Understanding Music Notes

Impress your mates with enharmonic equivalents!

At this point, we’re going to start learning just a tiny bit of music theory. A little theory goes a long way, and you’ll find your playing improves a lot with a little understanding of what you’re actually doing. It’s not too hard to grasp the basic principles, and you’ll use the information we cover in this lesson forever!

Here's a link to my Practical Music Theory Course, the early grades are free too! Worth a look ;)

The Note Circle

Introducing the “Note Circle,” a circle that shows all 12 notes that we use in western music. As you can see, you’ve got your basic A-G notes, but in between those, you’ve got some sharps and flats.

Each step around the “clock face” of the Note Circle is called a semitone. Two steps around are called a tone. In the US, they tend to call semitones “half steps” and tones “whole steps,” but to me, this is a bit more confusing and clunky.

On your guitar, each fret represents one semitone.

To The Keys…

If you’re familiar with a piano keyboard, you know there are white keys and black keys. The white keys are the A-G notes, or the natural notes. The black keys are the sharps and flats, or the notes that come between the natural notes.

You’ll notice that there aren’t any black keys between B and C, nor between E and F. These natural notes are only one semitone apart, while the rest are a tone apart.

Sharps, Flats, and Enharmonic Equivalents

A sharp (#) raises the pitch of a note by one semitone, or one fret on your guitar. An easy way to remember this is if you sat on something sharp, you would jump up!

A flat (b) lowers the pitch of a note by one semitone, or one fret on your guitar. To remember this, if your tyre is flat, it goes down.

If you take a look at the Note Circle, you’ll see that each sharp can also be written as a flat. For example, an A# is the same as a Bb. This means that A# and Bb are enharmonic equivalents. The reason behind why the same note has two different names is more complex than we’re going to get into in this lesson, but for now, you just need to understand that they are the same note.

Memorize This!

Make an effort to commit all of this to memory. As you continue playing, this will come very easily to you as it really does make up the fundamentals of music theory, but at this point, spend some time studying and memorizing the Note Circle. Quiz yourself by picking two notes and trying to determine how many semitones are between them. If you have to peek at the Note Circle to do this at first, that’s totally fine! It’ll sink into your head before you know it.

Fun For Germans (And Some Other Europeans)

For some reason I still don’t understand, German people call the note B as H, and if I remember correctly, they also call the Bb as B. This throws up all kinds of horrible music theory problems! Though I have read about how the name change came about in the first place, it still makes very little sense. Today, most music teachers in Germany teach the regular B and no H, but many still uphold the tradition. I would recommend to any German music students to NOT USE H, if only because the rest of the world uses B and it makes a whole lot more sense in a logical music system. Now if we could only get the Americans on board with the metric system… :) just kidding!

Module 5: C Chord Nirvana!