What Are Enharmonic Notes (A.K.A Enharmonic Equivalents)?

December 26, 2023
Enharmonic Notes and Enharmonic Equivalents - Image of Music Notation by Marius Masalar

Have you ever wondered why some notes sound the same even though they have different names? These notes are called enharmonic equivalents, which occur when two notes have the same pitch but are spelled differently. The sounds of these notes are indistinguishable, but in music theory, they can be used to describe the function of a note in a chord.

The origins of enharmonic notes can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where they were used in tuning instruments. The concept was later developed by medieval theorists and has been used in Western music since the Renaissance.

What Are Enharmonic Notes in Music?

Enharmonic notes are two notes that have the same pitch but are spelled differently. These notes are usually played on different instruments or have different names. For example, the note A♯ (A-sharp) is the enharmonic equivalent of B♭ (B-flat). 

Enharmonic Equivalent Note Spelling for A Sharp and B Flat
Enharmonic Equivalent Note Spelling for A Sharp and B Flat. Same pitch and same fret on the bass guitar, but different spelling.

Enharmonic notes are often used to describe the function of a note in a chord. For example, note C♯ can be used as the root of a C♯ major chord, or it can be used as the third of an A major chord.

Another way to think of it is looking at the keys on a piano. A C sharp and D flat is the exact same black key on a keyboard. Two different names, same pitch.

Enharmonic Notes Table – Learn the Enharmonic Equivalent for Each Note

The following table shows enharmonically equivalent notes starting with the note A. If you see a “♭♭” that means a double flat. In other words you would lower the pitch by two half steps. You could also see double sharps in the field. Once you see the table below, you’ll get the hang of it quickly and know which spelling works best for you.

Note: While a certain enharmonic spelling may make the most sense from a theoretical perspective, sometimes the most simple spelling is easier to access depending on the musical context.

Table of Notes And Their Enharmonic Equivalents

NoteEnharmonic Equivalent
AB♭♭
A♯B♭
BC♭
B♯C
CD♭♭
C♯D♭
DE♭♭
D♯E♭
EF♭
E♯F
FG♭♭
F♯G♭
GA♭♭
G♯A♭
Table of Notes And Their Enharmonic Equivalents

Which Enharmonic Spelling (Sharp or Flat) Should You Use?

There’s a couple school’s of thought when it comes to which enharmonic spelling you should use.

Theoretically, the correct enharmonic spelling is based on the function of the note. For example, a G♭ in the key of D♭ is referring to some sort of fourth. But, a F♯ in the key of D♭ is referring to some sort of third.

The other school of thought is to use whichever enharmonic spelling is more accessible to your mind. If it’s simply easier and faster to think of D♭ than it is to think of C♯, then use D♭. At the end of the day, the notes sound exactly the same. So, try not to get caught up on spelling.

If you really want to streamline your thought process, check out the Number System in music. A lot of jazz musicians think more in numbers than with note spellings.

The Number System in music is an efficient approach, because you no longer have to deal with enharmonic spellings.

Click here for more jazz theory instruction like this.

PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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