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Author Topic: Which Accidental to Choose?  (Read 355 times)

Olimar12345

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Which Accidental to Choose?
« on: January 04, 2019, 09:03:47 AM »

A common roadblock that all transcribers, arrangers, and composers often come across is the age-old, "what do I call this note, X-flat or Y-sharp?" etc. While on the surface this can seem like a confusing decision to have to make, it can actually be quite a simple one. Below is what to do if you find yourself in question of how to label a particular note that lies outside of the key. This list is meant to be referenced starting from 1 and progressing as the options do not apply to your specific situation.

1. First and foremost: consult the key/tonality of the piece. Make sure that notes with accidentals aren't a part of the key that the piece is written in. For example, the key of F major has naturally occurring B-flats in it, which need to be labeled as such. Before proceeding it is important that you have identified the correct key signature so that notes left with accidentals really are out-of-key notes.

2. Next, we can identify some common potholes and occurrences. For this section it can help to label each note in the scale 1-7 (ex. In Bb major we would label Bb as "1," C "2," D "3," etc.). If you are in a major key and come across a possibly lowered 3rd, 6th, or 7th scale degree, these notes can very possibly be borrowed from the scale's parallel minor. For example, if we were in Bb major, this would pertain to notes in Bb minor. These two scales not only share the same tonic, but all of the same notes, sans the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes in the scale, with the minor version being a semitone lower. Going back to our example, this would make the third note in the Bb major scale D (natural), while in minor making it Db.

3. Modes. Once you have identified tonic, identify if it is in a major or minor tonality. Then, use any regularly reoccurring oddities as pointers for the mode. For example: I hear that a piece has a definite tonic pitch of A and sounds like it's in minor, easy: A minor. Then I notice there are a lot of F sharps occurring throughout; I might want to consider if it is in the Dorian mode. The seven modes (and their unique characteristic notes) are as follows:
Ionian - Another name for a standard major scale.
Dorian - Similar to a minor scale, but the 6th scale degree is raised a semitone.
Phrygian - Similar to a minor scale, but the 2nd scale degree is lowered a semitone.
Lydian - Similar to a major scale, but the 4th scale degree is raised a semitone.
Mixolydian - Similar to a major scale, but the 7th scale degree is lowered a semitone.
Aeolian - Another name for a standard minor scale.
Locrian - Similar to a minor scale, but the 2nd and 5th scale degrees are lowered a semitone.

The seven modes may also be split into major and minor categories:
  • Phrygian, Aeolian, and Dorian are the minor modes, ordered from most lowered pitches to least.
  • Mixolydian, Ionian, and Lydian represent the major modes, again ordered from most lowered pitches to least (with Lydian having a raised pitch (4)).
  • Locrian is the bastard child mode, being based on the seventh scaled degree and essentially being a "diminished" mode (this mode is difficult to tonicize).

4. Scales aren't everything, however. Sometimes harmonies move to more key-foreign places, far from the original tonality but still while in the current key signature. Next is the time to ask "is this part of the current chord or harmony? Does it function harmonically? If, for example, you've transcribed the notes E Ab B, you might want to reconsider that Ab, as E G# B spells out an E major triad. Remember that you can have any chord in any key, so long as it makes sense and there isn't a simpler way of writing it.

5. If the harmony is irrelevant, apply the accidental according to the direction it travels towards the next note. This is usually more prevalent in chromatic passages. Remember, sharps lead upwards and flats lead downwards. A chromatic scale is written using sharps on it's ascent and flats on it's descent; you'll want to mimic this in passages that call for more close-quarter melodies.

6. Planing. To plane in music is to have two or more voices move in parallel motion at a constant interval. If you are planing or writing in harmony with a consistent interval, keep that interval preserved. When planing, the interval in which the voices begin should remain consistent throughout the passage. Use accidentals to help convey this.

Follow these steps in order and you should be in good shape for determining the correct accidental to display.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2019, 10:17:02 PM by Olimar12345 »
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JDMEK5

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2019, 06:39:20 PM »

Love it! Only thing is that I was hoping you'd explicitly mention the harmonic-raised 7th in minor keys; just because it comes up a lot and I've seen people trip on it over and over and over. I think it would be helpful to stick in there somewhere (maybe even melodic minor as well but that's getting closer to your mixed modes section there).
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Olimar12345

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2019, 09:00:06 PM »

Thanks! You know, I considered adding a section about that (as well as some other scales) but I thought for one it was getting too scale-heavy, and two that it would over-saturate this guide. I could tack something about that in there, but I think it would be more beneficial to give emphasis on the characteristics of these scales (as I tried to do) rather than just listing out all of the possibilities. This way someone could look at something and go "oh, that's a raised 7 in minor" without necessarily needing to know the name for that scale (not that knowing the particular scale is a bad thing; it's just better to observe things then label them, rather than the other way around, imo).
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Latios212

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2019, 09:52:13 PM »

This is really nice!

One thing I want to comment on is that when planing it's not always possible to preserve the interval nicely, like when using the whole tone scale and that there are some other situations where the harmony might otherwise give you a reason not to write the same interval.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2019, 09:54:18 PM by Latios212 »
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Olimar12345

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2019, 10:01:15 PM »

One thing I want to comment on is that when planing it's not always possible to preserve the interval nicely, like when using the whole tone scale and that there are some other situations where the harmony might otherwise give you a reason not to write the same interval.

That's why harmonic content comes first in my order of things though, since the whole tone scale is a scale.
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Latios212

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2019, 10:10:40 PM »

Ah, okay. I just didn't quite pick up on the fact that the whole post is going step by step in order of priority.
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Olimar12345

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2019, 10:15:21 PM »

Yep. That's why I had the "Follow these steps in order" bit at the end, but I've just edited it to have numbers too.
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JDMEK5

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Re: Which Accidental to Choose?
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2019, 12:07:43 AM »

Thanks! You know, I considered adding a section about that (as well as some other scales) but I thought for one it was getting too scale-heavy, and two that it would over-saturate this guide. I could tack something about that in there, but I think it would be more beneficial to give emphasis on the characteristics of these scales (as I tried to do) rather than just listing out all of the possibilities. This way someone could look at something and go "oh, that's a raised 7 in minor" without necessarily needing to know the name for that scale (not that knowing the particular scale is a bad thing; it's just better to observe things then label them, rather than the other way around, imo).
Totally get what you mean. The only reason I brought it up in the first place is because of how frequently it comes up. In my opinion, that would be ample justification to address it specifically (even in contrast to all the other possibilities we both know exist). If you're concerned about keeping your information fairly cohesive without too much unnecessary detail, maybe a spoiler would work good for this function? It's not in the way that way unless the reader chooses to read it. Just a thought.
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