Quick Guide to Accidentals

Accidentals change notes higher or lower.

Accidentals give you a wider range of music and are needed in every key but C major (and A natural minor).

Learn the names of piano keys and how to read notes before you learn the accidentals.

Pieces don’t sound right if they’re not in the right key– without the right accidentals!

This post is targeted towards beginner pianists as a resource for piano teachers and their students.

How Do Accidentals Work?

Accidentals work like notes.

There are line notes and space notes– there are line accidentals and space accidentals.

The accidental changes the note that it sits beside, to the right.

If it’s written in the key signature, the accidental would change the note that would have been in the particular spot.


Play the key one step (semitone) up (to the right).

  • For example, an F sharp means you play the black key that’s to the right of the F, because that way is up.
  • An E sharp would mean an F key.


Play the key one step (semitone) down (to the left).

  • For example, an E flat means you play the black key to the left of the E, because that way is down.
  • An F flat would also mean an E key.


Naturals cancel out whatever accidental there was for the note before, so you just play the normal white key, as long as the natural is in the same bar.

  • If you see a B flat, then a B natural somewhere in the same bar, then you would just play a plain B when  you see the natural.

Double Sharps and Double Flats

Instead of bringing the note one step up or down, make it two!

  • E.g. An F double sharp is a G; an F double flat is an E flat or D sharp.

Quarter-Tone Music

Quarter-tone music, or microtonal music, uses intervals smaller than the semitones that are equally spaced in each octave (microtones). These symbols vary for each composer, so get to know a quarter-tone music composer before you play his or her pieces!

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