Lesson 1: Sharps and Flats in New Rhythms

Chapter 2

Accidentals

So far, you haven’t played any notes on the second fret E1 and B2 strings. These are just two of many fret positions on the guitar where we use chromatic signs to modify notes. The chromatic signs alter the pitch of a note. We also call chromatic signs accidentals.

There are three accidentals: sharps, flats, and naturals. Let’s examine each one.

The Sharp

sheet music example
The sharp sign

When you see a sharp sign in front of a note, this means that you need to raise the pitch of that note by one fret, or one half step. For example, if you play the F note on your E1 string in the first fret with your first finger, and then you play it with your second finger on that string in the second fret, you’ve raised the F note up one half step to an F sharp note. Notice that the sharp sign sits directly over the top of the F line on the staff.  

sheet music example
F note in the first fret, to F sharp in the second fret

finger pressing a guitar string
F sharp on the E1 string at the second fret

To get a better idea of what half steps (and whole steps) are, take a look at this illustration.

music notes diagram
Whole steps and half steps

In music, natural half steps occur between B to C and E to F, because there isn’t a fret in between those notes. As an example of what a whole step is, if you play your F note on the E1 string in the first fret, and then bypass the second fret F sharp and press your third finger at the third fret G note, you’ve played a whole step. This is because there is a fret in between those two notes. Dig me? (That’s musician slang.) It’s okay if you’re a little confused now. We’ll discuss whole steps and half steps further in Chapter 4.

The Flat

The flat is the second accidental I want to tell you about.

sheet music example
The flat sign

When you see a flat sign in front of a note, it means you need to lower the pitch of that note by one fret, or one half step. (Remember, you raise the pitch by a half step when you see a sharp sign.)

Here’s an example of the flat: If you play the D note with your third finger in the third fret on the B2 string, and then you play with your second finger on that string in the second fret, you’ve lowered the D note down one half step to a D flat note. Notice how the flat sign sits directly over the top of the D line on the staff.

sheet music example
D in the third fret, to D flat in the second fret

finger pressing guitar string
D flat on the B2 string at the second fret