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robertn
02-08-2012, 05:50 AM
I've been mostly a tabs guy but occasionally try to get some of the theory as a foundation. I was reviewing a full fretboard chart and decided I'd ask an old question I've had.

Why is the Bb typically called the Bb instead of the A#? Why is the C# typically called C# instead of the Db? Essentially, what's the convention that determines whether a note is named by it's # or b since either can be applied?

It seems that scales and chords would be easier to remember if this naming was consistent. Frankly, a system of A - L (12 notes) would be great but somehow I don't think centuries of music would bow to my preference; tabs is probably enough sacrilege as it is.

Robert

JamieFromOntario
02-08-2012, 06:08 AM
The main reason there are two (or more) names for notes lies in music theory.

Take a look into keys and signatures and you should start to get an inkling as to why this is the case. You ask about a convention that governs this. Note names are not so much governed by convention as they are by what scale or chord they belong to.

Suffice it to say that there are a variety of reasons, both theoretical and practical, why we name these notes the way we do.


That fact that notes like Bb and A# sound the same is actually a relatively recent thing. Before 1700, these enharmonically equivalent (as these note pairings are often referred to) notes would have been slightly different pitches. Thanks, in part, to Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier, these note pairings now sound the same.

Mandarb
02-08-2012, 06:37 AM
They are the same - see Scott's explanation below.

OldePhart
02-08-2012, 06:42 AM
As Jamie mentions, the notes are not necessarily exactly the same pitch. When you descend to the note between D and C from D the pitch is slightly different than if you ascend from C - and even today some players of instruments where pitch is continuously variable (violin, for instance) will do this especially when soloing. Most of us can't appreciate the difference though, and on a fretted instrument or piano or what have you the same pitch is played for both.

Now, as for why that note is sometimes called sharp and sometimes flat, it depends on what key you are in.

In a western major or minor scale you try to avoid having two pitches of the same name (A, B, C, etc) in the scale.

So, let's look at the key of D major. The notes are D E F# G A B C - and we number those 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Why did we call it F# instead of Gb? Because if we called the 3rd Gb we would then have G appearing twice in the scale, i.e. D E Gb G A B C - and that's awkward.

For a variety of reasons some keys are more popular than others - and it just works out that most of the time an F#/Gb is going to fall on F# in the most popular keys, and so on.

John

kkmm
02-08-2012, 06:43 AM
Bb and A# are the same notes as many already pointed out here. A song in Bb key requires only two 'b' symbols on the staff. The same song in A#, has exactly the same notes, requires 10 '#' symbols and there are only 7 notes on the staff (C D E F G A B) to put '#' or 'b'.
The same goes for F#m and Gbm, F#m requires 3 '#' on the staff, and Gbm requires 9 'b' (more than 7 !!!). You will see songs in F#m key but hardly see them as Gbm key.

chiefnoda
02-08-2012, 06:56 AM
> Why is the Bb typically called the Bb instead of the A#?

My uneducated guess:

You start from C major scale (C D E F G A B).

You add a #, you then get to G major (G A B C D E F#). Or, you add a b, you get to F major scale (F G A Bb C D E). So, you more often see Bb than A#. On the other hand, you see F# more often than Gb, for the same reason.

If you want to see A# in a major scale, you will have to add 5# which gives B major scale (B C# D# F F# G# A#). Since we hate to see too many # in the notation, we rarely have a song in B major scale and thus we rarely encounter A#.

Accidentals are a different story. If the key is a # scale (G, D, A, E etc), we tend to use # to indicate accidentals. If a key is a b scale (F, Bb, Eb, Ab etc), we tend to see b for accidentals.

Cheers
Chief

robertn
02-08-2012, 07:12 AM
Wow, you guys are impressive! JamiefromOntario reminded me that music as we ukulele players know it is not the same as when these nomenclatures were created. And OldPhart's scale references tied it together with the written methods.

I guess my background as a technology guy and programmer (using binary and hex numbering a lot) just makes me want to have a consistent interval and naming. But then, these are the types of things that brought me into exploring music; I'm trying to open up my Right-brain.

Thanks everyone, I'm going to keep studying some of the theory stuff I find and keep referencing these comments as I go.

JamieFromOntario
02-08-2012, 07:28 AM
Mandarb - I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. In what direction one is playing a scale (ascending or descending) has absolutely no bearing on whether or not a note is written with a sharp or flat.

OldePhart - I both agree and disagree with you. I think the point you make about variations in pitch of note when someone is soloing is dead on. However, you mention that there would be a variation in pitch for the C#/Db note depending on which direction the note is approached from (ie: from C or from D). This might be the case in some situations; but I don't think that it is a hard and fast rule. Alteration of pitch has more to do with the function of the note with in the large harmonic structure (ie: is the C#/Db functioning as a leading tone? or as the third of a major/minor chord?).

Chief - Great explanation of why some sharps and flats are more or less common. I hadn't thought about it that way. But, just to be fair to everyone I'm responding to, I'm going to have to disagree with one of your comments too ;) Accidentals can be any symbol (#, b, ##, bb, or natural); it does not matter if the key signature is made up of sharps or flats. Again, as with my comments to OldePhart, the function of the note with the accidental will dictate which symbol is used.


Sorry to be so disagreeable; some my say i've got a stick up my _____ about music theory.

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 07:33 AM
Whether a note is termed flat or sharp largely is derived by one thing:

1. Are you altering a note upward or downward from it's natural position in the C scale.
A. If you're altering upward, that's typically a sharp
B. If you're altering down, that's typically a flat

So let's start with the C scale (no sharps or flats)

C D E F G A B C

So now if we look at the F Scale, one note gets changed to keep the scale sounding major. B natural changes DOWN a half step so we call that flat.

F G A Bb C D E F

So let's look at the G scale

One note gets changed from the C scale in order to keep the major scale sound F gets changed UP a half step. We call that Sharp.

G A B C D E F# G

So then we can keep going further by identifying the next scale that has 2 flats

The Bb scale has Bb and Eb (two notes get altered DOWN to keep the major scale sound)

and 2 sharps would be D

D has F# and C# (two notes get altered UPWARD to keep the major scale sound)

So if you keep going you get a nice logical cycle:

The downward cycle goes:

C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb (circle of 4ths)

The Upward cycle goes

C G D A E B F# (circle of fifths)

And you see that the downward and upward cycles meet at Gb/F#

In theory you can take each circle all the way around until you end back up at C. But in practice it's easier to switch from flats to sharps to keep the number of incidentals manageable. If you ever see a song in Cb or Fb, that's usually an intellectual exercise more than it is anything else.

ShakaSign
02-08-2012, 08:06 AM
Scott's writeup above is excellent. Note that Wikipedia has a pretty good writeup on the Circle of Fifths, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths. I wanted to add something to Scott's answer. While the Db major key occurs earlier going counter-clockwise in the circle of fifths than the C# major key going clockwise, the C# natural minor key occurs earlier going clockwise in the circle of fifths (4 set of fifths down from Am). So that fact that you're seeing C# more than Db might simply be due to the fact that you select songs in certain preferred major and minor keys. For you, it could be because the popular songs you like were written/published/performed in those keys. For professional singers who transcribe songs up or down to match their vocal range, they may stick with a certain set of preferred major and minor keys and see note markings (or scales) that you don't commonly see.

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 08:13 AM
Scott's writeup above is excellent. Note that Wikipedia has a pretty good writeup on the Circle of Fifths, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths. I wanted to add something to Scott's answer. While the Db major key occurs earlier going clockwise in the circle of fifths than the C# major key going counter-clockwise, the C# natural minor key occurs earlier going clockwise in the circle of fifths (4 set of fifths down from Am). So that fact that you're seeing C# more than Db might simply be due to the fact that you select songs in certain preferred major and minor keys. For you, it could be because the popular songs you like were written/published/performed in those keys. For professional singers who transcribe songs up or down to match their vocal range, they may stick with a certain set of preferred major and minor keys and use notes that you don't commonly see.

Good point. Singers are all over the map when it comes to key because the limiting factor is their vocal range.

Guitar players tend to like to play over keys like C, G, D, A, E (very natural chord shapes)

Piano and horns tend to like keys like C, F, Bb, Eb, and Ab

So you'll find when backing other instruments that certain keys tend to come up more than others.

OlManRivah
02-08-2012, 08:55 AM
Or. . . .Because the Uke God wanted it that way. . . .

Plainsong
02-08-2012, 08:57 AM
All the theories rights and wrongs have already been mentioned, but something struck me about the idea that going up means sharps, and going down means flats. There's no such rule, which has been touched on already.. I mean imagine you're playing a piece in Bb (two flats, Bb and Eb) - it would mean in an ascending run you use sharps and in a descending one you use flats? No way. :D

BUT - how many of us do this? Going up the fretboard is sharp, down the fretboard is flat. I do that, and who told me to do that? Yet I do anyway. Weird.


Playing wind instruments, seeing flats feels like a nice warm blankie, but seeing sharps is annoying. Why? The same note.. OTOH, now playing uke, sharps feel more comfortable, same notes... Is anyone else strange like me?

Mandarb
02-08-2012, 09:01 AM
Mandarb - I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you. In what direction one is playing a scale (ascending or descending) has absolutely no bearing on whether or not a note is written with a sharp or flat.

Sorry - I was trying to say what Scott did below....he did a much better job.


Whether a note is termed flat or sharp largely is derived by one thing:

1. Are you altering a note upward or downward from it's natural position in the C scale.
A. If you're altering upward, that's typically a sharp
B. If you're altering down, that's typically a flat

Shastastan
02-08-2012, 09:16 AM
Nice to see the variations amongst these posts.....because in the real world there will be some. I slightly disagree with Scott that horn players like the keys that he mentioned. What we like is keys that have fewer sharps and flats.....and/or keys where the note fingerings are easiest ( like the C chord on a uke). Obviously a competent player should play equally well in all keys, but trumpet players like concert Eb, F, and Bb the best since they are the easiest keys for the trumpet. It's easier for them to play fast passages in those keys. Just saying....

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 09:19 AM
Sorry - I was trying to say what Scott did below....he did a much better job.

I think JamieFromOntario probably will take issues with my explanation as well since my goal was to help the original poster instead of providing a comprehensive unpacking of note naming conventions and applications.

For example If I'm playing the song Take the 'A' train in C, the first chord is a Cmaj7 - C E G B

Good to go there.

But the very next chord is a D7 - D F# A C

It's an altered chord that doesn't fir nicely in our C major scale.

Well F# doesn't really fit in the C scale in the key of C so you really can't justify it's name based on the C scale

Now we call the raised F a F# because we understand that a 7th chord = root/major 3rd/fifth/flat 7

Also since we're using D as the basis, it's awkward to call the 7th C#flat, so we simplify to C



But all this stuff is just theory. Forget about this stuff and just play what feels good!!!

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 09:21 AM
Nice to see the variations amongst these posts.....because in the real world there will be some. I slightly disagree with Scott that horn players like the keys that he mentioned. What we like is keys that have fewer sharps and flats.....and/or keys where the note fingerings are easiest ( like the C chord on a uke). Obviously a competent player should play equally well in all keys, but trumpet players like concert Eb, F, and Bb the best since they are the easiest keys for the trumpet. It's easier for them to play fast passages in those keys. Just saying....

Didn't I include those 3 keys in my list of keys horn players like? I'm pretty sure I did.

Plainsong
02-08-2012, 09:26 AM
It's just a psychological thing. We're supposed to be able to handle a key signature we don't see every day. And seeing sharps should be no different than seeing flats. But we have brains and brains sometimes act funny about some things. Humans are funny like that.

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 09:31 AM
It's just a psychological thing. We're supposed to be able to handle a key signature we don't see every day. And seeing sharps should be no different than seeing flats. But we have brains and brains sometimes act funny about some things. Humans are funny like that.

yeah, like whenever the E chord comes up for Uke. Everyone knows where to put your fingers. And in truth a uke neck is pretty short so it's not a huge deal to get there.

But everyone still sighs in frustration when that E symbol is on the sheet music ;)

Plainsong
02-08-2012, 09:34 AM
LOL, for me, it's "Please go to A, please go to A" so I can use E7. Nope? "Ok, please let 4447 sound alright." Nope? "Frak."

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 09:44 AM
LOL, for me, it's "Please go to A, please go to A" so I can use E7. Nope? "Ok, please let 4447 sound alright." Nope? "Frak."

depending on what key you're in 4422 can usually fit in a pinch. Has that nice add9 sound to it. I also like 4402. Some songs really benefit from having an ambiguous 3rd

JamieFromOntario
02-08-2012, 10:01 AM
Surprisingly enough Scott, I don't disagree with you at all. Great explanation of the circle of fifths and how that impacts sharps/flats.



Good post on "Take the A Train" too. The 7th chord you describe DF#AC, I would call a dominate 7th. In general it would be notated as D7.
I'd like the 'dominant' moniker since it differentiates it from other types of 7th chords, like major or minor 7ths. This is just my traditional music education talking - things are somewhat different in the Jazz/pop world.

Another reason that the F# in the D7 chord is called F# and not Gb is that D7 is acting as the dominant or V chord of G. In the key of C major, G is the dominant chord and D7 is the dominant 7th of G. When a D7 chord appears in C major, it is usually functioning as the dominant of the dominant or V of V, sometime called a secondary dominant.
One might notice that the chords D, G and C are all right next to one another on the circle of fifths. It's as if the D7 chord is 'borrowing' the F# from the key of G major, C major's neighbour on the circle.

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 10:09 AM
Surprisingly enough Scott, I don't disagree with you at all. Great explanation of the circle of fifths and how that impacts sharps/flats.



Good post on "Take the A Train" too. The 7th chord you describe DF#AC, I would call a dominate 7th. In general it would be notated as D7.
I'd like the 'dominant' moniker since it differentiates it from other types of 7th chords, like major or minor 7ths. This is just my traditional music education talking - things are somewhat different in the Jazz/pop world.

Another reason that the F# in the D7 chord is called F# and not Gb is that D7 is acting as the dominant or V chord of G. In the key of C major, G is the dominant chord and D7 is the dominant 7th of G. When a D7 chord appears in C major, it is usually functioning as the dominant of the dominant or V of V, sometime called a secondary dominant.
One might notice that the chords D, G and C are all right next to one another on the circle of fifths. It's as if the D7 chord is 'borrowing' the F# from the key of G major, C major's neighbour on the circle.

Thanks. I really love music theory. But I think many newbies get so immersed in the learning that they forget that innovative music is made by "breaking the rules". And many of the most influential artists of our time have no idea what minor 7 flat 5 chord is. They just know that they put their fingers down and magic happens!

JamieFromOntario
02-08-2012, 10:18 AM
Absolutely, Scott. There are many different approaches. I'm coming at this as someone who has studied "TRADITIONAL" music theory for a long time, and I think sometimes I forget that there are many different lenses through which to approach understanding music. I think I know my theory pretty well, but I can't write a song for @#$%.

I also could not agree more that 'breaking the rules' is often does make for some of the best music.



I think it was Louis Armstrong who, seeing pp (ie: pianissimo) written in a score, thought it meant "pound plenty".

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 10:28 AM
Absolutely, Scott. There are many different approaches. I'm coming at this as someone who has studied "TRADITIONAL" music theory for a long time, and I think sometimes I forget that there are many different lenses through which to approach understanding music. I think I know my theory pretty well, but I can't write a song for @#$%.

I also could not agree more that 'breaking the rules' is often does make for some of the best music.



I think it was Louis Armstrong who, seeing pp (ie: pianissimo) written in a score, thought it meant "pound plenty".

:) LOL I never heard that one!!!

Plainsong
02-08-2012, 10:43 AM
Baz posted on Facebook about the circle of fifths, and I never saw it until after I'd learned the pre-theory 101 stuff of high school band. I have trouble visualizing it that way. I prefer using the staff to visualize, but neither is wrong, since the knowledge is the same.

I was trying to explain the circle of fifths to my husband, who is an accomplished musician who never learned to read a note, and he was like "Wha??" - he uses it whenever he's noodling around making up progressions, but doesn't know he knows it. It's best not to mess him up. He doesn't need this "knowledge." I scraped through the required theory classes back in the day at uni, and I can't write a note of music, so.. so much for that!

He grew up learning, by backing his dad on piano, guitar, or bass. His dad was a trumpet player, and a great student of the Armstrong style. I'll have to tell him "pound plenty." It worked for him!


Absolutely, Scott. There are many different approaches. I'm coming at this as someone who has studied "TRADITIONAL" music theory for a long time, and I think sometimes I forget that there are many different lenses through which to approach understanding music. I think I know my theory pretty well, but I can't write a song for @#$%.

I also could not agree more that 'breaking the rules' is often does make for some of the best music.



I think it was Louis Armstrong who, seeing pp (ie: pianissimo) written in a score, thought it meant "pound plenty".

OldePhart
02-08-2012, 11:02 AM
I think it was Louis Armstrong who, seeing pp (ie: pianissimo) written in a score, thought it meant "pound plenty".

Heh, heh. Reminds me of the old joke about the jazz sax that sits in with an orchestra. He's doing pretty good and then all of a sudden jumps into this wild solo right in the middle of the piece. The conductor brings everything to a crashing halt, glares at the poor guy and says, "just what was that?"

The jazz player said, "my music said tacet, so I took it."

John

Shastastan
02-08-2012, 01:31 PM
Didn't I include those 3 keys in my list of keys horn players like? I'm pretty sure I did.

You sure did. My bad. I should not be allowed on the computer today. Sorry.

itsscottwilder
02-08-2012, 01:39 PM
You sure did. My bad. I should not be allowed on the computer today. Sorry.

No worries :) Good to know that a horn player agreed with me