Coursera – DYM Lesson 1 videos (5)
Here are some thoughts about the 5th video in the online Coursera class I’m taking. Lesson 2 should be available on Monday (in 2 days), so I’m going to try and do a short write-up of the remaining videos before then.
5. Sharps and Flats (1:33)
Video #5 from Coursera’s Developing Your Musicianship class is a brief mention of sharps (#’s) and flats (#b‘s). In this video, Professor Russell explains that sharps and flats raise or lower a note by a 1/2 step, respectively. He gives examples of this on a piano by playing an A and then showing how A# just means to play the next adjacent key (a black key, one key to the right). He then shows the same for flats by playing an A and then playing Ab (the adjacent key to the left, also a black key). After this, he shows the same thing with D, and then he goes on to show how Fb is a special case because there’s no black key between E and F, so Fb is E. F# is a normal black key.
The professor’s definitions weren’t very detailed. He didn’t say WHY the notes are named like this. I do remember reading about it some time ago though and it basically came down to this: In a regular major or minor scale, with 7 notes, each of the 7 letters must be included in the scale, and can only be included once. So every major scale has exactly one kind of A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Because of the way the major scale is constructed via whole steps and half-steps (W-W-H-W-W-W-H) if you start on some notes and follow the formula of steps & half-steps, you’d end up skipping some letters. To make sure that every letter is represented, the ones that you land on, which are in-between two regular notes, are given a note name and a sharp or flat, depending on which direction you’re playing in (if you’re playing ascending, its a sharp and if descending, its a flat). That’s how it works, in a nutshell, and to the extent of my understanding.
I imagine that later in the class, we’ll delve in to the why’s of all of this. Here’s something I wrote a while ago about it, when I was first learning about them: