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

    in Beginners,Scales

    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: [email protected] (you may not get a personalized reply but they will queue up for future posts).

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


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


    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!

    Judy’s Follow Up Question

    “Thank you for your help. Curious why it wouldn’t be written 3b for i.e. ‘Eb’
    instead of b3?”

    My Follow Up Answer

    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.


    Until next time.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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!

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    Previous post:

    Next post: