In order to understand what a natural sign does to a note, you must first know what sharps and flats do to a note. If you've come across this blog, you likely already know. If not, I'll quickly go over it for you! A sharp will make a note a half step higher, while a flat will make a note a half step lower. In Western music, you will come across a key signature at the beginning of a song that may have one or several notes or sharps. Skip to the next section if you're familiar enough with sharps and flats.
The most basic key, or scale, is the key of C. When looking at the piano, you will note that you can play through the whole major scale of C without using any black keys. This is because the major scale is perfectly set up to fit the key of C with each of the notes having either a half step or a whole step in between.
When you reach the 3rd note on a major scale, the note directly after is naturally a half step higher and not a whole step like you will hear and see between the 1st and 2nd note or the 2nd and 3rd note. The same happens between the 7th (the B) and the following 1st note which will again be C (a higher C) since there are only 7 unique notes on a major scale.
The key of C is not the only key you can create a major scale in. You can use any note on the piano to start your major scale, but you will need to adjust the notes with a sharp or a flat in order to keep the right amount of half and whole steps in between the notes. This is why you will notice that some key signatures have either sharps or flats. F major for example needs to use Bb instead of B in order to maintain the right amount of space between the 3rd and 4th note of the scale.
While following the major or minor scale rules works well for many songs, sometimes a song will add more flavor than what the basic scale dictates in its rules. As an example, many major scale songs like to use a raised 4th instead of the regular 4th note in a scale to give the relationship between the 4th a 5th note more of the natural leading tone feeling between the 7th and the 1st note. This also gives a song a feel of a Lydian scale instead of a major scale. A Lydian scale is just like the major scale, but it raises the 4th note by a half step.
To show in a measure of your song that you are temporarily using a raised fourth in your scale, you would need to mark that note with a natural. A natural sign will indicate that you want to break the rules for that section and change the way the scale works in order to add more flavor and emotion to that one part.
Flat signs, sharp signs, and natural signs are what we like to call accidentals in music. In some cases, these extra notes that add flavor will need a sharp or a flat sign instead of a natural sign in order to show the musician they must sing or play a different note than intended. For example, in the key of C, a natural wouldn't change a thing in the scale since there are no sharps or flats in the key of C in the first place. To indicate a raised fourth in the key of C, you will need to put a sharp symbol next to the note.
It may sound funny to call it an "accidental" since you really won't be singing the changed note on accident, but it could sound like an accident and feel strange that you broke the rules of the scale for that song. Once you've played or sang through enough accidentals though, you'll start to get the hang of it.
It is important to note that an accidental only changes the rules of your song's scale and key for one measure. If you see a note with an accidental in one measure but not in the next, you will need to recognize that as two different notes. Sometimes, it can get confusing when misprints are involved and the note that needs to be sung is missing or has an "accidental accidental" (HAHA!), but it should be easy for a well-ear-trained musician to figure out which note will fit that song in that particular place.
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This blog was written by singer, songwriter and producer Yona Marie. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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