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Key Signatures with Double Sharps / Flats

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by wulf, Jun 11, 2003.


  1. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Last night we were jamming around on a song (Hercules by Aaron Neville) that we'd previously done in Gm (I think the original was in Abm but we'd dropped it a semitone to avoid scaring the guitarist ;) ). It was a different singer this time and she found Gm didn't fit her voice so well. After some experimentation, we ended up in C#m / Dbm, and much groovy fun was had by all.

    During the rehearsal, I'd named it as Dbm for the sake of the brass section, so they were playing in Ebm rather than D#m (Bb instruments so a tone higher). However, when I got home I was writing some notes, working through the key sigs to figure out how many flats to use:

    None - C
    +Bb > F
    +Eb > Bb
    +Ab > Eb
    +Db > Ab
    +Gb > Db

    So, Db = 5 flats... Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db

    Now I want to make it minor, so that's add another three flats:

    + Cb
    + Fb
    + Bbb

    Urghh!! Does that mean that the key sig for Dbm is written with a Bbb? Or would it make more sense to think of it as C#m (7 sharps for C#, less three to make it minor, = 4 sharps, F#, C#, G# and D#). And if guitar, bass and keys think of it as C#m, is it still okay to have the brass section thinking of it as Dbm (meaning Ebm for them as opposed to D#m)?

    Maybe it would be easier to comprehend if we just shifted it a semitone up or down (Dm / Cm)... but assuming this is the pitch where the vocals sound sweetest, what would you suggest about naming the key?

    Wulf

    ps. I know this is the Double Bass side... but this is theory, pure and simple so I think it fits here (here's my vote for a top level theory forum :D )
     
  2. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Yes, an interesting one. Personally, I don't know if key sigs with double sharps/flats are "legal" or not. If they are, they're damn confusing :D

    So, I'm not sure if Db Minor actually exists as a key or not? I don't see why it shouldn't, in *theory*, but in practice, I reckon using isn't such a good idea. Maybe there are circumstances in which it is useful to have it, but none are springing to mind.

    If I were you, I'd simply use the enharmonic equivalent most appropriate for the instruments.

    So, for concert pitch, it'd be C# Minor - and for Bb horns it might be Eb minor.

    Personally, I don't think I've ever seen anything written in any key other than these:

    C Major/A Minor
    G Major/E Minor
    D Major/B Minor
    A Major/F# Minor
    E Major/C# Minor
    B Major/G# Minor
    F# Major/D# Minor
    Gb Major/Eb Minor
    Db Major/Bb Minor
    Ab Major/F Minor
    Eb Major/C Minor
    Bb Major/G Minor
    F Major/D Minor

    Technically, they cover all the bases - you don't need to go any further than 6 sharps/flats in a key signature. 7 sharps would be C# Major/A# Minor, however Db Major/Bb Minor is simpler - and 7 flats would be Cb Major/Ab Minor - though B Major/G# Minor is simpler.
     
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    In practice - does it matter what you call it - you just put the relevant sharps/flats on the stave and you don't have to say that this piece is in "XX" key.....?

    How does "naming" a key actually help you at all?

    I mean you have to look at the chords and their functions to decide on what scales to use, so how does knowing a nominal key, actually help you in any way?
     
  4. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I presume they're working from written out parts? I guess it's just a matter of whether to keep consistency between sharp & flat keys.
     
  5. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    It's mainly working from ear. I often notate my bass parts as a reminder... and then my 'enhanced' memory becomes the foundation for digging the song out after we've left it aside for a few months.

    Where possible, I like to be able to explain things in terms of a key so that we've got a reference point for thinking about it: I want to do it 'properly' so that I can communicate with 'literate' musicians .

    Wulf
     
  6. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Well, Db minor would indeed have a double flat, the Bbb (i.e. same note as A) and the key has EIGHT flats:

    Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bbb Cb

    The note has to be called Bbb because there already is an Ab in the key (i.e. you can't have both an Ab AND an A).

    Since minor keys are related to a major key a minor third above, we can see that the relative major key would be Fb...really E. So I'd notate it as C# minor, four sharps:

    C# D# E F# G# A B
     
  7. mflaherty

    mflaherty Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2001
  8. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The Bbb in Db minor is the (flat) 6th of the natural minor scale.

    In classical music you seldom see the natural minor scale used, the harmonic minor or melodic minor would be used instead. These both use the major 6th, Bb.
     
  9. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Nope, harmonic uses the minor 6th. That's what gives it the characteristic augmented 2nd - the minor 6th & major 7th.
     
  10. mflaherty

    mflaherty Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2001
    quote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Originally posted by brianrost
    The Bbb in Db minor is the (flat) 6th of the natural minor scale.

    In classical music you seldom see the natural minor scale used, the harmonic minor or melodic minor would be used instead. These both use the major 6th, Bb.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The descending melodic minor uses the flat sixth degree, too.
     
  11. Darth_Linux

    Darth_Linux

    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    I would write this in 4 sharps for concert instruments (E major / c# minor) since more than 6 sharps or flats in a key signature is strongly discouraged by all music theory teachers, and a double flat or sharp is sure to get a failing grade.

    yes, that results in an awkward key for the Bb instruments and they don't play in tune as well in concert E major anyhow, do you might really consider switching back to concert d minor (G major for Bb instruments) and letting the guitarist use a capo or something.
     
  12. Keech

    Keech

    Oct 16, 2003
    All in your head
    There are no double flats or sharps in key sigs. HOWEVER, there's really no reason you can't have them. I run into musicians all the time who are stuck on rules rules rules. There shouldn't be rules. They are more like guides. What rules music is the heart not the head. So I frequently violate these "rules" just to show that it doesn't matter. What sounds good sounds good and all the rules in the world can't change that.

    As long as you're having fun.
     
  13. It will be much easier to write and read in 4 sharps. Technically, I don't believe that the key of Db minor exists, since that would be relative to the major key of Fb. Well, I suppose it "exists", but why go to all that trouble when you can just write it in C#?
     
  14. Darth_Linux

    Darth_Linux

    Oct 12, 2002
    Spokane, WA
    This is a great attitude to have if you want to get fired from any orchestra, big band, or other performing ensemble. There are rules for a reason and if you can't follow them you're likely to get canned. Unless you are a one-man-band you have to use more than just your heart to know what is right in music.

    Not that you don't make a good point, but I have to chime in on the other side of the coin . . .
     
  15. ole Jason

    ole Jason Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    Louisville, KY
    Just put your part in C#m and the horns in Ebm. Better yet just leave the horn part at concert pitch and tell them to transpose it themselves :D