Chromatic and Enharmonic – What Do these Mean?

Two new terms for you today – chromatic and enharmonic. What are those, you ask? Well, keep reading and you will find out!

Chromatics

Definition:

Chromatics refer to a series of notes moving up or down by a series of half steps. A chromatic scale goes from any given note through all twelve half-steps up one full octave. If you start with a C and play a chromatic one-octave scale you will play these notes:

C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C

When we go higher with a chromatic scale, we use sharps. As we go lower, we use flat signs, like this:

C-B-B♭-A-A♭-G-G♭-F-E-E♭-D-D♭-C

Here is what this looks like on a keyboard:

Chromatic Scale from C to C
Chromatic Scale from C to C

Need a review of half-steps and major scales? Check these out:  Half-Steps and Whole-Steps  and  Major Scales

Derivation:

Way back in the 1700’s great minds decided that the scale should be divided into 12 equal steps per octave. Frequency of a pitch doubles from one octave to the next. So, they were looking for a way to have the exact same frequency interval between each half step within an octave. Using physics and math, including logarithms, they took the twelfth root of 2 to get an interval frequency of 1.0595. If you look at the standard frequency for any pitch (like A = 440), multiply that by 1.0595 and do that 12 times, you will end up with double the frequency, or the pitch of the note an octave higher than your starting note. Fascinating, I know.

So Why Should You Care?

Well, you probably don’t need to care much about all the math involved, unless that really interests you. But playing chromatics is important! You should practice playing multi-octave chromatic scales starting on every note. Pianists, you should learn to play chromatic scales with both hands in several ways; both hands moving together, both hands moving in opposite directions, and starting each hand on different notes! You might be able to really annoy people if you start with one hand on C and the other hand on D! Or C#!

Besides annoying people, you will frequently find chromatic passages in more advanced music. If you have practiced playing chromatic scales, it will be easy for you to play those passages in your music. Also, if you look at a passage, see that it is totally chromatic, then you only need to read the first note, the last note, and the rhythm. Your fingers (and your brain) will automatically know what to play in between.

Enharmonics

Definition:

Have you ever looked up a word in a dictionary and seen an alternate spelling given for that word? Like “shop” and “shoppe.” Or “theater” and “theatre.” Enharmonics are like alternate spellings for notes. Look at a keyboard at the notes F and G. You see that there is a black key between the two notes. If we go up a half-step from F, we hit that black key and call it F#. Going down a half-step from G we hit that same note and call it G♭. That is what we are talking about when we talk about enharmonics. A different name for the same note. By using sharps and flats, and double sharps and flats, one note can have two or three different names. Here is an example of what I mean:

Enharmonics - Different names for the same note
Enharmonics – Different names for the same note

Reasons for Enharmonics

Why do we need to have different names for the same notes? Why do we have to complicate things? If you remember when we talked about major scales, we said that you can only use the same letter name once in each octave of a scale (exception – first and last note). And we have to use the letters in alphabetical order, not skipping any. So, we can’t write a scale using D-E-G♭-G-A-B-D♭-D. We must write it like this: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D. If we played those two examples on a keyboard, they would sound the same, but we can’t write them like that.

Another reason for using enharmonics is that usually, when notes are going higher, we write accidentals with sharps signs, and when they are going lower, we usually use flat signs. This helps our brains better visualize what the sound is doing.

Understanding chromatic and enharmonic notes will help you be a better musician!

Chromatic and Enharmonic - Do You Know What These Mean?
Chromatic and Enharmonic – Do You Know What These Mean?

 

Music Theory Review

It’s time to review some music theory. We have talked about several things over the past few weeks. It is always good to go back and review.

First, we talked about some very basics of notation. Let’s see if you remember anything.

Music Theory Review
Music Theory Review

And we talked about reading notes in both the Bass Clef and the Treble Clef.

Treble Clef Space Notes
Treble Clef Space Notes
Treble Clef Line Notes
Treble Clef Line Notes

 

 

 

Bass Clef Space Notes
Bass Clef Space Notes
Bass Clef Line Notes
Bass Clef Line Notes

 

 

 

Then, we looked at comparisons between note values and rest values.

Note Values Graphic
Note Values Graphic
Rest Values
Rest Values

And we looked at sharp signs, flat signs, and natural signs.

Sharp, Flat, Natural Signs
Sharp, Flat, Natural Signs

We also talked about how time signatures and measures limit the amount of music that can fit in each measure. Remember, the two numbers in a time signature tell us two very important things. The top number tells us how many beats of music can fit in one measure. The bottom number of the time signature tells what kind of note gets one beat.

Time Signatures
Time Signatures

So, do you remember all this? Try our free worksheet and see how you do!

Download Worksheet Here

 

From Here to There: Life of an Interval

Intervals up the StairsIntervals? What’s an interval? Good question. Have you ever played on the stairs? My kids did – even when they weren’t supposed to. You know, how many stairs can you skip on the way down? How stairs can you jump on the way down? How many stairs can you skip on the way up? Think about that for a minute. That’s going to help you learn about intervals.

 

 

What is an interval?

An interval is a way of measuring the distance in pitch from one note to another. Intervals help us figure out if we must hop to a note, skip to a note, or jump to the next note. Kind of like playing on the stairs. Do you just step up to the next stair, skip a stair, or jump down the last 4 stairs.

Why should I learn intervals? What’s in it for me?

Learning to read music by intervals will help you be better at sight reading. (Reading music without practicing it lots of times first.) Reading intervals also helps you transpose music in your head better and faster. If you are a non-piano player, learning about intervals and how they sound will help you hear if you are playing the right note. (Or, if you are playing in tune!)

From Here to There: Life of Interval

Recognizing Intervals

Because we are talking about distance, intervals are named with numbers. The numbers represent how many notes (or steps) are included in the interval. Bottom note + top note + notes in between = interval. We write intervals with the notes one after the other or with the notes “stacked” on top of each other. Like part of a chord. Intervals can go up from a note, or down from a note.

Interval of a 2nd

2nds are notes that are one step apart. You might say they are next-door-neighbor notes. Or like going from one step on the stairs to the next one. When we write them on the lines and spaces of a staff one note will be on a line, and the other note will be on a space, either higher or lower than the first note. Here are examples of how 2nds look when they are written on a staff, and when they are played on a keyboard.

 

Interval 2nds staff

Interval 2nds Keyboard

 

Interval of a 3rd

3rds are a little further apart than 2nds. 3rds skip over a note. Like standing on the bottom step, skipping over the next one, and going to the 3rd step. When we write 3rds on a staff either both notes are on lines, or both notes are on spaces. We go from line to the very next line, or from space to the very next space. On a keyboard, one note sits in between the top and bottom notes of a 3rd.

Interval 3rds

Interval 3rds Keyboard

 

 

Interval of a 4th

Guess what! 4ths are just a bit further apart than 3rds. Like going up stairs and trying to skip over two steps.  Or jumping down the stairs over the last two steps. If one note of a 4th is on a line, the other note is on a space. If you look at a 4th on a keyboard you will see that two empty notes are between the bottom not and the top note.

Interval 4th

Interval 4ths Keyboard

 

 

Interval of a 5th

By the time we look at a 5th we are jumping from one note to the next. I do not recommend trying 5ths on the stairs! 5ths are intervals whose notes are either both line notes or both space notes. Either the notes go from line to line with an empty line in between or from space to space with an empty space in between. Take all the fingers of one hand and place them on consecutive notes on a keyboard. Then play the note under your thumb, and the note under your little finger, and you have played a 5th. Now, if you play the 3rd finger, you just played a 3rd from the bottom of the 5th, and a 3rd from the top of the 5th.  Very convenient to play – 5ths fit right under your fingers.

Interval 5ths KeyboardInterval 5ths

 

 

Interval of a 6th

On to a bigger jump! Definitely do NOT do this on your stairs!! 6ths are more line-space intervals. If one note is on a line, the other note must be on a space – with two empty lines and two empty spaces between the top and bottom notes. Remember how you put your hands on the keyboard for a 5th? Do the same thing, except make your last finger stretch out to one extra note. You just played a 6th.   Interval 6ths Keyboard

Interval 6ths

 

 

Interval of a 7th

7ths are really big jumps! A 7th is another interval that goes from line note to line note, or space note to space note. Line to line with 2 empty line between or space to space with 2 empty spaces between.

Intervals 7ths KeyboardIntervals 7ths

 

 

Octaves

Octaves are intervals of an 8th. They get their own special name. Octaves are special, because both the top note and the bottom note have the same letter names. From A to A makes an octave. Or from F to F. Or from D# to D#. We write one note on a line and the other on a space. The two notes sound the same – one is just higher than the other one.  Intervals Octave Keyboard

Intervals Octave

 

 

 

Interval Table

 

 

 

 

So, learn your intervals! And make your musical life easier!