Why Is There No B Sharp (on Ukulele)

The ukulele, or any instrument at all consists of the chromatic scale. If you have been learning them, you probably know about that already. There are 12 notes present on this scale, and for some strange reason, two notes seem to be missing. This is what we will be talking about today. Why is there no B sharp ( on ukulele), and no E sharp note? Let us discuss this.

The Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale contains all the notes that most songs you have listened to are composed of. That is right, just twelve notes to compose them all! These twelve notes are present on pianos, guitars and all instruments alike. The twelve essential notes for most forms of music are as follows:

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B

So did you notice? It started with a C, contained a # (called a sharp) for each note - with the exception of E and B. The reasons behind this are more subjective than they are scientific. 

The Absence of B and E sharp

There is no singular reason for why this has been the case. However, there are some reasons that may have led to this. The primary of which is probably the formation of a 7 note scale.

The 7 Note Scales

Originally, there existed the 7 note scale - commonly known today as the major scale. You may be familiar with it already, they are also referred to as ‘do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti’, and then a repeating ‘do’.  Any combination of music from back then would be composed of these 7, or a repetition of these 7 notes on different octaves.

Here is the C major scale, composed of 7 notes:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1(Repeating)

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

How it Gets Convoluted

Octaves are divisions in terms of frequency of the notes present in music. It is however very confusing at times, because octaves are not evenly separated. Let us refer to our previous diagram, but this time, we will also be including the frequencies.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

1(Repeating)

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

262Hz

294 Hz

330 Hz

349 Hz

392 Hz

440 Hz

494 Hz

523 Hz

As you can see, none of the intervals are equal to the other. The distance between each frequency is very strangely spaced out, and they do not follow a pattern. This is what gave the major scale its distinct sound - the intervals between each note.

Dividing them equally

In order to create an equal separation amongst all of the notations, the sharp was invented. You can also refer to them as flats, as they serve the same purpose but in a slightly different way.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

1(repeating)

C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

A#

B

C

262Hz

277 Hz

294 Hz

311 Hz

330 Hz

349 Hz

370 Hz

392 Hz

415 Hz

440 Hz

466 Hz

494 Hz

523 Hz

By adding the sharps (#) or flats (♭), you get 12 notes that are now evenly spaced out. They follow a logarithmic ratio that ensures that the spacing between them are equal in context. 

Take note of the fact that there were no changes created in the pre-existing scale! The start points and end points of each of the notes remain the same, they only have additional notes. The octaves in distance are the same in both the 7 note diagram and the 12 note diagram.

The Case of B and E

You will notice that upon addition of the 5 notes, there was never any room for a B sharp or an E sharp. If an additional interval was placed after B, it was already existing - the C note! It would not serve any logical purpose to add a note that was already present.

The Short Answer

Therefore, the shortest way to answer our original question - Why there is no B sharp? - is rather simple. For music of the old days to be able to work with the newer systems, the scales and notations had to be adjusted. These adjustments involved reasoning - like mentioned above - that got rid of a B sharp. The same is true for an E sharp.

Does this mean B sharp is C?

In the shortest answer to this, yes. A C note is indeed what a B sharp note would be in practice. Due to this being unnecessary, it was never done. This is also true in the case of F and an E sharp note. They are identical to one another.

What would happen without the 5 notes?

In a situation without the 5 notes being added, the 7 note scale could be adjusted.  This would lead to a symmetrical situation for the notes - but it would be much worse tonally. The notes would be equally spaced, but they would not sound as pleasant.

This also means the “happiness” that you hear when playing a major scale on a ukulele, it would be gone. The combinations of the notes, while interesting, would not be musically convenient. 

In Conclusion

This was just a brief way to explain why there is no B sharp. If you really want to learn about this, you can try looking up on topics such as the circle of fifths. It would be able to give you a more clear idea of how notes in music work with one another. You will understand that aside logic and math involved, tonal convenience was also taken into consideration when these scales were made.

We hope this has given you a more clear idea on why there is no B sharp, and the E sharp too. If you found this helpful, you can try learning more about it in practice by playing with your ukulele.

You can also read: Best Baritone Ukulele Strings

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