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  • Sharps and flats

    Simple question I've yet not found a definitive answer. What's the point of having sharps and flats in music theory?

    Well actually that's pretty obvious question if looked from theoretical point of view (ie. moving to smaller increments of fraction from tonic creates dissonance), but I decided to go for that, because I was having hard time paraphrasing this question in a way I meant it. (If that makes any sense?)

    I used to have hard time trying to understand music when starting to play until I went down to the very basics: Notes being simply a certain fraction off from tonic that creates the unique tonality of notes and harmonics. That's simple to understand and "unlocked" the idea behind chords, scales and their relationship.

    On string instrument that's easy to see, because notes are laid out in logical order. That's the way I learned to play what I can play these days. Never really need to think sharps or flats; they're all just notes and sound different due to their relation to tonic. Rest is just practice how to use them.

    It's only turned problematic when I've tried to play with keys. I can't play a thing with those instruments; white and black keys throw me off and I don't know which I should use.

    Why does note certain fraction from tonic should be called flat or sharp instead of just a note? Just because it sounds certain way and is further from the "perfect" fractions of the given frequency, or is there something I have missed?
    "So understand/Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years/Face up, make your stand/And realize you're living in the golden years"
    Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

  • #2
    Re: Sharps and flats

    So I did some digging on the matter and found out this:

    "Altered notes want to continue in the direction in which they have been altered. Sharps indicate a raised note and the direction it wants to resolve. Flats indicate a lowered note and the direction it wants to resolve."

    I guess that's the definitive answer I was looking for: Tension and resolution. Reading that it's stupidly obvious to be honest and begs a question why I had to read few pages of random internet forum to find out that! Seem like the first things to mention about subject matter to me...
    "So understand/Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years/Face up, make your stand/And realize you're living in the golden years"
    Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

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    • #3
      Re: Sharps and flats

      My grandpa used to sing in a church. Those guys had a completely different eastern roman (aka byzantine) system of music notation, completely different from the western one, There were not only sharps and flats but also divisions of those. Thats all I know on the matter.

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      • #4
        Re: Sharps and flats

        Originally posted by greekdude View Post
        My grandpa used to sing in a church. Those guys had a completely different eastern roman (aka byzantine) system of music notation, completely different from the western one, There were not only sharps and flats but also divisions of those. Thats all I know on the matter.
        I studied Byzantine music 30 years ago. It can only be properly played on a fretless instrument as the different tones have different intervals, but not the standard half/whole division.
        The other thing that I recall about it is that the notation is not fixed, it's based on going up or down from the previous note. If you loose your place in the music, you are pretty much screwed.

        Sent from my Alcatel_5044C using Tapatalk

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        • #5
          Re: Sharps and flats

          Originally posted by Jacew View Post
          So I did some digging on the matter and found out this:

          "Altered notes want to continue in the direction in which they have been altered. Sharps indicate a raised note and the direction it wants to resolve. Flats indicate a lowered note and the direction it wants to resolve."

          I guess that's the definitive answer I was looking for: Tension and resolution. Reading that it's stupidly obvious to be honest and begs a question why I had to read few pages of random internet forum to find out that! Seem like the first things to mention about subject matter to me...
          It’s not quite that easy, but that’s the gist of it.
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          • #6
            Re: Sharps and flats

            I like using unresolved notes. That and "resolving" them in the opposite direction.

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            • #7
              Re: Sharps and flats

              If written music did not exist, there'd be no real reason why we use sharps and flats, as opposed to every one of the 12 western notes simply having its own name. It's just a naming convention.

              But each note having its own name wouldn't fit the traditional musical staff.

              Didn't Bb famously used to have its own name? H, right?
              Originally posted by LesStrat
              Yogi Berra was correct.
              Originally posted by JOLLY
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              • #8
                Re: Sharps and flats

                Originally posted by ItsaBass View Post
                If written music did not exist, there'd be no real reason why we use sharps and flats, as opposed to every one of the 12 western notes simply having its own name. It's just a naming convention.

                But each note having its own name wouldn't fit the traditional musical staff.

                Didn't Bb famously used to have its own name? H, right?
                In Europe B is H and Bb is B.
                "So understand/Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years/Face up, make your stand/And realize you're living in the golden years"
                Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

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                • #9
                  Re: Sharps and flats

                  Originally posted by ItsaBass View Post
                  If written music did not exist, there'd be no real reason why we use sharps and flats, as opposed to every one of the 12 western notes simply having its own name. It's just a naming convention.

                  But each note having its own name wouldn't fit the traditional musical staff.
                  That was sort of the lines I was thinking: That 7 alphabet scale was first and sharps and flats came later as addition.

                  But it seems a bit too random to just build up like that when the system is pretty far crafted and gone under numerous renditions. You'd think someone would have reworked it at some point to accommodote all notes more reasonably.

                  Which is why that quote from Bert Ligons Jazz Theory sounds really understandable and logical answer. Haven't yet tested out though...

                  Originally posted by TwilightOdyssey View Post
                  It’s not quite that easy, but that’s the gist of it.
                  Can you elaborate?
                  "So understand/Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years/Face up, make your stand/And realize you're living in the golden years"
                  Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

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                  • #10
                    Re: Sharps and flats

                    With sharp things you can make other things flat.
                    Wackor
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                    • #11
                      Re: Sharps and flats

                      Would that mean that terms like "Eb tuning" and D# tuning" to describe standard tuning down half a step are not interchangeable and only one is technically correct, because they can only resolve in one direction from the lowest string?
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                      • #12
                        Re: Sharps and flats

                        I was just thinking about carving stuff with my swiss army knife.
                        Wackor
                        Ψrdψg
                        NecroPolo
                        Diabolus in Musica
                        SIDrip Alliance
                        Book of Shadows
                        RKH

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                        • #13
                          Re: Sharps and flats

                          Originally posted by Beer$ View Post
                          Would that mean that terms like "Eb tuning" and D# tuning" to describe standard tuning down half a step are not interchangeable and only one is technically correct, because they can only resolve in one direction from the lowest string?
                          Either of those is correct because you are not tying it to a specific key, they are enharmonic tones.

                          Getting all music theory 101 on you, if you are playing in playing in say, Eb major (3 flats on the key signature, see below), the pitch inventory is Eb F G Ab Bb C D, so, while you the pitches are the same as D# major - D# E# F## G# A# B# C## (yes, that is a F double sharp and a C double sharp, which raises each pitch 1 full step), they are 2 different keys. D# is also considered a "theoretical" key because it is rarely used because it is basically a PITA (Eb is much easier to use).

                          As to why accidentals (sharps and flats) exist, I guess is just seemed like the easier thing to do instead of giving all 12 tones individual names(? although there is also some physics involved in the way they are separated?), I really don't know. But I think it is easier to keep up with 7 notes with accidentals instead of 12 individual notes.


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                          • #14
                            Re: Sharps and flats

                            When I tune down a half step, I only use sharps.
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                            • #15
                              Re: Sharps and flats

                              Originally posted by Van Noord View Post
                              When I tune down a half step, I only use sharps.
                              You like to play on the black keys huh?

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