• # Question: What does all this “flatted 3” and “sharped 5” stuff mean?

Yes, I’m back! (I’ll explain why I’ve been gone so long in a subsequent post but please come through and comment to let me know you’re still anxious about hearing from me… even though I’ve been gone for a couple of months. I apologize.)

(By the way, thanks for all your support. You have been tremendously supportive on our radio show, the new gospel music training center, our various product launches, etc. I appreciate you).

Well, since I’ve been helping out with e-mails lately (to make sure we keep response times under 1 day), I’ve had an epiphany. Why not take a question a day from the REAL e-mails that come in and elaborate on them? It makes it easier on me because I’m answering that e-mail anyway — now I can simply format it, expand it a little further, and post it on the blog for all to see. Works for you?

(Granny calls that “killing two birds with one stone.)

And I won’t always limit it to one question per day either. If another good question comes in, I’ll post it too. You might end up with a bunch of smaller posts rather than one big long post, like in the past. I’ll see how this works.

Submit your questions at: blogquestion@hearandplay.com (you may not get a personalized reply but they will queue up for future posts).

So here’s today’s question submitted by Judy:

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Question
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“Hey, I don’t know what you mean by things with a “b” in FRONT of a scale number, such as “b3″ Whattup?”

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Great question!

So we all know that I’m a big advocate for numbering your scale.

In other words, just don’t think of the C major scale as:

C D E F G A B C

Think of it as:

C is 1.
D is 2.
E is 3.
F is 4.
G is 5.
A is 6.
B is 7.

So if I ask you, “what is the 7th tone of C?” you should know it right away. These “numbered” degrees are what we call scale tones (or you can call them “scale tones,” whatever you want frankly).

Now, let’s cover our little friends called “sharps” and “flats.”

A sharp is not a black key.
A flat is not a black key.

Rather, to “sharp” something means to raise it.
To “flat” something means to lower it.

(I guess I should define another term… a “half step” is from key to key with absolutely NO keys in between. A “whole step” ALWAYS skips a key with one key always in between).

Plain and simple.

When you see a “flat” sign (b) in front of a scale tone, that means to lower that tone one half step.

So if I say “the 3rd tone of C,” I’m referring to E because E is, indeed, the third tone of C.

C D (E) F G A B C = C major scale

If I say the b3 (“flat third” or “flatted third”) of C, then it would be E flat (Eb).

I simply take the same third tone and lower it a half step.

C D (Eb) F G A B C (believe it or not, this is actually the C melodic minor scale.)

I hope this helps!

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“Thank you for your help. Curious why it wouldn’t be written 3b for i.e. ‘Eb’

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Well, because we say “flat 3” or the “sharp 5,” instead of “3 flat” or “5 sharp,” it transposes the sign in FRONT of the note rather than after. That’s just how the terminology works.

Like the chord “C7 #9#5”

Pronounced: “C Seventh Sharp 9, Sharp 5” or “C Seventh Sharped 9, Sharped 5”

I wish I knew more of the history but it’s like they say: “That’s just how it is…” :-)

I hope this helps.

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Until next time.

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#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

#### Latest posts by Jermaine Griggs (see all)

1 virginia

I really understood it for the first time. I have been trying to find out what
the numbers were and how it worked. thanks very much.

2 p-rex

This is extremely helpful for those that are new to altered chords. Great job Mr. Griggs!

3 UMOREN

Sir,truly you have helped in million of ways.i think the had copies of these lessons should sometimes be sent to subscribers.thnks.

4 John Sprung

The history of this kind of notation is that it evolved informally among professional musicians, roughly in the 1920’s – 50’s. The classical music approach is Grand Staff notation, treble and bass clefs, every note of every chord written out. That’s very precise, but not easy to read, and takes a lot of paper.

The popular music professionals of those days understood chords and progressions, they could supply the details as they played. They just wanted a shorthand way of knowing where the changes come, and not a lot of pages to turn. So, they invented what is now called lead sheet notation: Just a single note treble clef melody line, with letter and number chord symbols. Unfortunately, because it was invented everywhere all at once, there’s no standardization of the chord symbols like there is in grand staff notation. The same chord can be written many ways in lead sheets, for instance:

Eb7+5, Ebaug7, Eb7(#5), Eb7+, Eb+7, Eb7(+5), and probably a few more….

All mean the same chord, E flat augmented dominant seventh.

Putting the sharp or flat in front of the number it modifies is pretty standard, it’s the same as the way sharps and flats appear in grand staff notation. It’s only the other way around for giving the roots….

— J.S.