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If we have a G flat a natural gives a G, if we have a G sharp it gives a G, but what if we have a G double flat or double sharp? Especially if we are working in a key where G is already a flat or a sharp.

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    What is a becar? Jan 16, 2017 at 7:53
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    Oh, a бекар is a natural! Please edit your question to use English names, as a Google search does not find becar written in the Latin alphabet. I was lucky to guess that it was Russian and ran it through a translator. Jan 16, 2017 at 7:56
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    ♮ unicode symbol could be most international way to do it
    – teodozjan
    Jan 16, 2017 at 12:40
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    To answer a question adjacent to yours: If you have a Gbb and want the next note to be a Gb, just put a single flat sign next to the next note.
    – Tin Wizard
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:42
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    A double natural doesn't make any sense. One natural cancels out all other accidentals, including double sharps and double flats. One natural is the same as an infinite natural. Jan 17, 2017 at 3:29

4 Answers 4

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A natural sign always completely cancels any accidental that may be or have been on a note, and the note is played natural.

A G natural that comes after a G# is played as a G natural. A G natural following a G double sharp (Gx) is also played as a G natural.

Note that all the accidental symbols are treated the same way: they are absolute. A G# written after a previous G# is not played as a Gx, it's just played as a G#.

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    @SovereignSun No. One would never write Gxb. That doesn't make sense. If you want a musician to play G#, write G#. No matter what notes come before a note written G#, if it's written G#, it should be played G#. The only time the note we play is based on a previous accidental is when there is no accidental on the note. If there's no accidental at all, then we go with the previous accidental within the measure or the key signature. As soon as you put any accidental on a note, that accidental overrides everything from before it. Jan 16, 2017 at 8:31
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    @SovereignSun Sorry, no. A natural sign also cancels out the key signature. If you see a natural sign, you always play the completely natural note. Again, if a note has no accidental at all (a natural is an accidental) the you go back to the key signature or any previous accidental in the measure, if there is one. As soon as you put any accidental on, it immediately cancels out any prior accidentals and you play exactly the note written. Jan 16, 2017 at 8:37
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    No, a natural makes a changed note into a note of simple letter name. So a former Gx,Gbb,G#Gb will be played as G natural when there's a natural before it. Even if there's a G# in the key sig. Also remember the next barline reverts ANY accidental to the key sig - which is different, maybe.
    – Tim
    Jan 16, 2017 at 8:39
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    @SovereignSun Do you have any kind of teacher? This is a bit complicated to try to explain over the internet. All accidentals only last as long as the bar they are in. Once the bar ends, any further notes should be played as specified in the key signature, unless there are new accidentals in the next bar. Jan 16, 2017 at 8:47
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    @SovereignSun - Yes, the NEXT barline, exactly as I said. ANY accidental in the previous barline is cancelled by that barline after it. Unequivocal. You nee the same note (accidental) again - you must write it in again. I respectfully suggest, judging by a lot of your questions here, that, if a teacher is unavailable, you furnish yourself with some ABRSM theory books, probably among the best for simple explanations. Grades I-V will help enormously. Then - please ask away, but you'll be asking with a lot more substance behind you, so answers will make more sense to you.
    – Tim
    Jan 16, 2017 at 9:06
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This paragraph in the Lilypond (notation software) docs might be relevant:

In accordance with traditional typesetting rules, a natural sign is printed before a sharp or flat if a previous double sharp or flat on the same note is canceled. (To change this behavior to contemporary practice, set the extraNatural property to f in the Staff context.)

enter image description here

(the first measure corresponds to the "traditional" behaviour, the second to the "contemporary" - the played notes in both measures are the same, and they don't depend on the key)

This implies that:

  • To turn a double flat into a single flat (regardless of the key) the traditional practice is to use a natural-flat pair.

  • Alternatively (and more contemporarily), the natural can be ommited: a single flat is enough.

  • A single natural sign always produces the natural note (regardless of previous accidentals or key)

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    In many printing fields there's a tendency to minimize "redundant" information without regard for whether it might make things more readable. Is there any real advantage to the second approach above (using a single flat to cancel a double flat) besides saving ink?
    – supercat
    Jan 16, 2017 at 20:56
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    @supercat I would say that a single flat is more readable, but I guess not everyone agrees
    – leonbloy
    Jan 16, 2017 at 21:02
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    Incidentally, without the context, I would read "contemporary practice" as meaning "the practice at the time the music was written" rather than "modern practice". Jan 17, 2017 at 0:08
  • Excellent point! This old/modern method also applies to key signatures. Jan 18, 2023 at 18:09
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Remember your order of flats/sharps and that a flat or sharp is a "half tone" step.

The order for flats is

B E A D G C F

Sharps are backwards

F C G D A E B

Among other things this can be used as a guide of rarity. Under normal circumstances, to have a B# sound good, you need to also be playing F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, and E#.

Now when applied to say a Piano, there is no B# key. Half a "step" up from a B is a C. So to play a B# you would just play a C.

Now back to your question, it's rare but not unheard of to have a "double" accidental on pieces that are transposed poorly, or as a way of shoving more voices in the same staff.

So an F## would be played as G (F + two half steps up).

I have never seen this in a well transposed piece. (Cramming more voices on a staff, or using F## instead of a G)

What is more Common is something like a A♭ major scale. B, E, and A are flat (order of flats)

So you get something, special in beginner pieces like

B♭, C, D, E♭, F, G, A♭, B♭

If written as

Not Double flats

These are not double flats, there just reminders to play flats.

Not double flats

Also in the second measure these are not double flats.

Double flats

Here in this example we have double flats.

C♭♭ is really a B♭ while the B♭♭ is really a A natural

C down half is a B down half is a B flat
B down half is a B♭ down half is a A natural

Lastly, I have seen, though rare, writing like this.

Rare but seen

These two measures sound the same, but the first, is in some opinions easier to read. Keep in mind the second double flat isn't needed, I just included it for demo purposes.

Normally when people write music in this style (example 3) it's due to a beleife that all As in a A flat major piece should be flat, but the music calls for a an A natural. i.e. It's a writing style, not a totally new note. This is fairly common. Even more so in keys that have many flats, but music that needs a "lesser" (more common) flat to be played neutral.

A more contrived example would be something like

Naturals

In the last measure, notes 3,4, 7, and 8 are all natural, while, 1 is flat because of the key signature, and note 5 had to have the flat reapplied to cancel out the natural from note 3.

All accidentals apply to the rest of the measure unless otherwise changed. So if we take out the naturals, You would play A♭, G, G, G, A♭, G, A♭, A♭.

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  • Taking into account you last image: It's Ab, A, Ab, A and the second measure is also Ab, A, Ab, A because of the naturals and the 3rd 4th flat note is just a reminder? Jan 16, 2017 at 13:36
  • Yep, exactly. 1 2
    – coteyr
    Jan 16, 2017 at 13:36
  • musescore.com/user/5379876/scores/3242531 You can hear it here.
    – coteyr
    Jan 16, 2017 at 13:39
  • This answer is better than mine. I was thinking of editing in examples but you've already done it. Well done coming into Music.SE and posting so much great content. Jan 16, 2017 at 16:48
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    Double sharps arise from chromatically raising notes that are already "sharp", e.g. Fx is F# chromatically raised. Likewise double flats. They are correct spellings in some contexts; they do not necessarily arise from transposing poorly. If a composer wanted to shove two voices onto a stave, that would not excuse spelling notes wrongly -- some sheet music contains wrong spellings, but IME never merely in order to have two voices on one stave.
    – Rosie F
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:09
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The raising and lowering by half step for sharps and flats applies only when relative to a natural tone. So, if you started with a G♮ and then added a sharp G♯, the change is a half step ascent.

That is just a basic definition. It is especially applicable when first explaining the staff pitch letters and key signatures.

When you get into double sharps/flats we find out that accidentals are literal. You don't add/subtract by half steps with accumulated accidentals. Also, I don't think "cancel" is quite the right word, because that implies canceling to go back to a previous value. You just take the pitch letter from the staff and apply the accidental regardless of anything else around the note.

enter image description here

In those examples...

  • the accidentals apply regardless of the key signature
  • the accidentals apply regardless of preceding accidentals
  • the two blue notes (notes on beat two) are G natural and G sharp
  • enharmonically the first bar is a descent of two half steps (the natural sign did not merely lower by one half step)
  • enharmonically the second bar is an ascent of three half steps (the sharp sign did not merely raise by one half step)

Don't accumulate, or add/subtract, half steps.

Just play literally what the note says: the pitch letter and its accidental.

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