Music Theory Series- Enharmonic notes and scales.

Welcome back to my music theory series. This month I’ll be covering the concept known as Enharmonic notes and scales. Last month’s topic was the circle of fifths. Let’s revisit the circle of fifth’s image below…

If you remember, the outer rings are major keys and the inner rings are minor keys. As you get to the positions of 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock you’ll notice multiple key possibilities.

On the outer ring it’s F sharp major and G flat major. Then C sharp major and D flat major.

On the inner ring it’s G sharp minor and A flat minor. Then D sharp minor and E flat minor. Then A sharp minor and B flat minor.

Those keys are all enharmonic to each other. But what does enharmonic mean? Let’s take a look at some notes below…

So you’ll notice this diagram of a treble clef staff and the piano keyboard. The very first white piano key just below the two black keys is the note C. If you move up a half step up to the adjacent black key that is C sharp. If you move up a half step from C sharp on the keyboard the next white piano key/note that is D. Now if you move down a half step from that D note/piano key that would be D flat. So C sharp and D flat are enharmonic with each other. That means while that black piano key when played has the same sound/note it is named and notated differently. It can be named either C sharp or D flat.

So if you find all the black piano keys on your piano or keyboard you could literally go up and down those two black piano keys and find all the C sharps and D flats.

Let’s take a look at busier diagram of enharmonic notes…

So you’ll notice the white piano keys list all the natural notes of a C major scale. C, D, E, F, G, A, B. You’ll notice the black piano key’s list notes that are enharmonic to one another. Remember, going up a half step from the white keys to the black keys lands you on an enharmonic note.

So for example if you were on the note G and went up half a step to the adjacent black piano key, that would be G sharp. If you were on the note A and you went down a half step, that would be A Flat. Making those two notes/piano keys enharmonic to one another. Get it?

Now, those notes are the root notes for scales that can be considered enharmonic to one another as well. Let’s see what those would look like…

Below is an F sharp Major scale both notated and on the piano keyboard…

So you’ll notice above that the scale starts on the root note of F sharp and goes all the way up it’s octave ending on F sharp.

Now let’s take a look at F sharp’s enharmonic cousin. What is enharmonic with F sharp? You’ guessed it! G flat! Below is a G flat major scale on both the treble clef and the piano keyboard…

So you’ll notice above that the scale starts on the root note of G flat and goes all the way up it’s octave ending on G flat.

If you compare these two enharmonic major scales, one is notated in sharps while the other is notated in flats. They each have either six sharps or six flats. It just really depends on how it’s notated. In a sharp key or a flat key.

Let’s take a look at one of the enharmonic pairs from the minor keys. Let’s use the example of A sharp minor and B flat minor.

So as you can see both scales use a lot of similar notes but they are notated differently. Some musicians prefer notation in flat keys because it’s easier to read while others prefer sharp keys. One thing is for certain the more sharps or flats it can get a little trickier to read than say in C Major or A minor, as neither of those keys have any sharps or flats.

So the next time the subject of music comes up at your next cocktail party be sure to impress them with your knowledge of the concept of enharmonic notes and scales!

2021-02-09T16:46:02-06:00 February 9th, 2021|Tags: , |

One Comment

  1. Henry February 10, 2021 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you. Please consider a post on modes and composing using modes.

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