Are Sharps and Flats the Same? | Hub Guitar

Are Sharps and Flats the Same?

One note on the guitar can be written two ways: C♯ or D♭. Is there any difference between these notes?

Short Answer

In terms of sound, there is no difference. However, there is often a difference on paper where using the correct name will give clarity to the note’s meaning.

Long Answer

Usage in Music Theory

In written music theory, there is a difference between C♯ and D♭ because the name of the note can also tell us something about how it relates to the other notes.

For example, if the chord we are talking about is a B chord, and it has a minor third, that would be D♭. However, if the chord is a B♭7 chord (which already has a major third and therefore should not have a minor third also), we would call that extra note a ♯9, because no chord could ever have both a major and minor third.

Equal Temperament – How Systems of Tuning Changed Music

Musical instruments are machines which produce sound. They produce whatever kinds of sounds that they are designed to produce.

Most of music theory involves harmonyThe combination of pitches, usually three or more, which results in a chord. and melodyA series of pitches which form a memorable musical statement.. And both of these stem from frequency or musical pitch.

What is frequency? In science, frequency is the speed which a wave oscillates at. In music, frequency is how “high” or “low” a sound is.

Frequency can be measured in HzHertz. A precise measurement of the cycles per second at which a wave vibrates at. Useful in some areas of music, but musicians tend to talk about cents more than hertz., which is a unit for cycles per second.

In music, we can also measure frequency in centA cent is a unit measuring the difference in pitch between notes. In most cases, two notes are separated by exactly 100 cents, which means there is 1200 cents in an octave. If a note is more than 5 cents out of tune, the difference starts to become noticeable.s.

The note “F” on the fret I of the 6th string is 1200 cents below the note “F” on fret XIII of the same string.

The choice to divide that octave into 12 pieces of 100 cents was made hundreds of years ago, and there hasn’t been much interest in re-visiting that choice ever since.

Many string instruments, such as violins, had no frets and did not need to have their notes divided at all. This meant that musicians could play any pitch within that octave. The 1200 cents of the octave can be divided into 12, but also could be divided into 19 or even more.

In early music, musicians often thought of the chromatic scale as containing 19 pitches instead of 12. In this system, the notes C♯ and D♭ were slightly different. That’s because C♯ represented a note about 41 cents above C, whereas D♭ represented a note about 41 cents below D. The two notes were different by about 18 cents.

For this reason, you may hear some musicians say that the two notes are different. However, for guitar players, they are the same. That’s because the advent of guitars and pianos gave instrument manufacturers an incentive to develop an even system of tuning. It’s easy to build a violin that can divide the octave into 19 notes. But to do that on the guitar or piano, it is much more complicated.

Common Frequencies in Music

Distance of FrequencyCents
One semitone100
One octave1200
7 octaves (approx. range of piano)8400


In a time long ago, D♯ and E♭ might have been thought of as two very slightly different notes. Today, they are exactly the same pitch. But there are still good reasons why we might choose to call a note E♭ (as in the third note of a Cmin chord) or D♯ (as in the third note of a Bmaj chord).

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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