Natural signs are used in two ways:
1. To cancel a previous sharp or flat in the same measure.
2. To cancel a sharp or flat in the key signature.
For example, if you see an Eb written into your music, the very next E with a natural sign in front of it (within the same measure) is played like a plain old E.
Now, if you have a Bb in the key signature and a B natural written in the music, you would also play the B as a regular B.
Another way to think of natural signs is that it is signaling you to play the note "in the natural". This means you would play it as a regular note found in the musical alphabet: A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
The white keys represent the natural notes on the piano. You will never find them on the black keys as that is mainly reserved for flats and sharps.
The natural symbol will always appear on the left side of the note when you read music on the staff. However, when we write about music, it follows the letter name. We write about it just exactly how we would speak it saying "F natural".
Are these symbols also thought of as altered notes? The answer to this question is yes. If there is an Ab in the key signature and an A natural written in the music, this is thought of as an altered note. That note is being changed temporarily to something else.
Honestly, the best way to think about reading a note with a natural in front of it is to pretend there isn't any symbol written there at all. Just play the written note as it naturally appears.
Don't let that little natural sign bother you too much. It really isn't as difficult to read and play as you might think. Just keep your eyes reading ahead in your music and remember that a natural cancels a sharp or a flat. This will be just as easy to read as any other kind of note in no time at all.
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Article Added on Friday, August 5, 2011
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