# Using flats vs. sharps when writing scales

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Sinestra, Oct 4, 2010.

1. ### Sinestra

Sep 4, 2010
I'm teaching myself some basic music theory and something has been bothering me for a while.

Say I want to write the Eb Maj scale, which (if I'm correct) is:

Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb

If I want to convert to minor, I move down everything besides R, 4, 5 and 8 down a half step, right?

Eb E Gb Ab Eb B Db Eb

Here's where I'm confused...does it matter if you use C# vs. Db? I realize it won't matter to me since I'll be playing the right now, but I'd still like to know to keep myself in line with the music theory.

2. ### Hollywars

Oct 7, 2009
Bethesda, Maryland
Depends on the key signature and whether it uses # or b's.

Dec 1, 2008
edit

4. ### lowfreq33

Jan 27, 2010
Nashville
Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
It should be Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb

5. ### Nashrakh

Aug 16, 2008
Hamburg, Germany
Ah, the circle of fifths. Learn it, love it.

6. ### touji

Feb 12, 2009
Williamsburg, VA
It's been taught to me that whenever you write out a scale, you never repeat letters.

7. ### MalcolmAmos

Sharps go around the circle of 5ths
Flats go around the circle of 4ths.
Normally the chart has sharps going clockwise.
Normally the chart has flats going counter clockwise - I've seen it both ways.

OK that out of the way......... Look at the bottom of the circle. B & Cb are together as are F# & Gb, i.e. share the same space on the chart. IMHO makes since to use the one with the lesser sharps or flats and that is what the chart did. They show the B and not the Cb. As C# has 7 sharps and Db has 5 flats the chart used the Db, and that makes since to me - to use the Db because there are fewer accidents. As F# & Gb both have the same amount - your choice - the chart likes the Gb - I can not give you a reason why.

Back to your question about C# or Db. If others are involved probably best to go with the Db.

8. ### somegeezer

Oct 1, 2009
England
Do you mean mixing flats and sharps in the same scale? Because that is a no no. It doesn't make much difference if all of them are the same though. The general rule though, is that left of the circle of fifths are written in flats and the right of the circle are written using sharps.

9. ### 251

Oct 6, 2006
Metro Boston MA
The problem with teaching yourself is, your teacher doesn't know the material.

What you've described is incorrect. You don't say what books or online resources you are using. I suggest you buy a copy of this;
http://www.amazon.com/Edlys-Music-T...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1286249656&sr=1-1
& start at the beginning.

10. ### rbbrchkn

Feb 25, 2009
Denver, CO
First of all, you want to have every letter represented in every key, which goes along with not doubling a letter. Once you figure out which key you're in it's much easier to read if you can read the note letter and not have to hunt down the accidental to see which note you're looking for.

I find that consistency is key for using accidentals... as you're learning, if you try to keep to a pattern with writing things out it'll become obvious where you're making things unnecessarily confusing for yourself.

As for making a Major scale into a minor scale, the pattern depends on which minor scale you're looking to use. That's where the theory book comes in handy, 'cause it'll lay out what goes where, and why.

11. ### Stick_PlayerInactive

Nov 13, 2009
Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
What? It is?

Then what is this scale: D, E, F, G, A, B&#9837;, C#, D?

It is a rather common scale.

12. ### kreider204

Nov 29, 2008
I assume, in context of the discussion, that he was referring to standard major (Ionian) and minor (Aeolian) scales (as opposed to your example of the harmonic minor scale).

13. ### onlyclave

Oct 28, 2005
Seattle
Well dude, harmonic minor IS the most common form of minor. It ain't that rare.

14. ### onlyclave

Oct 28, 2005
Seattle
What does that have to do with writing out the parallel minor of a diatonic scale?

15. ### zakimball

Jul 5, 2010
Fremont CA
That's a d harmonic minor scale it's an altered form of the natural minor scale, which has Cnat. instead of C#
The reason you write C# and not Db is to keep the interval relationships the same. An interval of a 2nd or 7th etc... You don't want to end with a dim 8th!
The V chord for example, is A-C#-E not A-Db-E this way the relationship of thirds in the chord in kept intact and makes things easier to read.

Also, another reason writing a scale like that is to keep the page from being too cluttered for the performer to read. It's easier to read Bb C# D than Bb Db Dnat.

I hope that makes at least some sense!

Edit: When you use C# in the d minor scale, it should always be an accidental, never write the key signature as 1 b and 1 #

16. ### Chris K

May 3, 2009
Gorinchem,The Netherlands
Partner: Otentic Guitars
I would like to correct the mistake in your post that has apparently been overlooked by all the crossfiring experts here.

To convert a major scale to a minor scale, you need to know which minor scale: natural, harmonic or melodic.

R, 2, 4, 5 and 8 stay the same. 3 is always a half step down (THE characteristic interval of every minor scale). Differences occur in intervals 6 and 7.

natural minor: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7,8
harmonic minor: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7,8
melodic minor:
upward: 1,2,b3,4,5,6,7,8
downward: 8,b7,b6,5,4,b3,2,1

17. ### MalcolmAmos

Chris --- I've never understood the reason melodic minor has 2 different interval sequence one for going up scale and then reverting to natural minor on the trip downward.
Can you enlighten me why this was/is necessary, why did the old guys decide to do it this way? I guess my question is - why is that necessary?

natural minor: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7,8
harmonic minor: 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7,8
melodic minor:
upward: 1,2,b3,4,5,6,7,8
downward: 8,b7,b6,5,4,b3,2,1

Thanks,

18. ### KingRazor

Jun 4, 2010
Beaverton, Oregon USA
I'd like to know as well honestly. I've been aware of this fact for a while but I was never told why.

19. ### Richard Lindsey

Mar 25, 2000
SF Bay Area
I'm going to quote HaVIC5 here, if he doesn't mind. I thought I remembered a good post he made on this topic, and I believe this is it:

"That's a common misconception that academia has put forward about the nature of the melodic minor scale - that you use the natural 6+7 when ascending melodically and the lowered sixth and seventh when descending. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, when classical musicians learn their scales, they learn to play the melodic minor scale this way when going up...

A B C D E F# G# A (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7)

...and this way when going down (natural minor)...

A G F E D C B A

It actually was a decision that instrumental pedagogues made to simplistically explain how minor keys work in that it can change depending on the melodic circumstances. If you do any analysis of any common practice classical music you'll see that there are plenty of instances where the melodic minor "ascending" scale descending and when the natural minor "descending" scale ascends. Without going too much further into it, what it boils down to is that for whenever the melodic material is "dominant" - that is to that that whenever the chord of the moment for the melody is a V chord, a V7 chord, a viio7 chord, or any other kind of dominant-functioning chord - the "ascending scale" is used but only when the melody links the 5th, 6th and 7th degrees together linearly.

Another way that it can be explained is that the "default" minor scale for classical music is the harmonic minor with scale degrees b6 and 7. I like this system a lot even though its not 100% historically true, because you can have the "default scale", and then have those two degrees be variable and change them according to some basic rules. There is more nuance to this, of course, but really, this is all you need to know unless you have a burning desire to write fugal counterpoint.

1. 7 has a melodic need to resolve up to 1
2. b6 has a melodic need to resolve down to 5
3. Because of this, b6 cannot go to 7 since their resolutions conflict, and that it creates an awkward #2 interval. (Exception: Diminished arpeggios)
4. Natural 6 can be used, but only in direct linear conjunction with 7.
5. b7 can be used, but only in direct linear conjunction with b6. "

20. ### KingRazor

Jun 4, 2010
Beaverton, Oregon USA
Interesting, I've always believed that the b7 note resolves very well up to the root note, even better than the 7. (emphasizing the word note so no one thinks I'm talking about chords).