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theory - Why do we call D# Eb, but also call Db C#?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Killed_by_Death, Aug 13, 2020.

  1. When referring to tunings, Eb-Standard is quite widely recognized as a half-step down from E-Standard.

    However, if we go a step & a half down that's called C#-Standard, why?
    It's also Db-Standard, but I've never seen it written out as such.
    Tom Kinter likes this.
  2. silky smoove

    silky smoove

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    Eb rather than D# because the D# scale is a mess (D# E# F## G# A# B# C##) and that fact seems to have carried over to tuning names. That’s speculation on my part, but seems legit to me.

    I’d also call C# tuning Db to avoid the B#.
  3. Drucifer

    Drucifer Not currently practicing Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2009
    Houston Heights, Texas
    Endorsements: your name could be here, Mr. Sadowsky!
    Eb is much easier than D# from the number of accidentals, and so D# is virtually never used.

    Db is more common than C#, but I've seen both. Horn players are usually more comfortable with flat keys and guitar players are more comfortable with sharp keys, so it may just depend on who you're talking to.

    Paulabass, Acoop, vickerekes and 18 others like this.
  4. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    It's all that mess, from wrapping around, at the bottom of the circle. Which one you use is kinda left up to you. Drucifer hit on the head...

    Drucifer likes this.
  5. Seems like we're confounding tuning & key.
    Eb is just all the same letter as E-Standard, but with a 'b', but
    C# = C#_F#_B_E
    Db = Db_Gb_ ah-HA!
    there's no Cb, so that's why
    same applies to Fb

    So, Db = Db_Gb_B_E
    I just don't see it used when referring to Standard tunings.
  6. silky smoove

    silky smoove

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    Confounding... perhaps. I'd call it more a continuation of an existing convention that applies to all musical instruments using a 12TET tuning system. It works for scales, people understand the enharmonic equivalents, and therefore the same conventions for scales and key are then continued to the instrument's tuning.
  7. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    There is Cb, B#, E# and Fb are a thing. Not sure why you choose to ignore them.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Well, down tuning by bands with guitars isn't really "theory" and the terminology surrounding such things wasn't really put together by a bunch of music theory experts. It was just what it got called by people who did it. Eb is pretty easy to understand, if the biggest string and the littlest string were an E, if you dropped them by a half step, sure what else are you gonna call it? C#, jeez, who the hell knows? It's not like ANY of it has any kind of logic to it. Or it's the logic of finding the easiest way to fit fingering patterns you know to a different key (kind of like the capo) without having to figure how to actually voice those chords in that key. You don't need to know the notes, you just make the same shape. Yeah, I know, sometimes you need that low E to have more bottom, so tune the shagger down. I mean, orchestras do it with 5 string basses or putting a C extension on an existing instrument. Or going the other way and tuning the bass up a whole step (for solo tuning) to extend more into the cello range. But that doesn't change basic music theory and the notes don't change and the construction of chords etc. don't change.

    But your supposition that "there is no Cb" etc. is incorrect. There is and it's in the Ab natural minor scale (and others). Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab. It looks funny to you because you're used to thinking in terms of frets on an instrument that employs tempered intonation. There's a nice discussion about just and tempered tuning on here somewhere, it's in a head talking about some guitar player's weird frets. So were you to really examine what you were thinking should you be playing and Ab minor scale, it would be along the lines of Ab Bb B Db Eb E Gb Ab. Which would give that scale two 2nds and two 5ths. And since there are instruments in the world other than guitar and bass guitar AND you have to use notes to construct chords with 3rds and 7ths and 5ths and other tensions, 1. if you're going to transpose a line to an instrument (oh like an Eb alto saxophone) you want to be REAL CLEAR about how best to notate that and which "B" you're going to use. and 2. writing out a triad as Ab B Eb is going to cause a lot of confusion since someone is looking for a 3rd degree of the scale, not a 2nd degree. A C E begets Ab Cb Eb etc.
    Papageno, Ronzo, MVE and 13 others like this.
  9. Tom Kinter

    Tom Kinter Supporting Member

    great discussion!

    I remember back around '70-71, I was lucky to be playing with a really gifted pianist (Andy Jaffe) who favored Db for jamming because the horns all liked it. I still remember him saying "what's the biggee? All the black notes + C & F!"
  10. tb-player

    tb-player the bass player Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2019
    I posted here once & made the comment that "D# isn't a key" and all hades broke loose.
    Huw Phillips likes this.
  11. silky smoove

    silky smoove

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    I've heard it referred to as a theoretical key, an ugly key, a spicy key, an anti-horns key :p
    MattZilla likes this.
  12. tb-player

    tb-player the bass player Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2019
    Haha... yeah. I figure, if it isn't one of the 7 sharps or 7 flats on a staff (or C, of course), it's kind of pointless.
  13. sonojono

    sonojono Supporting Member

    InhumanResource likes this.
  14. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Once they realized our music used a 12 tone system, it would have been so much simpler if they just added a sixth line to the staff, and gave every note its own line or space along with its own name. ;)
    voltisa78 and MVE like this.
  15. steelbed45

    steelbed45 29 on Ignore

    Feb 23, 2011
    Nolanville, TX
    I'll tell you why it's also called C#.

    My tuba professor at Fred State, (NY,) would seek out F# and C# etudes to torture, err, push my progress with.

    One time I thought I had the solution - adjust all the tuning valves to compensate, since he always listened to me with his back turned.
    He told me - good - now put the valves back and play it correctly. :D
  16. Admiral Akbar

    Admiral Akbar

    Mar 12, 2013
    New York
    Db and C# are called “enharmonic equivalents”

    agree with Ed Fuqua - much easier to conceptualize an Ab minor triad as: Ab-Cb-DB than Ab-B-C#... etc.

    Also keep in mind there are also “double flats” and “double sharps”, as in Abb (A double flat) sounds like G natural, G## sounds like A natural and so on. :)
    Papageno, MattZilla and Winoman like this.
  17. The correct answer is in an early post in this thread:

    We choose which enharmonic key to use (b versus # version) based on the fewest number of sharps or flats in the key signature that results from using X named key. At least, that is generally the case, unless there is a special reason not to (which doesn't matter for what we're talking about here).

    points of note:
    - accidentals are not part of a key signature... sharps and flats are called sharps and flats, they only become accidentals when you have to play a written note that falls outside of the key signature. So if you are in Eb Major, and you want to play an E natural, you have to play an E with the natural sign (the little square thing with a couple stick things LoL... no idea if it's type-able here). That is an accidental, and it only lasts as long as the current measure of music, then is forgotten (on purpose).
    - Eb Major has 3 flats.
    - D# Major has 5 sharps and 2 DOUBLE sharps. (C## and F##).

    Which would you choose to write notation in, discuss with other musicians, and read chords from?

    I think it's self explanatory, but we use the key with fewer sharps or flats in it (Remember you can't mix them in a key signature). So Eb Major, in my example, is the best choice.
    Les Fret, Drucifer, Ronzo and 7 others like this.
  18. bolophonic

    bolophonic Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    A good solution to this conundrum (you’re gonna hate this): We should simply find out the name that the note wants to be known as and then call it the other name.
    equill likes this.
  19. Holdsg

    Holdsg Talkbass > Work Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 10, 2009
    Alta Loma, CA
    There is a Cb key on my piano, it's called a B.
    et cetera
  20. InhumanResource


    Dec 28, 2012
    Except when it's a Cb?
    jbhaugh, Blueinred and SteveCS like this.

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