Any pitch can be modified by using an accidental before a note. There are five accidentals: sharp, which raises a pitch by one half step; flat, which lowers a pitch by one half step; double sharp, which raises a pitch by two half steps; double flat, which lowers a pitch by two half steps; and natural, which returns the pitch to its original tone, or a white key on the piano. An accidental precedes the note in music notation, but comes after the note name when referring to the pitch, such as “C sharp.”
FIGURE 12-13. Accidentals
FIGURE 12-14. Accidentals on the piano keyboard
The same pitch can have different names, which are called enharmonic equivalents. If you look at the piano keyboard, you'll see that C Every pitch has enharmonic equivalent notes and derives its name from the function it serves in music theory. Although not an exact analogy, this is much the same idea as a word having different meanings depending on its context in a sentence.
FIGURE 12-15. Enharmonic equivalents
Learning to read music can be confusing at first, and this chapter is necessarily brief. For more information about reading music, take a look at The Everything® Reading Music Book with CD by Marc Schonbrun. You'll find much greater depth, a slower pace, and will have plenty of exercises for practice.