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Here’s A Dumb Question For You (Enharmonics)

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Aug 19, 2018.

  1. TrevorR


    Oct 3, 2015
    Near London, UK
    Except that standard notation is actually a very systematic and efficient way of notating the range of 8 note diatonic scales that most Western music adopts. It’s certainly more efficient and less confusing than having to remember 11 separate 8 letter combinations (with little or no obvious or easy scope for visual or mnemonic prompts) for each of the major and minor scales. I’ll take five enharmonics and the cycle of 4ths/5ths any day of the week.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2018
  2. I'm sure you're familiar with the "How do you pronounce Ghoti"-story?
    StatesideRambler and IamGroot like this.
  3. Yes, the russian translation staff used to kid me about this one all the time.

    Russian is seriously different from English. German is much more similar to English.
  4. Max Blasto

    Max Blasto

    Nov 29, 2010
    San Diego
    Yes, seeing that English and German are both Germanic languages, you might say that.
  5. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    It's not resistance to change but resistance to what is less useful / not truly an improvement.

    Music notation evolved like this:
    a composer says: "I need a way to notate this musical idea..."
    so they take the existing system everyone already uses, and tack on some new symbols
    if the symbols prove truly useful they catch on and become standard.
    That's improvement

    Ideas like Changing 7 letters to 12 or 5 lines to 6 are simply not useful enough to catch on.
    And given how they fail to implicitly capture the underlying structure of diatonic music,
    Like the current system does, they will probably never be seen as superior for western music.
  6. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    It looks like it would be a good idea to start a thread in some other TB forum called, "ImGroot and here is my life story".
    You have so much to say about everything.
  7. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Congratulations, you've almost re-invented the Integer Model for Pitch, which was codified by composers and music theorists in the middle of the last century as a way to describe non-tonal and/or serial musics in a way that wouldn't be coerced by our familiarity with tonal musics. The Integer Model for Pitch usually uses 0 as either A) a particular starting note of an ordered chromatic collection, or B) all pitch classes known as "C", but otherwise the idea is similar to yours.

    And for a piece of music that doesn't rely on traditional common practice major/minor harmony, it definitely does make more sense to refer to a simultaneity as an "047 trichord" than as a "C major chord" because it prevents you from thinking about roots and tonics and all that other historical stuff that implies function and expectation and tendencies that you may not want people thinking about, but also because it allows you to express most musical operations (such as transposition, inversion, retrograde, etc.) as mathematical functions, allowing the composer to preserve isomorphisms (and, ideally, to make them audible).

    otoh, you still need to read and write all this via standard musical notation, so we're still stuck with a 5 line staff and accidentals/enharmonics. Not sure if re-inventing that wheel would be time well spent.
  8. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Back to square one. :banghead:
  9. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Good to hear. I'll have to look into that. But as I said in an earlier post, I doubt the idea was anything original to me. Many have struggled with this issue in the past. As I'm sure many more will in the future. :laugh:

    It was time well spent for me. Because thinking about it that way clarified a lot of things for me. Anytime something doesn't seem to make sense to me I'll sit down by myself in a quiet space with a pad of graph paper (and a pot of coffee handy) and do some serious thinking. Sometimes I find that just thinking about something differently and working out my own frameworks and coding makes the official standard explanations make more sense than they would have otherwise.

    But it was purely a thing I was interested in working out for myself rather than out of any ambition to change the world of music notation and grammar. I have no problem reading standard notation or Gregorian chant notation. And I'm comfortable with Nashville notation and several types of tab notation as well. So I already struggled through and now just use whatever is available.

    But it still doesn't change the fact our current standard is an unnecessarily complex and confusing kludge. But that's the way it is. And that's fine too. :)
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
  10. Well, lessee ... tabulature is useful as long as you have another means to convey note value, rhythm and tempo as well but it really is hobbled when you aren't already familiar with the song.

    Music has been evolving throughout history [and prehistory] as well as across cultures. Because we adopt elements of music from outside our own conventions the composer or transcriber is often faced with a dilemma of how to depict novel or extraordinary things. When we adapt dogmatically we hamstring ourselves because you can be sure that musical change carries on beyond what we just oh-so-cleverly devised to solve our previous problem. As music evolves the notation convention must change as well but the change can't be arbitrary or enforced or too great a departure from what's commomly accepted or it'll end up yet another footnoted dead end in music history ... if it's remembered at all.

    When I reflect on modern music notation conventions I'm reminded that, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee."
  11. Ths problem with tab is that it not only tells you which notes to play, but also the fingering. And that fingering is often wrong for bass, especially if you are a ofpf person.

    I find tab useful for jazz and classical guitar, but standard notation with position notation works much better.
  12. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    I don’t think the current notation system is a kludge at all, from the perspective of Western diatonic music built around the WWHWWWH major scale and the theoretical framework that flows from that (modes, cycle of 4ths/5ths). It fits that system very naturally.

    It gets very kludgy very quickly once you’ve stepped outside that.
    StatesideRambler likes this.
  13. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    ...until you come across a piece in Cb minor :)
  14. Or B minor, which is the correct way to notate it. No sane person writes in Cb minor. There is no such thing.
  15. Stevie Wonder must be insane in the membrane.
  16. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    Cb minor can be notated just fine with double flats if for some reason you think that’s a good idea. Better example: you want a “blue note” without accidentals.

    It’s easy to break any system if that’s your goal. “Lead” is am ambigious word written, “led” when spoken. “Der Mann, dessen Hund ein Kind gebissen hat” is an ambiguous phrase. Western languages can’t capture Japanese pronunciation nor kana Western phenomes.

    The question isn’t really whether music exists that is hard to notate (it does), nor whether the current system is perfect, but rather whether a system without enharmonics is better. So far I see a number of disadvantages to such a system, such as the necessity of double sharps/flats, loss of A-G note counting, greater difficulty spotting intervals and scale degree relationships (and thus both ease of composition an of transposition on the fly), the loss of the logical relation between sharps/flats and the cycle of 5ths, and of course the need to translate the vast back catalog of Western music.

    The advantages strike me as minimal: mainly, if you intend to play a piece of written music consisting of single notes only, you can skip learning key signatures.
    Clef_de_fa likes this.
  17. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    It's really quite easy simple to see the advantage of standard notation over some "less kludgey" 12 tone /6 line system:
    Just notate C major on a staff for each system. One will have a nice line of notes and the other will have odd gaps and holes. Then notate the harmonized chords of C major. One will have neatly stacked thirds and the other will have odd uneven numbers of lines and space between notes.

    The more you write actual music in both systems, the simpler standard notation will reveal itself to be.
  18. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    A different system could be created to replace enharmonics without going to the ones you’re thinking of. I haven’t thought this one through very much, but what if you replaced the five enharmonics with set of numerals as I mentioned before. You’d maintain the same visual WWH...system along with the same system of notation, minus the need for sharps and flats. Am I missing something there?
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2018
  19. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    It may be visually neater in some limited cases although most chords aren’t simple 1-3-5 triads. Standard inversions and chords made up of more than tritones soon drift away from those neat stacks of notes.
  20. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    I feel like this sentence is missing something that prevents me from understanding it.

    But standard inversions and 7ths and so on retain the shape characteristic of their voicing. So that shape is still identifiable.
    Lee Moses likes this.

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