What’s The Difference Between Sharps and Flats? Which should I use?

This is a question I’ve been asked many times over the years.

the-difference-between-sharps-and-flatsF# and Gb are the same chord, we play them both in exactly the same way, so when should you call it “F#” and when should you call it “Gb”?

Sadly the answer to this is very complicated – we could quickly get lost in music theory here. (But don’t worry, we won’t!)

Basically, there’s no simple answer to this question as it’s such a contextual issue. From a music theory perspective it is very difficult to implement a standardized ‘rule’ because of the complexity of the variables in music theory and composition.

  • Some people say you should choose either ‘sharp’ or ‘flat’ depending on the key of the piece. In other words, choose ‘sharps’ if you’re playing in a key defined by sharps (such as G Major) or choose ‘flats’ in a key defined by flats (such as F Major).
  • Some people say you should pick based on what ‘direction’ your travelling. Eg, if you’re heading to a higher note you should use ‘sharp’ and if you’re heading to a lower note you should use ‘flat’.
  • Some people say you should pick so that the letter of the note only appears to be used once. (This isn’t always possible of course.) For example, a progression of G#, Gb, G looks more complicated than Ab, F#, G. (Do you agree that the chords seem more clearly ‘defined’ in the second example?)

So what’s the answer?

During your first few months of learning the guitar, just call everything ‘sharps’.

I’m strongly in favour of clarity and simplicity at all times. So I tell my beginner students to call everything ‘sharps’.

I explain that the notes can also be called ‘flats’, of course, and then we simply call everything ‘sharps’. It works well. It accelerates students’ progress and spares them a lot of confusion and disorientation.

Music theory purists would cringe at that -and they’re entitled to their opinion- but I’ve seen first hand how much faster people learn music theory if you simplify the concepts.

If students progress to a more advanced stage and feel they want to understand the more complex music theory around ‘sharp’ and ‘flat’ context then there’s nothing stopping them and this early simplification won’t have held them back in any way. (Quite the opposite in fact.)

In the beginning just call all sharps and flats, ‘sharps’! 🙂

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

I made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. I hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

Join over 30,000 other guitar learners and subscribe to our guitar-tips-by-email service. (It's free.)

We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

Popular Lessons

How To Learn Guitar: An 11-Step Programme For Beginners

10 Easy Songs For Beginners

How To Strum A Guitar

How To Choose The Perfect Beginner Guitar

Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

How To Play Lead Guitar

3 Easy Ways To Play Bm

 


More Cool Stuff

Learn about me & the National Guitar Academy on the About Us page.

Check out some of our free chord lessons.

We'll be launching a new Podcast soon, exciting!

I will love you forever if you 'like' our new Facebook page.

Thanks for stopping by, speak soon! 🙂

00. Mike Kennedy Profile Pic (Circle)

Mike Kennedy - National Guitar Academy Director

Enter your email address to learn our best guitar tips and tricks today!