An Introduction to the Flat Symbol

It may surprise you to know that not all musicians can read music. In fact, there are a large number of them who play or write with other methods.

Music is a universal language and one that people all over the world can communicate in. But despite this, 95% of people can’t read music.

While reading music isn’t necessary to advance your skills as a musician, the more you want to do with it, the more you’ll likely need to read it.

If you wish to become professional in any capacity, you’ll be expected to sight-read music that is given to you. This means you must sing or play the song given to you without hearing it prior. This requires that you know how to read music.

In this article, we’ll go over the flat symbol and what a flat means in terms of tone.

What is a Flat?

A flat is a note that is decreased in pitch by half a step. A B flat will be half a step lower than a B. It is the direct opposite of a sharp note.

The word “flat” can also be used to describe notes that sound as though they are not on pitch. This is colloquial and not the same as asking someone to play a flat. Saying that a singer is “a little bit flat” doesn’t mean that he or she sang the correct flat note. Instead, it means that he or she is a little bit off pitch.

What Does a Flat Symbol Look Like?

A flat symbol is a stylized lowercase b. Typically, it looks a little bit like a bold lowercase b.

Where Is the Flat Symbol On a Score?

A flat symbol is located in one of two places on a bar of music. You may have it next to the note itself, indicating that the note itself isn’t a G but rather a G flat.

If the flat symbol is on the key signature, it will be on a certain note’s line. If the flat symbol is on the C line, for instance, every C in the piece of music will be a C flat.

What Are the Flat Keys Located on the Piano?

On a piano, it is very easy to spot the flat keys. They are the black keys you see that are slightly above the white keys. The white keys are referred to as the natural keys, while the flat keys are known as the flat keys.

Which Flat Belongs to Which Key?

Now that you know where the flat keys are on the piano, you may be wondering which key belongs to which note.

Flats are the black keys located just to the left of each note.

Looking at a piano scale starting with a C, and including the flats, the notes would be C, D flat, D, E flat, E, F, G flat, G, A flat, A, B flat, B and C.

The flats belong to the black keys just to the left of them.

How Do You Play a C Flat or F Flat on the Piano?

The C and F keys do not have black flat keys next to them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play a C flat or F flat. Instead, you will play the note to the left of the natural key. C flat would be a B, whereas F flat would be an E.

Double Flats

You may come across something known as a double flat, which can be very confusing to people, especially beginners. However, it shouldn’t be. Instead, a double flat, which is written as two flat signs touching one another, is a whole step down, or two half steps, from the key.

A double flat E is actually a natural D. This means it is a whole tone lower than the E.

Other Instruments and Flat Notes

The piano is not the only note in which you can play a flat. In fact, you can play a flat with almost any instrument, including your own voice. If you “play” a flat with your voice, you, instead, sing a note that is a half-step lower than the original key.

If you take voice lessons, you will learn how to sing this when you study scales. Although not necessary in order to be an accomplished musician, many people who wish to write or advance in music study the piano and voice to get a basic understanding of tones, notes, and rhythms.

On instruments aside from the piano and the voice, the flat note is still a half-step below the note it indicates. You will learn how to play this note as you work on scales and who to read music for that particular instrument.

While it might seem confusing, it’s actually very basic. Most people pick it up relatively easily, once they get the hang of it.

Learning the Flat Notes

In order to really bring this lesson home, try playing the scales and including all of the flat notes. You may want to use a sheet of music with the scales that include the flat symbol so you can see what you’re playing. You may also want to practice with your voice to get the idea into your body, even if you have no plans to become a singer.

If you’re interested in learning the piano, click here for some great piano app suggestions.

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