• Do You Know The Difference Between The Flat-Third And The Sharp-Second?

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    In this lesson, I’ll be showing you the difference between the flat-third and the sharp-second.

    If you’ve been around musicians, you must have heard terms like the “flat-third” and the “sharp-second” and sometimes you’ll hear the same terms as follows:

    The flat-three

    The sharp-second

    …and it doesn’t matter if you say “flat-third” or “flat-three” because they all have the same meaning.

    But in this lesson, we’ll stick to the flat-third and the sharp-second.

    “Dr. Pokey! What Is The Flat-Third?”

    Intervals are determined in music using the major scale as a reference.

    For example, in the C major scale:

    C is the first

    D is the second

    E is the third

    F is the fourth

    G is the fifth

    A is the sixth

    B is the seventh

    C is also the eighth (aka – “octave”)

    So, when you hear the flat-third, that presupposes that there’s a third and a good way to start is to determine what the third is.

    From the C major scale, the third is E:

    …and that means that from C:

    …the E note is the third tone and as you can see, from C to E:

    C (1), D (2), E (3)

    …encompasses three alphabet letters.

    “Now That We Have The Third Figured Out, What Is The Flat-Third?”

    Lowering the third tone of the major scale by a half-step produces the flat-third.

    So, if we have E:

    ….as the third of C:

    …all we have to do is to lower the E (by a chromatic half-step) to Eb:

    …and that’s it — Eb is the flat-third of C.

    Attention: While lowering the third by a half-step, you have to make sure it’s a chromatic half-step. Learn more about chromatic half-steps here.

    If you want to find the flat-third of any note, play the major scale of that note, and then go ahead and lower the third tone of the major scale by a half-step — a chromatic half-step.

    The Sharp-Second — Defined

    If you know the flat-third, understanding the sharp-second should be a walk in the park for you and this is because the way to go about the sharp-second is similar to what we did on the flat third.

    “So, How Is The Sharp-Second Formed?”

    The sharp-second is formed by the major scale as well and all you have to do is to determine the second tone of the major scale, and then raise it by a chromatic half-step.

    Using the C major scale:

    …we have D as the second tone of the scale (or simply the second):

    Raising the second by a half-step (chromatic half-step):

    …produces D#:

    …and that’s the sharp-second.

    So, if someone walks up to you and asks you what the sharp-second of C is, what would you answer?

    Well, the answer is D#:

    First of all, you already should know that D is the second tone of the C major scale and raising D by a chromatic half-step produces D#:

    …which is the sharp-second.

    “Wait A Minute!”

    Can you see that there’s a relationship between the flat-third and the sharp-second?

    Yes! Starting from C:

    …here’s the flat-third and sharp-second:

    The flat-third (Eb):

    The sharp-second (D#):

    …and both notes have something in common and that’s what I’ll show you in the next segment.

    The Relationship Between The Flat-Third And The Sharp-Second

    The flat-third and sharp-second are related in many ways and in this segment I’ll be showing you the similarities and differences between them.

    Let’s start with the similarities.

    The Similarities Between The Flat-Third And The Sharp-Second

    If your eyes are closed and someone plays the sharp-second, it’s possible to erroneously perceive it as the flat-third and this is because of the enharmonic equivalence between D# (the sharp-second) and Eb (the flat third):



    With your eyes closed or open, you can’t tell the difference between D# and Eb (notes) until they are spelled.

    So, in the C minor chord:

    …where you have the minor third interval (C-Eb):

    If you replace the Eb with D#:

    …you’ll have C-D#-G:

    …which would sound just like the C minor chord:

    …but that would be a wrong spelling of the chord.

    In a nutshell, the flat-third sounds like the sharp-second.

    “Here’s Another Similarity…”

    Between the first tone and either of the flat-third or sharp-second consists of three half-steps each.

    C to Eb (a flat-third):

    …consists of three half-steps.

    C to D# (a sharp-second):

    …consists of three half-steps.

    So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re playing the flat-third or the flat-second, each of them are three half steps from the first tone.

    The Differences Between The Flat-Third And The Sharp-Second

    Final Words

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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