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Music Theory for Guitar - Enharmonics

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Enharmonics

In the tempered scale, a whole step between two notes are are divided into two equal halves. This mean that if you go up a half step from the note below, or down a half step from the note above, you get the same note. The sign # (sharp) means one half step up, and the b (flat) means one half step below. This means that D#=Eb. The tempered scale was developed for making it possible to modulate to remote keys, without getting more and more out of tune.

In a natural scale, the half steps are not equal. Traditional folk singers, violin players and many others use the natural scale. In the natural scale a "half step" is actually slightly smaller than one half of a whole step. The D# will then not be exactly the same as Eb. In my ears, the natural scale sounds better. But complex harmonic structures are not possible with that scale. And a keyboard tuned to a natural scale will sound more and more out of tune if one modulate to remote keys, unless one re-tune the keyboard each time one change key. Listen to Johann Sebastian Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klaver (The Well Tempered Piano) for an example of music that modulates in a way which would not have been possible - at least with a good sounding result - with the natural scale.

But for practical purposes, at least when it comes to musical notation, D#=Eb. They are enharmonic: Sound equal, but are spelled different. When written in TAB, they will be written the same way. The TAB is a technical notation that tells you where to put your fingers, it is not a musical notation that tells you which notes to play.

When writing scores, notes etc. in keys with sharps and flats, one have to make a choice. It does not really make sense to write everything both in D# and Eb. But you should be able to translate (transpose) from one key to another.

If we move around the Circle of Fifths, you add sharps or detract flats when you go up one fifth (to the right), and you add flats or detract sharps if you go down one fifth (to the left). Some calls it the Circle of Fourths, but they are in fact the same, but more on that in the Circle of Fifths lesson. We can add sharps, and eventually we will cover all half-steps in the circle, and we can add flats to do the same. But we will usually stop before it gets too complicated. We could spell the notes in the key of Bb as then enharmonic notes in the key of A#. But A# will have four sharps and three double sharps, while the key of Bb has two flats. The notation of Bb is quite simple, A# is extremely complicated.

In practice, one would hardly ever write in the keys C#, G#, D# or A#. And since E#=F and B#=C, the only reason to choose keys like E# or B# must be to make simple music look complicated. For the same reason, one will usually not write in keys like Cb or Fb. The key F# / Gb is usually the key where one stops. F# has 6 #s, and Gb has 6 bs, meaning that both keys are equally bad. For guitar players, keys with #s are usually better than key's with bs. You can always go up one fret, use barré chords and capo to change to a key on half step above. But going down is complicated if you start with some open strings. For this reason I have chosen to use F# over Gb.

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