When to Use Sharps and Flats in Songwriting

Sharps and Flats

When you were first starting out with songwriting, you might have come across some strange symbols like “#” and “b”. In music, these are called accidentals, more commonly known as sharps (#) and flats (b). They can be a bit intimidating at first, especially if you first spy them on sheet music, but you’d be surprised how often they appear in music. So, let’s dive into some tips on when you should use sharps and flats in your songwriting and how often. 

1. It’s All About the Key

The natural frequency of sharps and flats in your melodies depends on the key you’ve chosen for your song. C major has no sharps or flats while Gb major has six flats (Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, and Eb)! Luckily, any major scale will sound similar to another. But depending on your instrument, you would still have to be mindful of those accidentals!

2. Dare to Dabble in Modes

Modes are scales with extra accidentals that differ from your major and minor scale. Some modes have more of a major sound (Mixolydian) while some lean more towards minor (Dorian). Experiment with modes and discover how they change the use of accidentals in your composition.

3. Jazz It Up with Accidentals

If you’re looking to infuse a bit of jazz or add some chromaticism to your melodies, accidentals are your best friends. These “outside” notes can create tension and spice in your song. However, be cautious not to overuse accidentals, as it might muddy the melody.

4. Tension and Release

When you want to build tension, consider adding an accidental right before the chorus. If you like how it sounds, try and place some more accidentals throughout the song. As the previous point stated, you want to be careful to not do this too often unless an obscure melody is your intention.

5. Comfort Is Key

As with anything, you should use sharps and flats as long as you are comfortable with them. The easiest way to explore them is by trying out another major or minor key other than C Major. As for extra accidentals, you don’t have to add them if you don’t feel like it! You are the creative mastermind here after all!

In conclusion, sharps and flats are abundant in music, and we can control however many accidentals we may want in our music. Use them wisely and purposefully, considering your key, any modes, and the ebb and flow of your song. As you grow in your songwriting journey, accidentals will become your musical palette, feeling more effortless to incorporate into your songs. So, have fun, experiment, and let your creativity soar!

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