One word you may see when learning music is accidental. But what does this mean? In this article you will learn all about accidentals in music, how to use them, and how to recognize them.
Accidentals in Music Are No Accident
Unlike their name might suggest, accidentals in music are no accident. They are important when you want to learn how to read music.
An accidental in music is a note (or pitch) that is not part of the scale shown by the key signature. In this way, accidentals in music ignore key signature. Look at the picture below, and you can see the three types of accidentals; flat, natural, and sharp. Both the notes and the symbols are called accidentals.
When you see an accidental, it means that the note has been shifted by a semitone, or half-step.
In the example shown below, we are in the key of B-flat major. The key signature shows that there are two flats in the key, B-flat and E-flat. With the natural accidental applied to the note shown, it becomes a natural B instead of an B-flat. The note shifted one semitone from B-flat to B-natural.
Accidentals in Music Apply to the Whole Measure
One special rule to know about accidentals in music is that they apply to all notes in the measure (or bar). Let us look at an example!
In the picture below, you can see we are still in the key of B-flat major. There are four quarter-notes. The first note is a B-flat, as noted by the accidental. The fourth note is also a B-flat, because it is in the same measure. In the following measure, the note becomes B-flat again.
Double Accidentals in Music
Like you might think, a double accidental raises the pitch of a note by two semitones. Like normal accidentals, these notes ignore key signature and have their own special symbols. On the left is the double flat accidental and on the right is the double sharp accidental.
Did You Know? Music History
Accidentals in music are very old! Their use goes all the way back to before the Middle Ages, people were writing about music theory all the way back then! The first use of a double accidental was over 400 years ago in 1615.
Now you know all about accidentals in music from sharps, naturals, flats, and double accidentals, they are important tools for any musician to have.
While Guido d’Arezzo lived in Arezzo, he was commissioned by Bishop Teldad of Arezzo to produce a music manual – a book - for the training of singers. This book was called the Micrologus. The book covered a wide variety of topics, including the correct methods for chanting, information on polyphonic music, melody & harmony, and many more topics.
One of the new methods of teaching music that Guido d’Arezzo developed is called solmization, which is the mnemonic device we use to sing notes. Look at the example below and see how we use solmization to sing do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.
Solmization has changed a lot since Guido d’Arezzo’s time. His book the Micrologus suggested they sing it ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do.
The Guidonian Hand
The Guidonian hand is something that we aren’t sure Guido d’Arezzo invented himself, but it is named after him. The Guidonian hand is a way to remember the names of notes by looking at your hand. Look at the example below.
Guido d’Arezzo is also widely thought to be the inventor of staff notation. Staff notation is something we have all seen before. It is the five lines that notes go on. Without Guido d'Arezzo we might not have the same way of reading music that we are so familiar with.
With all the knowledge that we gained from Guido d’Arezzo, it’s no wonder how important he is. From inventing staff notation, developing solmization, and everything else he taught us, we wouldn’t be nearly as far along with him!