How to Understand Double Sharps and Flats

Introduction: How to Understand Double Sharps and Flats

Most of us know about double endings, double scoop ice cream cones, or doubles on the tennis courts, but did you know that we also have some very special "doubles" in our piano music that you are bound to run into sooner or later.

These particular doubles are called double sharps and/or double flats.

We start learning our sharps in our piano playing pretty much from the beginning, as soon as we've learned the Key of C major, and then we learn our flat keys.

As we continue to progress in our knowledge of scales and all of our keys, we start playing chords and music that contain a variety of key signatures and even mix some up, right in the middle of the piece.

Double sharps and flats are more common in advanced music and are found in many different pieces and exercises.

Many students wonder why we would play a double flat or sharp instead of just playing/calling it the "real" note?!

We're going to answer that question in this lesson and in the video at the end of the lesson and you will be able to play them a lot easier after going through it with me at your own keyboard.

Let's first find out what double sharps and flats look like in our music.

Step 1: Double Sharps & Flats in Piano Music

The first image shows a double sharp. It looks like sort of a funky X with little points at each end. It will always come before the note that the double sharp is to be applied to.

The second image shows a double flat. Notice that with the double flat, you actually have two flat notes on the music instead of just the one "x" indicating a double sharp. Just like a double sharp, a double flat will always come right before the note that the double flat is to be applied to.

When you see a double sharp in your music, you simply add a semitone/ half step to the original note.

For example - if you have a double sharp in front of a C, you would first move up a half step to C# and then one more, to C double sharp, or what you already know as D.

It's the same for flats. When you see a double flat in front of E for example, you would move down two half steps/semitones from E, to reach that E double flat, or what you already know as Db.

So now you may have come to that ever commonplace of thinking, "wait, why in the world would you do all of that just to play D or Db??" Why not write them in the music as the actual note instead of this crazy way?

Let's find out...once you know it will make perfect sense!

Step 2: Why Do We Even Have Double Sharps and Flats?

This is by far the most common question from all students concerning double flats and sharps, and it makes sense that they don't make sense...until you think about...Chords.

Chords, just like scales, are made up of specific notes. It is those specific notes that define the uniqueness of each different Key in music; much like our fingerprints define each of us in totally unique terms.

So each chord has to contain specific notes to be correct.

Let's look at a B chord. The notes in a B chord are B, D#, and F#. Now, remember that with any chord, we can have different variants of that same chord through inversions; which means simply playing the same notes but stacked up over each other differently.

Sometimes, we play a type of chord that makes that last note go either higher or lower by one-half step or semitone. These are called Augmented and Diminished Chords.

If we want to play an augmented B chord, we're going to have to raise the last note one half step.

The F# would then become G, right? But wait, we can't have G in a B chord, because there isn't a G in a B chord! So what can we do?

Ahh, we can turn the F# into a Double F#, and we'll end up playing the G...but we'll keep the notes in the chord correct so that we're still playing a B chord.

We have to use double sharps and flats to keep the chord notes right according to what key and what specific chord we're playing. That's it!

Take a look at both images above. The first one shows the B chord with a double F# in it, and the second one shows the chord as it would look with a G in it instead. You can see how the second chord almost looks like an inversion of some other chord/key, rather than the same B chord we started with.

Now that you've learned about double sharps and flats here, let's go to your keyboard together and look at these different notations in actual piano music and we'll go over several different examples of them so you'll be really confident with your understanding of them.

Step 3: Come Practice With Me!

This video lesson reinforces what we've just learned here and I will show you what double flats and sharps look like in music as well as how to play them on the piano.

I'll also go over in more detail the difference in chords with and without the correct doubled notes in them and you'll be able to hear what a lot of different chords sound like.

Plus you can practice with this video anytime you like just to make sure you've got it all before you move onto your next challenge!

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