Are You Allowed To Use SHARPS and FLATS TOGETHER?

Are You Allowed To Use SHARPS and FLATS TOGETHER?

Tommaso Zillio

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sharps flats signature

One of the perks of teaching music theory on the ’net is that I get the best comments on my videos. Case in point:

(If you can’t see the image, it’s a comment on my YouTube channel that says: “And can we reserve a space in Music Hell for all those who randomly use both sharps and flats in the same notation?”)

Oh, I agree :-) The only question is, where do we put them precisely?

Unfortunately, when Dante wrote the Inferno in the Divine Comedy - and he assigned all the people he did not like to the various circles of hell - he forgot to create one specifically for those who misuse music theory notation.

What an oversight!

But if I know my Dante and his medieval logic, those people will either end up:

  • in Circle VI (heretics), if they just spell a key signature with both sharps and flats, or

  • in Circle VIII, Bolgia VIII (fraudulent counselors) if they teach other people to do it.

(The punishments for these circles are so bad that if I write them here, this email will automatically go into your spam folder…)

But would Dante be right in literally (and literarily) “going medieval” on these evil people that mix sharps and flats?

The thing is, there are good reasons not to use sharps and flats together in a key signature.

But it is perfectly ok to mix sharps and flats when spelling a scale if the scale requires it (but definitely not randomly)

Oh boy, this sounded even more confusing, right?

For the salvation of your eternal musical soul, I better explain this in detail.

So watch this video to see when it’s not a sin it makes sense to use sharps and flats in the same notation or when you are risking eternal musical damnation it’s really better not to:

Does music notation still have you confused? Is reading music of any form a challenge? Check out my FREE eBook on music notation to fix that!

Video Transcription

Hello internet so nice to see you! Today we are going to do that prohibited the unholy we are going to mix sharps and flats.

I thought it was bad form to mix sharps and flats in the same key signature. Since your examples in the key of D which contains two sharps, F sharp and C sharp, then shouldn’t all the chords slash notes be notated using sharps instead of flats? In other words, shouldn’t the B flat seven chord really be named a sharp seven, in which case the flat seven note would be called G sharp instead of a flat?

It is perfectly 100 percent Correct to say that you should never mix sharps and flats in the key signature. And let me stress in the key signature because you can totally mix sharps and flats in the rest of the piece. So what is that? What is this difference?

And why I notated a B flat seven with a B flat in the key of D that contains sharps. Well, what’s the key signature? That’s the first important question to ask because if we want to know why we should not make sharps and flats in the key signature, we need to make sure we know what is a key signature, a key signature is this.

It’s let’s say you have a score. Many of you don’t know how to read music, many of you do. No problem score is that at those five lines looks like a tablature. Okay, and there are some string signs like these in front.

This tells me how the notes are here. And then I typically have some sharps and flats around here, that’s the key signature in the key of D I’ll have a sharp here on the first line and the sharp here on on the fifth line on top exactly exactly the fifth line and the sharp F sharp here on the third space, this tells me that every F and notated here will be an F okay, every f will be a sharp and every C because I’m not notated here will be a C sharp, this tells me they’re in the key of D. It’s a bit of a cumbersome system, honestly.

But once you get used to it, it’s very useful and very intuitive. Again, once you get used to it, this is the key signature. What this is telling you in practice is this. When you spell out the notes of a scale, meaning major scale or minor scale in the natural forms, you’re gonna use only sharps and flats. And you’re gonna use only one letter per note.

So the major it’s D, E, F sharp, G, A, B, C sharp, D, you notice that I’m using only one letter per note, I’m not, I’m not using letters twice and jumping letters, I’m not calling it D, E, G flat, G, because we’re using G twice. And I would never use F. Okay. So if you start mixing sharp and flat, this is what’s going to happen and it’s going to mess up the whole thing.

Now, why are using the lighter only once and why we’re never mixing sharps and flats because if you do things this way, when you start thinking later about harmony, a number of problems are solved simply by spelling the chord in the right way.

And the notation does the thinking for you. Okay, and in future I’m going to show you some of this problem. Maybe not today because they’re a bit more complex. But if you learn to spell things correctly, these helps a lot when you think about harmony.

So whenever you spell a scale, it’s only sharps in its or around the flats. Again, in its base form in its basic form natural for now, later when I write my music on the score, I want to alter some notes. And I can alter them using sharps or flats freely because we are not in the key signature anymore. It is unholy to make some sharps or flats in the key signature, but it’s totally permitted to mix them later in the score in the in the in the piece of music.

Okay. Now, in that specific video, I borrowed a chord from another key so I was playing in D major in G major you have a course like D major, G major, a major or this kind of thing, the major E minor, G major, a major the oldest kind of chords in the key of D major.

One thing you can do in music is to borrow a chord from the minor key from the parallel minor key. So essentially I’m thinking D minor And here’s the thing now now I want to write it down. So you’ll see exactly what I’m doing. Okay? If I’m in the key of D major, my notes are A, D, E, F sharp, G, A, B, C sharp, my chords are D major, E minor, F sharp minor, G major, a major, B minor, C sharp diminished my triad, of course.

Okay? It is customary to tricky music, when you’re playing in D major, that you can borrow chords from the minor key. Okay, the minor, the parallel, the parallel minor key, meaning the key with the same root. So the minor in the minor minor is A, D, F, and G, A, B flat, C.

That’s the natural minor and my chords are D minor, E diminished, F major, G minor, A minor, B, major C major, minor triads, okay. Since I’m borrowing these chord, what’s been borrowing and playing a chord progression here and a certain point, I’m playing this chord, it was some wonderful, let me do it. The major C major, B flat, that, hey, I can put this anywhere I can play the D major, and B flat immediately. Okay, so the major, D major, B flat, and G.

I can do this in any way, I’m just playing a chord progression in D major, whatever is my chord progression and occasionally inputting a chord from the minor, I have to spell this chord as a B flat, because I’m borrowing it from D minor, and D minor is spelled with a flat, simple as that. But again, this is not in the key signature here, so I’m not doing anything forbidden.

Okay, so that’s one thing. You guys have noticed before I said, in its natural form, in its basic form, why because our problem happens when you have a say harmonic minor scale. And that’s very important to note. So let me show you that. Let’s say I have, again, the D minor scale, and then just by another notes right now, D, E, F, G, A, B flat, C, that’s the D natural minor scale. In some situation, we want to modify the scale and create what we call the harmonic minor scale in the harmonic minor, we take the seventh note of the scale and we sharp it. If I do that, D, E, F, G, A, B flat, C sharp.

Now I have a scale spelled with both our flat and a sharp, but it’s not the natural four. So it is permitted, because it’s not a natural form. I cannot do this here for major minor or natural minor scale, but I can do it with others case. I have to do these because the only other alternative I mean, if I don’t use these, I will have to call this D flat and that my D letter is already occupied here.

Otherwise, I could keep these a C sharp and call these a sharp but the A’s already occupied here. If I want to use the letter once and only once. I need to use both a sharp and a flat. Okay, and I want to use the letter once and only once again, because this solves a lot of problems later in other situations in music theory when you write music, so it’s permitted.

Now am I using these in the key signature? No, and that’s the thing because if I want to write a piece in D minor first of all, I cannot write a piece I cannot write a signature in the harmonic minor the signature is going to be simply the signature of the minor which is a single flat on the beat line. That’s the signature of the minor and also the signature of F major.

Again, it’s a conventional system is a bit of confusion. Okay, when I write a piece here, then I will have to write every single note and whenever I hit my C note, I will have to sharp it in the score, not in the signature. Nobody will ever put a C sharp here in the signature.

Okay? Because it’s confusing because again, it’s a cumbersome system we cannot make make it more confusing. So it is not permitted for very good reasons of clarity to mix sharp and flat in the key signature which is this part here.

But at stood the key signature. You can do whatever you want. And you can put all the sharps and flats in one regardless if there was sharps or flats here. So the commander is perfectly correct.

But the confusion, confusion comes from the fact that it wasn’t clear on exactly what the key signature was. And he had good reason for not being clear, because those things are not really explained very clearly in, in music theory books, unless you got very from from the very, very basics, and yeah, it’s still a it’s not very clear how to most people. So here’s the explanation. Okay. Here’s what to do.

Now. That said, the important thing is not so much the scored important thing is that you know how to spell your scale, regardless if you write them on the score on your tablet, your et cetera, et cetera, if you spell the notes, this way, you display your scale this way, every letter used once and only once. You’re never going to have any problem with later you’re going to find the chords borrow chords, modify chords, try to substitute the chords and on this kind of thing, okay. In addition, that takes care of itself.

It seems complex. But again, spell it right and it will serve you well. And then if you want that’s a very theoretical advice if you want. If you want more practical advice, I do recommend my course on chords and harmony on the guitar. It’s called complete chord mastery, complete chord mastery. It’s not a book. It’s a complete video course.

That takes you from the basics up. We do everything you need to know about harmony and chords on your guitar. All the theory is done straight on the fretboard. There is no theory for the sake of theory here. Everything is immediately practical. And everything is developed through exercises so you know how to apply these immediately on your guitar.

If you have just a minute click on the link on the top right to check out complete chord mastery. If you liked this video, smash that like button and don’t forget to subscribe and click on notification otherwise YouTube will not let you know when I put up a new video.

And if you have any comments, feedback, suggestions, write them down in the comment. I enjoy reading from you and they make videos on your suggestions. This is Tommaso Zillio for, and until next time, enjoy.

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