Join Rockschool’s Charlie Griffiths as he continues in his quest to demystify the art of reading music. This issue: how to spot and deal with ‘accidentals’.
Charlie Griffiths continues his 14-part series on reading music notation. This issue: Accidentals.
SO FAR IN in this series, we have studied the five lines of the stave and learnt that they represent the notes ‘E G B D F’ from low to high, and that the four spaces inbetween indicate the notes ‘F A C E’. We also located these notes on the guitar by placing the notes into three groups (E F G), (A B C) and (D E F), then locating each trio of notes on a different string. If you play all of these notes as a scale, it effectively sounds like the E Phrygian mode – you don’t necessarily have to think of it as such, but some might find it a useful sound to remember.
If we arrange these notes starting on the C (C D E F G A B), it is clearer that all these notes belong to the key of C major. This gives us seven of the 12 possible semitones available on the guitar; the remaining five notes are called ‘accidentals’. Accidentals are spelt using the same letter names, but b) are prefixed with the sharp (#) and flat ( symbols, which effectively move the written note up or down a semitone; the equivalent of one fret. If we take the note D for example, placing a # after it makes it D# (D sharp), which is a semitone, b or one fret, higher. b Likewise, a preceding the note makes it D (D flat), which is one semitone, or one fret,
n) lower. To return the note to its original status the natural symbol ( is used.
Accidentals can be spelt in two different ways, since they can be arrived at from two different directions. We previously moved from D to D# by moving up a semitone, but we could also start from b; E and move down a semitone to arrive at E either way, we have arrived at the same fret on the guitar. When a note has two different names, but they both sound the same, we call them ‘enharmonic’. Almost every note can be flattened and sharpened, and the resulting accidentals can be spelt in one of the two ways mentioned - ie, sharp or flat. Exceptions are E and F, and B and C, b’, which are already a semitone apart – so ‘F for example, would more easily be expressed as ‘E’. It is unusual, but not
Play the examples with a metronome at a very slow tempo - you should have enough time to name each note before you play it.
unheard of, to see ‘E sharp’ and ‘F flat’ notes; the same is true of ‘B sharp’ and ‘C flat’ notes; but this usually depends on the key in which you are playing.
In the following exercises we’ll build on the skills you’ll have acquired in the two previous lessons, and use the same ‘three-notes-per-string’ scale fragments as before, but you will now add two or three extra notes per string, either by adding an extra finger, or by shifting your hand up or down one fret. For best results, play the examples with a metronome starting at a very slow tempo – a good gauge for what tempo to practise at is that you should have enough time to name the note before you actually play it.
I hope you persevere with these articles. Anyone can learn to read music, and notions of difficulty are dispelled once you break it down as we are doing here. If you missed lessons 1 and 2, you can get them in back issues from www.myfavouritemagazines. co.uk; or download them to an iPad, from itunes.apple.com – good luck!
Use a one-fingerper-fret approach to play the examples