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Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Emoody, Jan 13, 2021.

  1. Emoody

    Emoody Supporting Member

    Jun 3, 2012
    In connection with the great Video of Christian McBride about "Bebop Language" and the transcription of Cherokee, the notation of the bridge caught my eye.
    IMO it doesn't make sense to keep the Bb key sign if the key keeps changing many time. It's awkward to read and there is no connection to the musical context. In the attachment the upper sample is the original transcription, the lower my version.
    What do you think?
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Would not do it your way - easier to read the accidentals then to remember what key signature you're reading in as it changes every few bars. Lots and lots of music doesn't stay in one key for very long. The way it's notated is a convention - I can't say your way isn't good, but it would take getting used to for many of us.

  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    The song is in the key of Bb Major which for hundreds of years has been notated with a key signature of 2 flats. Jazz musicians are used to reading it like this. (Exhibit A: The Real Book) This example is just a "Rhythm Changes" bridge.

    That said there is a trend away from that style of notation, and you're not crazy to question it. For example I believe the "Charlie Parker Omnibook" has dispensed with key signatures altogether; everything is just written with no sharps/no flats key signature.

    My preference as a sightreader (from best option to worst option) goes: 1) BbMaj key siganture for songs in Bb Major; 2) No key signature; 3) Constantly changing key signatures (as in your ex. B).

    (edit Bb not Eb lol! Thanks @Who da Ville )
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  4. On one hand as a free improvisor, I see charts as luxury and I love using them when there is one! On the other hand, it is jazz so the idea is to get away from the chart ASAP. Also, I would stick with the common way it is notated since reading it that way is a skill you might need if it comes up.
  5. ...and those flats are Bb, Eb, & Ab...

    Not trying to be a wise-a$$, just didn't want to confuse any beginners reading this.
    SteveCS, Mushroo and DrMole like this.
  6. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Just to be theory geeky about this key signature business ...

    There are some way cool instance of melodies inherited from the Renaissance that made it into the Baroque chorale, e.g., the very first one in the Reimenschnieder edition is harmonized by Bach in A minor but it's got 1 sharp in the key signature. Thus, one more sharp or one less flat than modern musicians would use, thus matching the missing flat being discussed herein. Haaarumph. :)

    Who da Ville likes this.
  7. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Key signature tells you what key the whole piece is in. Convention is that you don't change the key signature for every chord. You do change it if a whole section of a longer piece modulates to an entire different key, as in the trio section of many marches.

    What you have there is a 32 bar tune of AABA form where the B section actually has four successive ii-V-I patterns descending a whole step at a time, to dump you out on the V7 of the tune's overall key, to launch you back into the A part (the last one's modified). This is not a modulation of an entire section to a different key. If you look at a Sousa march the trio section may be 128 bars long, with its own AABA or ABCA or whatever patterns within that section, then it goes back to the main key for the dogfight.

    For Cherokee, the whole thing stays in two flats.

    Ask yourself, "If I were on the bandstand and the band leader called "Cherokee" would I rather he held up two fingers to indicate two flats, key of Bb, or would I rather he held up a different number of fingers every bar throughout the whole tune?" Nope, everyone knows that if you're playing Cherokee in Bb the bridge starts off in Db. (Or as I think of it, go up a minor third, then some ii-V-Is.)
    Winoman and Groove Doctor like this.
  8. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    I have played some big-band charts written with no key signature and all the accidentals written out. Once the novelty wears off, which is practically immediately, it is very easy to read these charts and actually it makes a lot of sense in terms of not having to remember the key.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  9. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I've seen all kinds of things in big band charts including the baritone sax charts written in Eb but also in bass clef; charts where all the rests from sixteenth to half looked the same; and sax parts where the transpositions were done in multiple different varieties of incorrect. Not to mention curling thermal fax paper and the pack of charts where they were all taped up in reverse order (page 1 on the far right, page 2 in the middle, page 3 on the left). Oh, and there's that Mintzer chart that's played in 1 at tempo-di-tear-ass, but it's written in 3, four bars to the line, so it ends up being 15 pages long and you have to turn a page about every 15 seconds. How about flute to baritone sax swaps in half a measure, or page turns in the middle of a four bar passage of sixteenths? You can see pretty much any damn kind of foolishness if you read big band charts long enough.

    The standard convention is to use the key signature that conforms to the overall key of the piece. This convention is supported by the last couple hundred years of practice in both classical and non-classical music.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2021
  10. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    Hi, turf3,
    Those of us with much big band experience have seen the "Dead Sea Scrolls" and charts written on napkins and much else, but the ones I'm referring to are actual published arrangements that use the no-key-signature-all-accidental format. The ones I've seen are very logical and easy to read, I think.
  11. Agree.

    1. Accidentals are clunky but manageable in this example.
    2. No Key Sig takes some getting used to as a sight reader.
    3. Looks neat on paper but Confusing when sight reading if shorter than 8 bars IME. (But this is one way to memorise songs aka ‘chunking’ method. I prefer to hear the modulations chord by chord).

    The ear hears very smooth transitions/modulations in this song. Theory and notation convention often fails to serve music that wanders ‘outside the box’.
    Mushroo likes this.
  12. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    A benefit of using a key signature (normally the key of tune) is that, when transposed to another key, the score looks exactly similar, with accidentals in the exact same places. If one uses no key signature, a plain diatonic tune would (misleadingly) look as being full of accidentals, depending on the key in which it is transposed.

    For jazz tunes that modulate frequently for short durations, I think it is preferable to stick with the initial key signature. Classical tunes typically modulates much less frequently and for much longer durations, so key signature changes really make sense there.
  13. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    I have the Coltrane and the Davis omnibooks, and with some exceptions (like "So What"), there's no key signatures in them just like you describe. It drives me crazy personally, because there are some (Miles) pieces with a firmly established key that don't change around much and they're still written without a signature.
    Mushroo likes this.
  14. Jason Hollar

    Jason Hollar Jazz & Cocktails Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2005
    Central Pa
    I agree with this - except in my circle two fingers up is indicates sharps, two fingers down is flats. If you insert the thumb in this one, that indicates an emergency bathroom break. YMMV....
    longfinger and Winoman like this.
  15. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    My personal preference is to change keys less often/use accidentals. If you are sight reading, or don't know the music well, it's much easier to remember one, or two, keys and deal with accidentals when the music deviates.

    You'll find a ton of key changes in the long dance numbers of a lot of Broadway shows. Believe me, when you're on page 12 with 5 to go, and you've already modulated four times, it's easy to forget what key you are supposed to be in.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  16. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    Is there a difference between reading something to learn a particular tune and reading a chart to play what's written on the paper? If the goal is to learn a tune so that you can play it from memory maybe whatever works for the individual player is okay but if you're playing something as written you need whatever makes that as easy as possible whether it's notation, page turns or anything that interferes with that. I still prefer the fewer key changes concept but that's IMO.
  17. I'm playing with (mashing up) two Baroque minuets right now; one is in G minor (2 flats), the other is in G major (1 sharp). The interesting thing is that the two songs share a lot of the same licks.
  18. FWIW, I personally prefer the notation posted by the OP. For me as a slow-reading hobbyist, if the song changes key for 4 bars, this is much less confusing to read than including a bunch of incidentals on the chart. I just look at the new key signature, my brain goes, "here comes the key change", & my fingers know the patterns in the new key.
    Emoody likes this.
  19. Kind of like where you phrase on the beat (the best place is where it makes the feel best in the particular group you are in), it is just best to NOT have a reading "preference". It is an easy mental block to move. If you create such a thing in your mind then it can manifest in an indignant feeling towards music you would enjoy working on or even need to do for money or creative goals.
    This is the same idea as my feelings about tenor clef. None of these reading issues take more than an afternoon to get over.
    Most of the time the music is already written the way it is.

    Therefore, the best option is to make it a yes or no question:
    Do I want or need to play this piece of music? Yes or no?
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021
  20. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I wasn't precise:

    In most of the country up means sharps, except in New England where up means flats.

    I was semi-intentionally vague there, but the point was

    "If the band leader is going to make hand signals to tell you what key to play Cherokee in, wouldn't you rather have one signal at the beginning of the tune, and everyone on stage knows how the tune goes (up a minor third to start the bridge) rather than having him lead you through it, one.chord.or.key.change.whichever.you.think.it.is.at.a.time --???

    For that matter, if you start changing key sigs all the time, wouldn't you have to change the key signature for every single different chord?

    Of course you could just write out every single note sharp or flat; but it seems to me that disregards how we read music. If I am in five sharps (key of F#), and I see what looks like a diatonic run starting on the second space in the treble staff, and no accidentals, I know without even thinking about it that I am going to play an ascending run on the F# major scale. That scale is embedded in my "muscle memory" just as any well-practiced musician. If I see a big raft of sharps and flats, I have to figure out what the heck I'm looking at, and read it one.note.at.a.time. That slows you down. It's like forcing readers of English to sound out every single letter in every single word. In fact I think it's kind of disrespectful of the musician reading it. "We know you wouldn't know an F# major scale, so we're going to write out every note, even though that forces you to decode every single note rather than using the standard notation that says to anyone competent: "This is a run in an F# major scale".
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