Is it an F sharp or a G flat?

Here's the transcript:

Hello fellow piano players. Today I'm going to answer a question that I get asked a lot during my lessons and I'm going to answer it, I'm I'm going to try to answer it in a very clear way if I can. It's quite, it can be quite puzzling. The question is this 'why do we call Sharp 'Sharps' and flats 'Flats'? In other words if I were to play this note, why do we call that an F sharp and not a G flat? Well, the answer is you can. It is an F sharp, it is a G flat. There is no difference acoustically, sonically, frequency wise, audibly. It is exactly the same note and you can call it either one. So why do we call it an F sharp?

Two words, 'convention' and 'context'. Okay 'convention'. So I'll use a little analogy. If we were watching an old film from the 1930s and I were to describe the film, I may say 'it's an old black and white film'. If I were to say to you 'oh we watched a white and black film yesterday' you would think what on Earth is he on about? Convention, it's just the way that we say things. We say 'black and white' we know what we're talking about. We don't say 'white and black'. So we call that an F sharp not a G flat. Just the way that it's been done for years and years and years.

But more importantly, it is also context. So what do I mean by that? I mean it's depending on what key you play in as to what we call the accidental. Okay, so I'm going to introduce to you the concept of fifths and fourths and the patterns that emerge from those. Okay before you switch off and you think 'oh my goodness me! James just going to go wittering and on about fourths and fifths and he's going to get into patterns of music, his favourite subject and I won't have a clue what he's on about'. Right okay, fear not! It is quite simple and I will try to explain it in a way, in probably a fumbling way, but in a way that makes it easy to understand.

So let's consider the first pattern that I'm going to show you. We start off with a C major scale like we all know and we start with the C and we consider that one as the first note. We come up to the G, now conventionally we call the G the fifth, 1 2 3 4 five. Okay so now we've identified the fifth. What if we were now to play a G major scale. We notice that in the G major scale we have what we call an F sharp, an accidental. One sharp, the first sharp is an F sharp. So now we have a G Major scale with an F sharp.

let's go up a fifth in G major and we hit the D. In the D major scale we have two sharps, the one that we found before the F sharp and a C sharp. A D, two sharps. Let's follow this pattern. A fifth in D is an A. Yes you've guessed it, we are going to have three sharps this time, the two that we already have plus another one. The other one is a G sharp. Okay so now you can see a pattern developing in the major scales. We can see that when we go up a fifth of a particular scale and then we play the major scale of that fifth we add a sharp. This goes all the way up to C sharp. Therefore all those keys that we found via the fifth are what we call 'Sharp Keys'.

Okay, so if I were to write a music score and I were to write that music score in a major key, say for instance A, that will have three sharps and we will put the sharps, those three sharps on the stave. Okay, so all the rest of the keys from the fifth notes along that pattern are called ‘Sharp Keys’.

So conversely let's have a look at flat keys. So we always start with C and our C major scale. Let's have a look at fourths. So the same way as we looked at fifths we will go up from that C as number one and go up to the fourth note and we hit an F. So you can probably guess what's going to happen, we're going to add one flat, in this case it's a B flat. Okay, fourth one up from the F, go up to the fourth and we hit a B flat. A B flat we will add one more flat which is E flat. We go up to the fourth from B flat we hit E flat and we have three Flats, B flat, E flat, A flat. We go on so all the keys within that fourth cycle are called ‘Flat Keys’. So if we were to write a music score in the key of F major, on the stave over on the left hand side we would write the flat sign on the B and that would be the flat.

So when we're talking about sharps and flats, if we're talking about notes or a piece of music which is in a sharp key those accidentals we would call 'sharps'. So we would call that an F sharp. If we were writing a piece of music that is in a flat key, like an F major, instead of calling that an 'A sharp' we would call that a 'B flat' because it's in the flat cycle of keys.

My students, any questions on this we can discuss it within our lessons all right. Once you get used to it, once you get to know the piano a little bit more and you're playing around and you're experimenting, you will see this pattern develop. As you're playing you will see it and you'll get to recognize it and it will become part of you and your relationship with the piano and music in general.

Okay, cheers!

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