Grateful Dead Music Forum

A place to talk about the music of the Grateful Dead 

Musical Theory Abound!!!
 #11862  by d-v-s
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:57 am
Ah yes, the age old question...

I've been trying to get my head around the theory of sharps and flats. :? I've done all my internet research and I still don't get it. I'm wondering if anyone has a nice simplified answer to this question.

Using the circle of fifths, I can see why some people would prefer Db to C#, to avoid having 7 sharps in the notation C# vs 5 flats in the Db. But this is all just notation, isn't it?

C# = C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B#
Db = Db, Eb, F , Gb, Ab, Bb, C

There's no difference in the scale, is there? The C# will still have the same make-up as the Db:

C# - C# major, D# and E# minor, F# and G# major, A# minor, and B# diminished

Db - Db major, Eb and F minor, Gb and Ab major, Bb minor, and C diminished

C# major scale is the same as Db major scale
D# minor scale is tha same as Eb minor scale
etc. etc

As far as I can see there is really no difference between the 2 besides notation.

Anyone trained in music that can help me out here?

 #11864  by strumminsix
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:39 am
I've always been told that if a C is in the scale it's a C#. If a D is in the scale it's a Db.

Then a jazzer I know said if you are going up they are #'s but down they are b's

 #11865  by ebick
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:26 am
There is no difference. And if you are talking about the scale as a whole.....take your pick. In other words, if you want to bump Bertha, for example, up a half-step, you can say, "let's play it in G#" or "let's play it in Ab" and both would be the same.

Where it seems to make a "difference" is when referring to the notes within the scale. For example, the notes in D Major are:

D E F# G A B C# D

While the notes are the same, you would never say,

D E Gb G A B Db D

The only analogy that is coming to my mind is the Spanish language that has masculine and feminine versions of words. If you use the masculine when referring to a woman, a listner would still know what you are trying to say, but it would be bad form and technically incorrect.

Maybe not the best analogy, but......hey, it's early :)

 #11866  by Crazy 9.5 Fingers
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:28 am
The general rule is that for any key or scale, either use #'s or b's, never both in the same scale.

 #11882  by mttourpro
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:16 pm
The only analogy that is coming to my mind is the Spanish language that has masculine and feminine versions of words. If you use the masculine when referring to a woman, a listner would still know what you are trying to say, but it would be bad form and technically incorrect.

That's a good way to put it.

It really goes back to your circle of 5ths in that C has no sharps or flats....go up a fifth and you're at G (one #) then D (2#s), the A (3#s) and so on....once you get to F# you have 6 #s in the scale....any altered notes in the those keys should be called sharps and not flats....when you go up another 5th you are at C# which would have 7#s---since that's more difficult to deal with than Db (which would have 5 flats), the nomenclature changes over to flats. When you cont with the circle you then get Ab which has 4 flats, Eb which has 3 and so really is a technical matter based on the principles of harmony theory and basically not an issue when playing real music with people. It is however rather critical when composing and writing music down on paper.

 #11883  by tigerstrat
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 1:56 pm
Crazy9.5 posted the most useful interpatation of the rule, which is to keep it all sharps OR all flats, but don't use both in the same song/scale.

 #11893  by HawaiianDedhed
 Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:23 pm
Crazy and Tiger are absolutely right, but ebick's point about not repeating the same letter twice is also important in conjunction with sharps and flats.

For example, as far a tone or where you put your finger on the fretboard or keyboard, there is no difference between an E# and a F (I have even heard the claim that there is no such thing as E#, "because your just playing F man"). The same thing with a B# and C.

However, nobody ever said common sense can be applied to music theory. Take a C# major scale (yes, it's easier to think of it as Db but hear me out). The notes are:

C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#


C# D# F F# G# A# C C#

The second scale only includes sharps and if you played the notes would sound right. Technically though, the notes would be considered incorrect.

Why? To make a kind of long story short, imagine using that second C# scale in standard music notation (Not TAB!). It would be a nightmare. Instead of a key signature at the start of the piece you would have sharps or naturals all over the place.

Basically, if your really into this stuff, get a keyboard. It's much more visual than a guitar fretboard as far as straight up music theory stuff goes. I believe even Garcia started writing on a keyboard in the later years. I wonder why?

 #11895  by d-v-s
 Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:01 am
I think you opened the door for me with one statement there - think of the scale in music notation (Not TAB!). :shock: This is probably the best reasoning I've heard for doing scales with one note for each letter (C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C# vs. C# D# F F# G# A# C C#), and thus noting C# as Db.

Doing it the first way (C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#), if you were to draw the scale onto normal notation, then you get a nice sloped line across the chart with one note on each line, marked with the appropriate # or b notation.

Doing it the second way (C# D# F F# G# A# C C#), you end up with two notes on the F line and 2 notes on the C line. This would look highly irregular on the chart and you wouldn't be able to tell that it was a major scale.

It would get even more confusing when you tried the next step on the circle of fifths, the G#/Ab. If you try to note this as a G# then you end up with double sharps - G# A# B# C# D# E# F## G# vs. the Ab which has Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab.

I think we've all grown a bit accustomed to using tab rather than sheet music, so these subtleties are lost on us.

Thanks for the help! :lol: