I took a beginner music theory class and there was a quiz on reading music notation.

enter image description here


I got 8 of them right. I got the 4th and 10th bar wrong. I wrote it's a whole step (W) for both, but the answer key says it's a half-step (H) for both.

4th measure:

E# and Eb
F and Eb (there is no E#, I assume it's F)
I do 2 half steps (from F to E, and from E to Eb) which is a whole step

enter image description here

10th measure:

Bb and B#
Bb and C (I assume there is no B# and replaced it with C)
I do 2 half steps (from Bb to B, and from B to C) which is a whole step

enter image description here

Feel free to correct my terminology.

("hs" on the pictures stands for "half step")

  • 4
    This is an HNQ now, and I'd hate for fellow SE prowlers to get catfished into clicking for a complicated enharmonics question. (I edited the title so that it doesn't mislead anyone)
    – user45266
    Nov 18, 2019 at 6:13

2 Answers 2


The confusion arises from the accidentals. Your answer of a whole step would absolutely be correct if those were sharps (♯), but in fact those accidentals are naturals, not sharps (♮). A note with a natural in front of it cancels any previous accidentals, meaning play the note on the white key. So, E♮ to E♭ is a half step (go down one key from E) and B♭ to B♮ is a half step as well (go up one key from B♭).

  • 5
    It's redundant and likely just to avoid confusion in the context of a beginner exercise. Nov 17, 2019 at 22:25
  • 1
    @ggcg It hardly matters in this context, I suppose. The music does say the first measure is measure 15, so potentially, but with no other context, I'd have to put my money on a (mis)use of courtesy accidentals. Why anyone would mark the high E with a natural but not the low E in the measure before it is beyond me.
    – user45266
    Nov 18, 2019 at 4:36
  • 2
    Are we sure the 15 is the bar number and not the question number? It's a contrived test, it's not meant to represent actual music. Another possibility, as it's a beginner test, is that it's confirming that the (b) for the 2nd E does not apply to the first one (we know it doesn't, but it's a good way to ensure that mistake is not made, in the context of the test (perhaps it would be a better test without it?)). It's also a good test to ensure the natural sign is not mistaken for a sharp sign, even if it's placed where it's not needed/expected (as demonstrated by this very question).
    – fdomn-m
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:43
  • 1
    @user45266 It seems pretty clear that there is no intended relationship between one measure and the next. Each exercise is independent on the previous one. I believe the professor made good choices here, given the context and the sort of cognition required of the students.
    – Ben I.
    Nov 18, 2019 at 13:28
  • 2
    I think it's on purpose, to test if the students don't mistake the natural sign with the sharp one, as they are quite similar (too much? well a bit late for change I guess :)
    – Kaddath
    Nov 18, 2019 at 15:32

You are misreading the staff. Those aren't sharp symbols, those are natural symbols. So E-natural to E-flat and B-flat to B-natural. In measure 4, the natural symbol is redundant because a note is assumed to follow the key signature (C in this case) unless there's a preceding note in the same measure with an accidental. Therefore the first note in this measure is E-natural anyway.

In the 10th measure, the natural symbol is needed because the preceding B is B-flat -- meaning the second note would also be B-flat with nothing indicating otherwise.

  • Starting at 'bar 15', can it be assumed that the key is C? It's hardly a 'good' question.
    – Tim
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:09
  • 4
    @Tim I wouldn’t speak about any key at all in such an exercise but… There is a clef printed on the left side and if there were any key signature, it would have to be printed on each staff after the clef (unlike time signature).
    – Melebius
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:28
  • @Melebius - point taken. There's a fair bit of music I play that has clef and/or key sig. missing apart from the first line! Take a look at real or fake book transcripts.
    – Tim
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:31
  • 2
    @Tim Does the mentioned music have bar numbers on each staff? I am pretty sure it does not. However, the OP’s example seems to be made in modern notation software like Sibelius or Musescore which would automatically include the key signature and bar numbers on each staff or system, respectively. However, I wouldn’t assume the bar 15 meaning anything here, I can even imagine it being the third staff of a “score” (or better speaking a notation software document) where each staff means a different exercise.
    – Melebius
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:35
  • 1
    @Melebius yes, it was created in Musescore. Nov 18, 2019 at 19:01

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