One more "curious" thing composers do.........

• Feb 22, 2014 - 21:39

I am curious as to why composers enter notes such as C flat or E sharp, etc. when they could just as easily enter a B or an F. Another thing, I am entering a score with three sharps (key of A). So even though C, F and G are all sharp (according to the key signature), the composer still places accidentals in front of many of these notes (even if they are the first note in a measure). He also places natural accidentals in front of other notes that don't need them. I know the accidentals are used if the note has been modified within a measure, but why would they place them where they are unnecessary?


Lots of reasons to use Cb instead of B - in the right context.

For one thing, Cb and B happen to be played with the same key on a piano, but they are really supposed to be different notes. You've heard of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier"? In a nutshell, tempering is the act of forcing Cb and B to be the same note even though they shouldn't be :-)

Even in a world of tempered pianos where Cb and B are played with the same key, it can still be much more readable to see Cb than B in the situations where Cb is meant. For instance, write out a Gb major scale: Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb. Each letter name used exactly once, so in notation it goes line space line space line space line space, just like a scale should. Change the Cb to B and now it doesn't look like a scale any more, making it much harder to read.

As for unnecessary accidentals because they just confirm the key, those are called courtesy accidentals. Again, it's all about readability. Imagine in the key of A having two measure full of sixteenths, all G's, with a natural sign in front of the first G of the first measure. The eye see 32 sixteenth notes all on the same pitch, but because of the natural sign, the first 16 are G naturals whereas the next 16 are G sharp because the barline cancels the accidental. Except there is virtually no way anyone reading that is going to catch this on first reading, or even second, or third. So you add a courtesy accidental in front of the first G of the second measure, so the person reading can see more clearly where it changes from natural back to sharp.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks for the explanation. Since this score was written for piano, I will assume that entering a B in place of a C flat will still play the same. I also understand why the composer would want to use the courtesy accidentals, just to clarify a complicated piece.

In reply to by bill2reg

It's not always the composer who inserts the accidental. Some publishers have a "house style" where they follow rules for inserting accidentals; others get a proof-reader to read and play the part and then insert accidentals if they feel there may be confusion anywhere.

In orchestral parts there often appear accidentals that are at first glance unnecessary but they are there to clarify a note when maybe another instrument has an note that might conflict.

Other accidentals are eh, well, accidental, i.e. not really needed but left in and copied from one version to the next,

In reply to by underquark

Thanks for your information. I am really enjoying Musescore, and I have really learned a lot since using it. Not only am I learning to use the program itself, but also learning some new things about music scores in general. This forum is a great resource, thanks to all the knowledgeable and helpful people here. Thanks again to everyone.

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