I always had this issue when naming certain notes in the music scale. For example, when I spell out certain notes such as Eb, some people have advised me to use D# instead of Eb stating that it is the most commonly used term among the music theories. Is it true? If so, which is the most accurate way to write the music scale? I always used to write the scale as follows.

C C# D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B

Please advise.


  • 5
    It depends upon what key you are working in at the moment, and the key signature for that key. One cannot generalize about whether it should be Eb or D# by itself; it depends upon the context in which you are using it.
    – user1044
    Jun 22, 2015 at 14:23
  • 1
    If you are speaking strictly in terms of an ascending chromatic scale, outside the context of any key or supporting harmonies, then it would make much more sense to use sharps. Jun 22, 2015 at 15:32
  • 1
    Conversely, a DESCENDING chromatic scale outside of any other context would typically be written using flats and no sharps. Jun 22, 2015 at 16:32

3 Answers 3


As Wheat Williams indicated, context is everything. Oscillating between E and E-flat is notationally awkward. In the absence of other compelling influences, I would notate this as D-sharp. Similarly, Oscillating between D and D-sharp is awkward; in that context I would notate as E-flat. In the context of a major or minor scale, you should notate in a fashion that is consistent with the key signature. For example, we generally try to avoid introducing flats when the key signature uses sharps. There are always exceptional cases, but start from this principle.

  • Difficult to not mix # and b in minor scales - Dm - Bb and C#, Gm - Bb, Eb and F#, etc.
    – Tim
    Jun 22, 2015 at 15:23
  • Note that I do not say "avoid mixing sharps and flats", but I will revise the answer if you feel it is misleading. Jun 22, 2015 at 15:29
  • Not exactly sure. If you mean 'in a sharp key, try to keep accidentals sharp' it's a good notion, but technically unsound. As in my example of Bb in the key of D, to signify a min. 3rd of the IV chord. This won't be written as A#, just to keep everything sharp.
    – Tim
    Jun 22, 2015 at 15:42
  • D minor is not a sharp key. I don't really understand what you're getting at. Can you give an example using E minor Jun 22, 2015 at 15:52
  • D =D major. if there's an A#/Bb note used, it depends on context as to which. Bb if the harmony is a G minor chord, but A# if the harmony is D augmented. There's usually a technical reason why an 'accidental' has a specific note name. Since E minor is a '#' key, there won't be any flats in the scale notes. My point is that in minor, 'b' keys, the leading note is often a #. Thus using # and b in the same tune.
    – Tim
    Jun 22, 2015 at 16:01

It depends on the specific scale you are talking about. If the note is not a member of this scale, things become difficult: one would have to decide according to the function it has in a given piece of music, whether it is a flattened or sharpened one. Without any additional information one choice is as good as the other.

Your given scale seems close to the strategy: Use the notation, with the fewest accidentals (related to major), in which this note occurrs first. Close to, because G# occurrs in A major (3 sharps) as well as Ab in e flat major (3 flats) so the choice is not unique.

Given the existence of instruments like the Eb clarinet or saxofone, I can't agree with your mentioned some people.


Certainly Eb is more 'common' than D#. Eb comes as the second changed flat, whereas D# is the 4th. It depends a lot on the key the piece is in. If it's a sharp key, then that note usually gets called D#. If it's a flat key, it's Eb.

However, it also depends on what note it changed from. Say a tune is in A major, and it modulates into E for a bar or few, then it's D#. Say a tune is in G major, and the harmony in a bar needs C minor, then it's Eb, as the E gets changed. There's still a D available, but the E has now morphed into Eb.

If you're talking about the chromatic scale only, that's different.


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