What Does a Flat (♭) Mean?

Flats and double-flats in piano music.
Flats and double-flats in piano music. Image © Brandy Kraemer

A flat is an accidental that indicates a slight decrease in pitch. It can take the form of a noun, a verb, or an adjective.

Meaning of Flat in Music

Flat can mean any of the following:

  1. (n) A flat is a symbol (♭, also ‘b’ in type) placed in front of a note, decreasing its pitch by a half step. For example, Db is a half step lower than D.
  2. (v) To “flatten” a note means to lower its pitch by a half step (see also double-flat).
  3. (adj.) The word flat can describe a pitch that is slightly lower than desired, even if the pitch does not match an existing flat note. For example, when tuning a piano, a particular string might sound “a little flat,” and would need to be raised in pitch to be in-tune.

The inverse of a flat is a (♯) sharp.

Flat in Other Languages

You may also see a flat referred to as:

  • bemolle (It)
  • bémol (Fr)
  • Be; or simply the letter b (Ger)