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Notating Accidentals

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Andy Allen, Mar 19, 2006.

  1. Andy Allen

    Andy Allen "Working Bassist"

    Aug 31, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Quick question...

    When I'm notating accidentals, while transcribing for instance, I denote accidentals with respect to the key center the song is in. I have also seen transcriptions which spell the accidentals depending on the chord that that particular bar is in, regardless of the key that the whole piece is in; i.e if the chord is B but piece is in F I would notate Gb, while I have seen others notate F#.

    [Edit:] I've also seen notation that uses sharps on ascending lines and flats on decending lines. [/edit]

    Are there any rules that govern this? Is there a right/wrong, best/worst system to follow?

  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I think that the only exceptions to the 'key center' rule is when you have chord symbols (a la The Real Book) that a chordalist would have to read. In the case, an F# is easer to read than a Gb. You will also see folks choose an enharmonic over a double flat or sharp or awkward accidental, like E# or Fb.
  3. jazzbassnerd


    Aug 26, 2002
    I think that in a "jazz" situation we tend to use the "easiest" notation. For me that would be ascending lines have sharps descending lines have flats, kinda. Generally I try to not have line to line or space to space skips if the notes sound as a scale. The only problems that I encounter with this is whole tone sequences.

    Hope this helped.
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    The other thing to consider is how your writing fits into the harmonic framework of the moment. You want whatever you're writing to make "sense" given the harmonic content. Sure the piece may be in F, but if that B chord is a modualtion or implied modulation or points towards a secondary dominance, you want the note names to make sense in that context. If you call that note a Gb, you have everybody wondering what's going on with the 6th degree instead of F# 'oh, that's the 5th of chord".
  5. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    I go with the chord.
  6. I know it is a basic question, but what is accidentals? I have heard the term used before, but I'm not sure I know exactly what it is.
  7. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Sharps [SUP]#[/SUP], flats [SUP]b[/SUP], naturals
  8. Ah okay, of course. How embarrassing, but English just is not my native language and I am not used to using English terms in music theory.

    But to stay on topic I do not recall having seen professionally transcribed music that used flats in a sharp key or visa versa. So to me it most logical to stick to the main key. If confussion arises, the specification of the chord is always helpful.
  9. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    There's plenty of 'professionally transcribed music"
    that does this, just look through the Omnibook. ANY time you are notating a piece of music, whether composing or transcribing someone else's composition or improvication, you are trying to CLEARLY convey intent. You don't want to notate A Db Fb (even if you are in a flat key) if what you are trying to convey is an A major triad.
  10. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    ...yet you wouldn't believe how much music I get handed on gigs that is written exactly like that. It's trying to show off. Making simple things complicated just to show people that they're really smart, never realizing just how stupid the players think they are.
  11. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    I'd always go with the chord, to be honest. I'm a big stickler for enharmonic clarity -- eg, in musical shows, I get really irritated when I'm handed a song that's in Cb -- so when I'm reading/writing charts, it just makes sense to be as CLEAR as possible.
  12. DickMcgilicutty


    Mar 9, 2006
    I have a book called Music Notation which details the standard way to notate music, as well as specific notational standards for every instrument common to Western Music. The common rule for accidentals is that you add accidentals in relationship to the key. This rule applies until such time that it makes more sense to re-designate the key center if there is an extended key change. Aside from that, you notate accidentals in any manner that is the simplest for the musician reading the music to understand it i.e. if a note occurs in a different octave within the same measure it requires another accidental (this rule is not always followed and can cause excessive accidentals, but it helps the person reading the music). If you want to learn more get this book:

  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Dick, I would highly recommend looking at some more contemporary titles. The rules/suggestions for 18th century theory world and those for functional harmony theory world share much, but differ much also. If I'm writing an extended orchestral piece YES, I would only change accidentals if were actually modulating to a new key. But if I'm transcribing somebody's solo on HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES, I want to communictae th eHARMONIC INTENTION of the soloist and will change the accidentals to match that. Not follow the key of F major.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Good questions and information in this thread. To what's already here, I would add that it is usually helpful to the performer to notate accidentals of tendency tones (3rds of Dom chords, b9s, etc) to be spelled in the way that they want to resolve. If your chord is F#7, the 3rd should be spelled as an A#, especially if it resolves to B. Likewise, chords that resolve one way or another should be spelled that way. For instance, in the literature, there exist both ascending and descending diminished 7th chords. In general, I feel that the ascending ones should be spelled as sharps (ex. F#o7 --> Gmi7), and the descending ones should be spelled to show a downward resolution (Gbo7 -->Fmi7). YMMV, of course.
  15. Anon2962


    Aug 4, 2004
    Of course whether a piece could/should have #s in a flat key is a rediculous question when it comes to classical playing - of COURSE. Imagine the confusion!, not to mention the difficulty of intonation in an orcheatral setting especially for wind players not knowing if there were playing a leading note or a maj third - it's crazy. I'm not an expert on music theory by any means, but i always thought this was rudimentary. Maybe because this whole 'confusing area' of enharmonic equivalents was taught to us pretty young in ireland, which i think has a simlar music education system as england.

    I always assumed that enharmonic equivalents would be the same in jazz, that the accidentals change according to the harmonic funtion of the chord. Maybe this becomes more complicated when writing chord symbols, but i can't see why. Could someone explain the difference for a non-jazzer like me? Chris?
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Well, there are no set rules per se, but certain tones are pretty much tendency tones even if they don't resolve; and remember that only the piano and guitar are really "tempered" instruments. The way I hear things, thirds and 7ths of Dominant chords should be spelled as they appear in the chord, and certain other notes like the b9 have definite resolution tendencies. Other notes, like the so-called "#9" don't seem to have a basic resolution tendency - sometimes they resolve down to the b9, sometimes up to the Ma 3rd, as in a "blue note", so I don't see that they should always be spelled as a raised 9th. I write the #9 of D7 as an F natural all the time if there's no melodic reason not to.

    On the other hand, sometimes you have a conflict between the melody of a tune and a reharm of the changes. Often, a really simple diatonic melody will be reharmed with a tritone sub or another "out of the key" subsitution which gives it added color. In cases like this, I think it's best to just go with the original diatonic spelling of the melody and let the players hear the tension of the chords as another polarity.
  17. DickMcgilicutty


    Mar 9, 2006

    Thanks for pointing that out. I was responding more along the lines of what that book said, but when I do things on my own, I usually do what is most logical to me. If on some off chance I am transcribing or writing for another musician, I try to do what seems like it would be the most logical for them. This usually starts from the key center and then goes by the chord. Sorry for repeating what other people have already said.
  18. Anon2962


    Aug 4, 2004
    Thanks Chris!

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