An accidental is a musical symbol, such as a flat or sharp sign, that tells us to alter a note either by “raising” or “lowering” it.
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Raising a note means that instead of playing a certain note, we play the note above it. Lowering a note is just the opposite, we play the note below it. So for example, if we raise C by a semitone, it means that instead of playing C, we play the note directly above C, which happens to be the black note right next to it. (It is also possible to raise or lower a note by a whole step, as we’ll see later.)
Accidentals and How Music Sounds
At this point, you might be wondering what the point of this system is. Why not just give each note its own name, and be done with it?
The main reason is that music theory and notation are supposed to represent the way music sounds. When we hear a note followed by the note a half step up (out of the key), it sounds like the original note has been altered (as opposed to a totally new note). So the note name reflects this. Instead of giving it a totally new name, we use the same name but indicate that it has been changed. Like if your friend dresses up in a costume, you can still tell it’s them, but their appearance has been altered. They haven’t turned into a new person.
That’s the basic concept. We don’t need to understand this perfectly just yet; all will become clear in due time. As we move forward, we’ll see exactly how accidentals work when it comes to note names, scales, and ear training, and in different musical situations.
Sharps and Flats
Let’s start by learning the two most common accidentals:
If we take any note, and raise it by a half step, that note is given a sharp symbol, which looks like this: ♯ (similar to a pound sign or number symbol). For example, C raised by a half step would become C♯, pronounced C sharp. F raised a half step would be F♯, or F sharp.
The same idea works in the opposite direction, too. If we lower any note by a semitone, the note gets a flat symbol (♭, looks sort of like a lowercase “b”).
To fully appreciate our system of accidentals and raising/lowering notes, we need to know a thing or two about scales, chords, and tonality. For now, we know what we need to in order to name the black notes, and we also understand this basic concept of raising or lowering a note by a half step or whole step.
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Question 1 of 7
What does it mean to “raise” a note?
To play the note above it To play a note and then use the pitchbend to raise the pitch to the next highest memo To elevate a note emotionally
Question 2 of 7
Which symbol is used to indicate that a note should be lowered by a half step?
flat symbotogether sharp symbol double flat symbol double sharp symbol natural symbol
Question 3 of 7
Which symbol is used to indicate that a note should be raised by a half step?
sharp symbotogether flat symbotogether double flat symbol double sharp symbotogether natural symbol
Question 4 of 7
What is the name of the black note directly above an A? (Choose all that apply)
A sharp B level G sharp A flat C double flat
Question 5 of 7
Is there such thing as a double flat?
Question 6 of 7
Is there such thing as a triple flat?
Question 7 of 7
What is the purpose of a natural symbol (♮)?
To indicate that a note should not be raised or lower To indicate to a performer to play a note normally To lower a note by a whole step To raise a note by a half step