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Thread: Composing/writing music

  1. Composing/writing music

    Can anyone shed light on these two questions:
    My community band is preparing a piece for our next concert and it has two odd (to me at least) features. One is the use of a double B flat -- why write a double flat or double sharp? Why not just use the note it represents, eg. An A for the B bb? Secondly, it has two ascending and descending chromatic scale passages -- only about 10 measures apart in the same key. One passage uses flats and the other uses sharps, but all notes are the same: chromatic scales starting and ending on the same note. Why not write them the same?

  2. #2
    It has to do with how a note fits into a chord, and I swing both ways on this depending on my mood at the time.

    Let's say the piece is in B (5 sharps). Often a composition will move to different key centers for a few without actually presenting a new key signature. Maybe you want to move to F. You could set it up by throwing in a C7 chord (the 5, or dominant chord of F), which we think of as C-E-G-Bb. Now if you are playing melody, you might wonder why all of a sudden you see a Bb, when they key of B would show that note as an A#.

    Along those lines, if your underlying chord is a Db7, that would have Db-F-Ab-Cb. It would look odd to show a B instead of the Cb in the score, even though for a player's single note a B might look more logical. When you carry this logic into complex pieces you end up with double-flat and double-sharp indications.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
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  3. #3
    And for the chromatic runs, it's typical for descending lines to use flats and ascending ones to use sharps. That's just the "rule of music" there, and at looks cleaner most of the time. Imagine if you are in C major playing the ascending line, and they write a Gb and than have to throw in the natural sign to go up to the G natural. Multiply that times 3 or 4 depending on the length of the line, ouch!

  4. #4
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    We're playing "Rhapsody in Blue" (Gershwin arr. Grofe) and our part has some double sharps in it. When ever I first see double sharp or double flat, it causes me to pause at first. I used to think it was done to show the direction of moving notes appropriately, i.e. ascending. But I guess that's not the case as you can see the in example below (click a few times for larger size). That theory works for the first line but not for the second where you see C##. I'd prefer to see a D natural. Note: there are fingerings under some of the notes. I didn't put these there but I don't mind.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails RhapodyBlue Pg4.jpeg  
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  5. #5
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    My own view of this is that these are examples in music notation where "theory" has been allowed triumph over "practice" (and "usability"). There are, from the point of musical theory, some reasons for making use of the notation that is confusing to anyone attempting to read it who isn't steeped in the theory.

    It's a difference between being "formally correct" vs. practical. A Bb doesn't (formally) belong in a scale or chord where an A# is (formally) required. It's like a language mistake. It IS a language mistake. You're using the wrong name for a particular pitch in that particular context.

    From another perspective, it's quite similar to a software application created solely through the minds of software developers without any consideration for the people who will use it -- the users and their goals and tasks. What you get without good UI/UX design guiding the development is something that's needlessly difficult to use and which will engender frustration and error. In music, you get what -- to normal minds -- appear to be peculiar designations of notes that make reading the music more cumbersome and error prone.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    It has to do with how a note fits into a chord, and I swing both ways on this depending on my mood at the time.

    Let's say the piece is in B (5 sharps). Often a composition will move to different key centers for a few without actually presenting a new key signature. Maybe you want to move to F. You could set it up by throwing in a C7 chord (the 5, or dominant chord of F), which we think of as C-E-G-Bb. Now if you are playing melody, you might wonder why all of a sudden you see a Bb, when they key of B would show that note as an A#.

    Along those lines, if your underlying chord is a Db7, that would have Db-F-Ab-Cb. It would look odd to show a B instead of the Cb in the score, even though for a player's single note a B might look more logical. When you carry this logic into complex pieces you end up with double-flat and double-sharp indications.
    I'm going to chime in as a pianist, who used to play in big bands. I was first-call pianist for one such band and second or third call for two other groups. That meant that I'd often have to come in to the gig and sight read charts (no attempt at modesty, my sight-reading ability was what got me the gigs). Some arrangers simply wrote chord names, other wrote piano parts note-for-note. If I saw a Db7 chord, my fingers went immediately to the notes. If I saw a chord spelled out (from bottom to top) F-Ab-B-Db, rather than F-Ab-Cb-Db, there was often a fraction of a second while I had to figure out what the arranger meant.

    That said, I agree that notation for single-line instruments should be as simple as possible, and as an arranger I tried to avoid double-flats and double-sharps. I'll throw this question out for consideration: notating this blues riff: Bb Db Eb Fb Eb Db Bb - would players prefer Bb Db Eb E Eb Db Bb?
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by dsurkin View Post
    ...notating this blues riff: Bb Db Eb Fb Eb Db Bb - would players prefer Bb Db Eb E Eb Db Bb?
    I would choose the Fb option myself.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
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    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by dsurkin View Post
    ...notating this blues riff: Bb Db Eb Fb Eb Db Bb - would players prefer Bb Db Eb E Eb Db Bb?
    I'm also inclined to agree with Dave.

    From a publisher's perspective the Fb would be the obvious choice. Printing one flat for the F is much simpler (and cost effective) than printing ALL the alternating flats and naturals for both Eb and E natural.

    From a player's perspective, they'd probably -initially- prefer the E natural. Although, it may create doubt later on when they see notated E's without accidentals. If it occurs often enough the Fb is probably best, though as one-time thing the E may be an option?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by TD517 View Post

    From a publisher's perspective the Fb would be the obvious choice.
    Are you really saying this as someone who's actively in the publishing business? I ask because I'm skeptical that contemporary commercial publishers would care at all -- not that it's relevant to providing a more usable product to the customer.

    Printing one flat for the F is much simpler (and cost effective) than printing ALL the alternating flats and naturals for both Eb and E natural.
    Again, not remotely from a PLAYER's perspective. But also, this "reason" rests on a kind of 19th century view of music publishing, I think. Ink? Paper? High cost of those? Difficulty of reproducion? Typesetters bent over the machines, wearing eye shades and with the smell of lubricating oil and hot lead in the air? And I doubt that you could show it's more cost effective in any event. I suspect that overall -- from the publisher's perspective -- it's a wash.

    From a player's perspective, they'd probably -initially- prefer the E natural. Although, it may create doubt later on when they see notated E's without accidentals. If it occurs often enough the Fb is probably best, though as one-time thing the E may be an option?
    Huh? This sounds a bit like the software developer's "They'll get used to it, and from our perspective it's easier." refrain. No, thanks. Just give me what we all KNOW is the easiest for people to read, instead of making up unconvincing reasons about how it's really not the easiest to read. Again, it's like developers trying to convince users that the application they've provided really isn't crap, and that just some additional "training" is needed to get over the initial hump of thinking it's crap. Hey, they're the ones who get to say, right? Since they made it. Not the ones who are paying for it and trying to use it, eh? ... Uh, no.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    I would choose the Fb option myself.
    Dave, so would I.
    Dean L. Surkin
    Mack Brass MACK-EU1150S, BB1, Kadja, and DE 101XTG9 mouthpieces
    Bach 36B trombone; pBone; Vincent Bach (from 1971) 6.5AL mouthpiece
    Steinway 1902 Model A, restored by AC Pianocraft in 1988; Kawai MP8, Yamaha KX-76
    See my avatar: Jazz (the black cockapoo) and Delilah (the cavapoo puppy) keep me company while practicing

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