An Introduction to the Sharp Sign

Sharp attack!

The Jaws theme song is famous for using sharps to create a feeling of doom [1]. Listeners can hear the suspense and feel the tension build with each ascending note.

Sharp notes are a great tool to give your songs a variety of sounds. Read on to learn about all about how the sharp sign works for piano players.

What Are Accidentals?

Accidentals are notes you play on the piano that isn’t natural. The accidental will either be a sharp or a flat. Composers use them to help create a different feeling within the music.

Depending on how they’re used, they can create tension in a musical piece or provide release. Typically, sharps build tension, and flats or naturals release the tension.

Almost every instrument in the world is able to play accidentals. You already have seen the sharps on the piano just by looking at the keys. The black keys are all accidentals.

However, it’s important to remember that not all accidentals are black keys, meaning that some of the white keys can qualify as accidentals as well. The natural keys are the ones that don’t contain any sharps or flats.

All of the natural keys on the piano are:

  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • E
  • F
  • G

When you understand the music theory of accidentals, you can easily locate them. Next, we’ll explain how you create a sharp note from any natural note.

Semitone and Half Steps

Sharp comes from the word diese (French) or diesis (Greek), and it means higher pitch [2]. Specifically, a sharp is telling the musician to go higher in pitch by one half-step or semitone.

First, you’ll want to refresh your memory as to what a half step is. A half step or semitone is the smallest possible interval in Western classical music. When you move your finger from one key to the next closest key, you moved a half step or semitone.

Next, practice moving up one-half step from C all the way up to B. Name the notes out loud as you play them. Starting from C, going to C#, moving to D, then D#, and all the way up to the next C.

Sharp Sign

The sharp sign or sharp symbol looks a lot like a pound or hashtag sign. The only big difference between a sharp and pound sign is the direction of the lines. A pound sign has two horizontal lines going from left to right.

Since sheet music has horizontal lines, sharps are made more visible with slanted or diagonal lines.

When you see the symbol for a sharp note, it’s telling you to raise that note 1/2 pitch. There are two places you have to look for accidental symbols — key signatures and within measures before certain notes.

Key Signature Sharps

A key signature is a set of sharps and flats placed next to each other on the musical staff.

Key signatures are a tool to help guide how a pianist plays a piece. Instead of rotating every single accidental, the signature provides the rules.

Typically, you will see a key signature at the beginning of a line of musical notation. The key signature will appear right after the treble or bass clef.

In certain cases, key signatures will look different and be in different places. Yet, for building a foundation, you’ll most likely be working with traditional musical notations.

Look at a piece of music that uses C major. In the key signature, you’ll notice there aren’t any sharps or any flats. A musician can simply glance at the blank key signature and know it’s the key of C major.

Sharps in Measures of Music

Other than key signatures, sharps can occur randomly within a measure of music.

Unlike the key signature, a stand-alone sharp means you raise that one particular note. If the musical piece showed a # sign next to an F, you would raise the F one-half step.

You will obey the symbols request to raise the note, but only temporarily. A measure of music is defined as two vertical lines with musical notes in between them. Random or stand-alone sharps are accidentals that only apply within the measure they appear.

The timing of your music piece determines how many musical notes are within your measure. Certain songs will use a natural sign to remind you that the sharp doesn’t carry to the next measure.

For example, if measure one of your music has an # sign before the F, the next measure may have a natural sign before the F. The natural sign is just there to help the musician remember that the accidental no longer applies.

Practice with Sharps

There are a few ways you can practice identifying and playing sharp symbols.

First, we recommend you take a moment to train your ears. Listen to some songs that use a lot of sharps and try to identify when they’re played.

Here are a few songs that you can start with:

  1. Joy To The World[3]
  2. Brahms Lullaby [4]
  3. Minuet in G Major Bach [5]

Close your eyes the first time you listen, and see if you can hear the sharps played. Next, look at the corresponding music while you’re listening. Notice how the sharp sounds and the variety it brings to the song.

Order of Sharps

When you become more familiar with key signatures, you’ll identify them with a glance. A musical concept that seems difficult now can become second nature with enough practice.

Every key signature has a unique number of sharps and or flats. The order of sharps in key signature notation is as follows:

  • F#
  • C#
  • G#
  • D#
  • A#
  • E#
  • B#

Use this phrase to remember the order of sharps:

  • Fun Children Get Dogs And Eat Birds

Try to create your own mnemonic device using the letters F, C, G, D, A, E, and B. Memorizing the order of sharps will go a long way when you’re learning different key signatures. For the double sharp guide, check it here.

Enjoy Your Musical Journey

Now you can start to play music that has a sharp sign! Music Advisor is excited to help you reach all of your musical goals.

Take a moment to review or blog as we have lots of helpful music-related articles. We also offer a buyer’s guide to help answer a variety of different questions.

Happy learning!

Stephanie Su

Started learning music when she was four years old, Stephanie is a music teacher and a music therapist who is highly proficient in Piano, Violin, Guitar, and Ukulele. She likes to learn, teach, and share her music playing experiences.

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