpen A to become A’. But we can also say: ‘We need to sharpen A to become A’. (We saw this principle in operation in the previous activity, in the D minor answer for Group 1 Activity 1 in the previous review.) Conversely, we use ‘flatten’ to mean ‘lower by a semitone’.
  • When identifying notes without accidentals, it is tempting to say simply, ‘This is C’. However, always remember that this is a shorthand for saying, ‘This is C’.
  • Key signatures consist of groups of accidentals that are either sharps or flats. There is never a mixture.
A224_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus