Wondering what the heck an E sharp is?! Or if that even exists?!

January 10, 2010 at 02:58 AM ·

Hi everyone.

I am tyring to learn a gypsy tune (the Gypsy theme from the Red Violin, actually) and part of it has four sharps (the key of E) which I understand but then in another part it jumps to 6 sharps.  I am totally confused because one of the notes that is sharped is E.  What the heck is an E sharp?!  Is an E sharp the same as an F? 

Also: where would you place your finger to play an A sharp on the G string? 

Thank you very much in advance for answering.  (:


Replies (34)

January 10, 2010 at 03:21 AM ·

Yes, an E# is the same as an F natural.  Sorry if this sounds obvious, but:  a sharp raises the pitch 1/2 step, and a flat lowers it 1/2 step.  Any note can be sharped or flatted.  E# = F natural (pretty much).  A# = B-flat (pretty much).  You may get responses saying that E# is slightly sharper or flatter than F, and that is true.  But if you see an E# and play an F-natural, you will be just fine for the time being. 


January 10, 2010 at 04:03 AM ·

Oh, and just for the record, if you ever see a note written with 2 sharps (##), that raises it a whole step.  So, an E## is an F#.  I have never seen that in violin music,  but I don't doubt it exists somewhere.  It does, however, occasionally occur in handbell music.


January 10, 2010 at 04:14 AM ·

Thank you very much!  That helps a lot!

January 10, 2010 at 04:44 AM ·

I am not an expert in music theory, but E#s are a logical notation of the leading tone in F# (melodic) minor. Both that key, and that notation seem to me to be used particularly  by composers familiar with Gypsy and Arabic music. As someone who has spent a bit if time in the Arab world, E# says to me that that they are also searching for a quarter-tone notation or "leaning."  You will find E#s, for example, in both the Midnight Gypsy Variation in the last movement of the Dohnanyi First Violin Concerto and in the ending Andalucian Lament in the last movement of the Benjamin Britten Concerto, two of my most favorite pieces in the whole violin literature. Those are great works, BTW.  More people should get to know them. (There is a superb performance of the Britten by Frank Peter Zimmerman on YouTube. I am performing it on Feb. 28, 2010) Lawrence Franko

January 10, 2010 at 06:28 AM ·

Dohnanyi First concerto- what a great piece.

January 10, 2010 at 06:50 AM ·

Went to practice after writing my first comment, and remembered this thread when I found a passage (in Dvorak's "Silent Woods") that goes E-flat, D-flat, C-flat, B-double-flat, A-flat, G-flat, F-natural.  Hoo boy.

January 10, 2010 at 01:36 PM ·

Hannah - what Lawrence has posted is important.  Whether a composer writes a piece with a note that is E-sharp or F-natural (or for that matter G-sharp or A-flat) has more to do with music theory (what key the piece is in or where the composer is taking the piece tonally) than with anything that the composer expects the musician to do.  As a violinist, you simply play the E-sharp as F-natural.

January 10, 2010 at 03:09 PM ·

BTW, While a double flat is written "bb", the symbol for a double sharp is written as "x" rather than "##".  You may also see such things as 1. a Natural sign followed by a sharp, or 2. a Natural sign followed by a flat.  These are often (but not always) used when 1. going from a double sharp to a single sharp, or 2. from a double flat to a single flat, or 1. from a flat to a sharp, or 2. a sharp to a flat.

January 10, 2010 at 05:08 PM ·


Here's a little quiz: a rather well-known piece in the repertoire has a c double flat somewhere. Which piece?



(who resorts to asking silly questions about pieces he can't play)

Edit: the question wasn't even right: it's a b double flat, and there are at least two well-known pieces in the repertoire that have one (or more).

January 10, 2010 at 06:17 PM ·

Bart -- I have no idea.  But I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Chausson Poeme.

January 10, 2010 at 06:57 PM ·

Bruce, mea culpa -- see the edit, above.

January 10, 2010 at 10:50 PM ·


I respectfully disagree with all the claims that they are the same note. Understanding the intonation of the violin is not merely a techncial point in which one substitutes soemthing for something else.   Intonation is concerned with tension and release,  something that is achived differnelty on the keyboard.   The tension and release is created by a strong sense of whether the note is a sharp or a flat or double thingummy.   -All keys have a diffenret sound- and must be played as such, not as an enharmonic compromise. A violnist who has been taught to think as the latter is not only a rather dull player relative to what can be done but actually doesn`t really udnerstand the music they are playing.  Composers write the way they do because they ahve a particular sound in mind and that is what we have a repsonsibility to reproduce as best we can. 

This is, in my opinion, not pedantic nitpicking but fundamental technique which shoudl be taught on the nstrument from the start.

Incidentally, Hefetz did not allow enharmonic versions of scales.  One was required,  according to what I have rea dby Sherry Kloss,   to prepare two completley differnet scales with diffenret fingerings to ram home te point.  I was perosnally picked upon this point a great deal by the then leader of the London Symphony orchesra who I made the courageous erorr odf studying the Rode Caprices with.  he was admant about key sensitivity.   Maybe take a look at one of the finset textbooks ever written for the violin almost never used;)    :Paginini`s Barucaba variations.  Written in all keys with uncompomising use all keys writtenas they should be.   A very clear message as to what the violin is about.

Incidentally, this is not high level technique.  Ear sensitivity to key can betrained quite easily from the beginning.  



January 11, 2010 at 12:59 AM ·

 To coin a phrase, "let me be perfectly clear." I agree with Buri. E# is not quite the same thing as F natural -- even 'though you can get away with it as an approximation. It is (more or less) a quarter tone higher. Check out, e.g., Habib Hassan Touma's  The Music of the Arabs. If you play it "sharp," listeners will forgive you. If you play it too much like an F-natural, they will wince. 

January 11, 2010 at 01:54 AM ·

I, too agree with Buri, its not the same as you think it is, E# to F natural, I think this what they called an "expressive intonation" if it is written as E# and not F natural, if you play it very slowly and put your finger on F natural its not gonna sound the same, you have to adjust your finger until you know the what it should sound like as a phrase and the shape of the measure.



January 11, 2010 at 02:14 AM ·


January 11, 2010 at 02:40 AM ·

To answer your other fingering question, Hanna, my knee-jerk response is to play A# with first finger.  However, it depends on the context.

January 11, 2010 at 04:25 PM ·

I think that this is the piece referenced in the Ben Chan discussion yesterday:


He does a nice job of playing through it.

I would add to the discussion of scales the point that the gypsy and other traditional styles were never written down, and one attempts to transcribe such music at his own peril and with necessary approximations.  In particular, slides and similar ways of ornamenting the style are routine - notice that Chan slides a few times, and is sensitive to the requirements of the style generally.

The touchstone in such situations is not the transcription, but rather examples of the musical style as played.  Try this:


He's improvising, and it gives a good feel for a style that favors tonal variations, sliding continually into and out of notes.  It's headed towards being microtonal.  Try this, Bulgarian bagpipes:


Back to the E# - I'm guessing that what you really should be doing is making the note by sliding up from the E, moving into something that sounds right in the musical style but which never quite makes it to F - slippery music, in tune with itself if not with tempered scales.

January 11, 2010 at 10:47 PM ·

Einstein's theory of music.


January 12, 2010 at 04:58 AM ·

Yes, there is such a thing as an E sharp which is different than a F flat :

A "tone" (for example, the distance from D to E) is composed of nine "commas".  A "comma" is the smallest interval our ears can differentiate. E sharp is, by definition, E plus five commas above, whereas F flat is an F with five commas below. Consequently, if we do our math, E sharp is sharper than F flat by one comma, and F flat is flatter than E sharp also by one comma. For we string players, a comma is an important thing, so E sharp should be different than a F flat, BUT since music is much more than string instruments (we have keyboards as well !) we owe to J. S. Bach the definition that an E sharp is equal to a F flat ( and C# = Db, D# = E flat, and so forth) as a standard to tune keyboard instruments. In fact, his magnificent work "The Well Tempered Klavier" is based on this tuning theory. Nowadays, an E sharp is nothing more than a F flat even if that is not exactly true.

January 13, 2010 at 07:57 AM ·


From an etude book edited by Jenö Hubay, the Hungarian virtuoso and teacher:

Az eisz-t az f helyén fogjuk.

Man greife das eis an der Stelle des f.

On mette le mi dièse à la place du fa.

Here you have it in three languages: put the e sharp in the place of the f.



January 22, 2010 at 02:44 PM ·

 The notes that comprise a C# Major triad are: C#, E#, G#

Does that make cents?

February 21, 2010 at 02:00 AM ·

 I must have a special proclivity for pieces with E sharps in them. I was just rehearsing the Durufle Requiem (and the Britten Violin Concerto) today with Sounds of Stow today, and noticed that the Durfle has one or more E sharps in the last "In Paradise" movement. It is in F Sharp Major...(!!)

February 21, 2010 at 03:19 AM ·

I think there are a number of questions implied here and they are dealt with quite well in Laurinel Owen's article "Sound Advice" in the May 2003 issue of The STRAD Magazine (pages 481 - 484).

On point, E# is a pitch between E and F# that depends on the key and the context (of course, in the same sense so too do those surrounding notes a half-tone away). These are fine points that a fixed pitch instrument cannot deal with, so with pianos or keyboards (or guitars) virtually everywhere, we tend to have never learned this. The pitch will be different for scale or melodic passages than for chord or harmonic situations. All this si brought out in the article - and one of the first (important) things to learn in playing all-string chamber music.

Another issue when playing string instruments in multiple flats (especially) - like 6 flats. It can be easier to rewrite the entire section in a key with sharps instead - if you find that easier to read. I know that I have done that (at least once) in the cello part of a Debussy piano trio. Some of us have a lot easier time thinking a half-step up instead rather than a half-step down - and some probably go the other way. (Maybe it depends on finger and hand size.) It's not going to make any difference in your intonation - as long as you play it in tune.


February 21, 2010 at 04:30 AM ·

It's F natural.

February 26, 2015 at 07:40 PM · Very interesting...theory wise I always thought of E# as F but it makes sense that a violin could play an actual E#. Cool!

February 26, 2015 at 07:48 PM · If you play enough quartets, you will even argue over what an F natural is, let alone E#. It depends on the context.

February 26, 2015 at 10:35 PM · It's the note just behind F#!

In a passage going up C#-D#-E#-F# we might , in "high 2nd" position, use fingering 1-2-34.

If we write C#-D#-F-F#, I would hesitate, like reading a phonetically spelled word.

Db-Eb-F-Gb, which is just same on the piano, would have the same fingering, in the same position, except I would call it "low 3rd" position, because of the spelling.

February 26, 2015 at 10:52 PM · Just spent the evening rehearsing Sibelius Sym 4 for a concert and I can assure you that not only is E# not unusual but neither is B# (which equates to C-natural). Fortunately, Sibelius doesn't seem to go in for double sharps - he sensibly does a swift gear change to an enharmonic flat key instead.

February 27, 2015 at 01:57 PM · For nit-pickers, including myself, E# will be higher than F in tuning based on pure fifths (depending on where the F came from!), but lower than F if it is a pure, smooth third above C# (depending on where the C# came from........

February 27, 2015 at 04:53 PM · Hi Hannah, here is my "didactical" take on it.

Just think of it this way. Take a very simple melody that just consists of the first three notes of the C major scale:


Play it in first position on the A-string, using the fingering 2 3 4 3 2.

Play this melody several times so that it sticks in your head.

Now suppose we want to do the same melody, but we want to start it with C#. Then to "preserve" the melody we also need a sharp on the second note D, and a sharp on the third note E:

C# D# E# D# C#

So you see how sharps can pop up naturally. You still play this in first position fingered 2 3 4 3 2 but every note is now a half tone higher. Play it several times, then play the melody without the sharps, again with the sharps. It is the same melody, just "transposed" by a half tone as they call it.

Now you could also play that same tune as C# D# F D# C# with the F played on the E-string. Try it and compare it with the previous fingering. Not only is this an uneasy fingering but it also sounds awkward. This will give you the feeling expressed by others here on the forum that E# is not quite the same as F.

February 27, 2015 at 05:17 PM · That depends on which C# you use. LOL.

February 28, 2015 at 01:42 AM · If you go back as far as J S Bach, in his well-known Prelude to the E major Partita for solo violin he uses an E-sharp in measure 33, and then later on more E-sharps, B-sharps, A-sharps and even F-double sharps (almost the same as G-natural, but not quite) as the piece weaves in and out of different keys.

February 28, 2015 at 11:10 AM · "Dohnanyi First concerto- what a great piece" - but Huberman probably didn't consider it worth the price he ultimately paid!

February 28, 2015 at 06:43 PM · I've got a new project to play K2 in seven sharps. I need to work out some fingerings but I think it would be fun and I might learn something. I learned a lot by following Buri's suggestion of practicing it entirely in second position.

As for E# differing from F, I totally embrace the idea of expressive and key-oriented intonation (all of this is explained very clearly by Fischer), but I would be kind of surprised if the difference was a full quarter step. That just seems big to me.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition
ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

AVIVA Young Artist Program

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine