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Why did history evolve both flats and sharps?
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JohnBAngel
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August 3, 2020 - 8:14 pm
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Greetings Fiddlerman Team,

Can someone enlighten me as to the reason for having both sharps and flats when there is little discernible difference in pitch? I am sure there is a theory historian in the group that can shed some light on the subject.

Also, when notating a composition, is there an advantage to using either semi-tone in lieu of the other?

When going through the Circle of Fifths, I see that they are favoring the the flat notation and are putting sharps in parentheses.

I apologize for my ignorance and am sure there is logical assistance to the rescue.

JohnBAngel

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SharonC
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August 3, 2020 - 9:36 pm
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JohnBAngel,

I think your questions require more explanation than a short answer.  This website has some good info on music theory:

https://www.howtoplaypiano.ca/.....sic-theory

This guy does a pretty good job explaining music theory.    Lessons 8 -13 of the Level 1 - Beginner Music Theory Rudiments probably has the answers you are looking for.

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Mouse
August 3, 2020 - 9:48 pm
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@JohnBAngel 

I just googled it. This answer on Reddit makes complete sense:

There's a really important concept at play here: music is based off scales. For simplicity's sake, let's just think about the major scale.

There's a rule we've come up with for writing major scales: you must use each letter name exactly once in your scale. You can't have a major scale with 2 D's in it (Even if one is D and the other is D#). There's a good reason for this. When we write music on the page, each letter is a line or a space, so a scale uses each line and space in order. It doesn't skip over any of them, and doesn't use the same line or space twice. It look like a scale. This is good.

Now, just accept this rule for a moment. And let's imagine a major scale in a world without the flat symbol. In this world, they only know about sharps. And let's not just pick any major scale, let's work through F Major.

Alright, starts on F. Easy enough. Now we've got G, then A. Okay, what's the next note? Well in our universe we know it's Bb, but in this world, they'd have to call it A#. So that means the scale would be:

F G A A# C D E F

There's two notes on the line for "A" and none on the line for B. It looks weird, and is hard to sight read. It's unintuitive.

Even worse, there's no way to use a key signature for this version of the F major scale. You can't put a sharp on the line for "A" because A-natural is also a part of the scale. You'd have to use accidentals the whole time. Key signatures are good. They tell the performer which scale is the foundation for that song. They de-clutter the page by removing a lot of unneeded accidentals, and they make scales look like scales.

This line of reasoning: that scales should behave like scales, is an important idea for theory. And it means that we need both sharps and flats to make everything work. Some starting notes need notes to be raised to fit the major scale pattern, and some starting notes need the notes to be lowered to fit the major scale pattern, so we need both symbols.

I don’t know much about the circle of fifths. I cannot guarantee this is the absolutely correct answer, but makes sense, thanks to an old Reddit thread, and BRNZ42.

I Googled, “Why were both flats and sharps invented for music,” if want to dinf the thread.

Cello and Viola Time! 

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Mouse
August 3, 2020 - 9:55 pm
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By the way, @JohnBAngel, You are not ignorant for asking that question. Quite the opposite. 

Cello and Viola Time! 

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ELCB
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August 3, 2020 - 9:56 pm
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Hi JohnBAngel -

I like your question!  I am interested in what other members say.

Hmm Thinking Here SmileyThink that was probably the 1st question I asked when I was introduced to the piano as a child - and I felt the answer(s) ambiguous.  Relating "sharps" to moving in the direction of a higher pitch or if the music you are playing is moving toward a lower pitch the use of "flats".  From what I see, some choose which to use strictly to make notation look less confusing - taking into consideration what  key it is written. 

I I believe, when it comes to violins (and many other instruments) this notation is an archaic, inaccurate representation of our fingerboard - it should've been updated.  For instance, how many different pitches can you personally hear between 2 whole notes?  Certainly more than one!  Kind of hard to replicate on a piano, but why should the piano be the standard when so many other instruments are also capable of a greater variety of pitch?

 

Thank you for bringing this up!

- EmilyOwner And Pet Smiley

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BillyG
Brora, North-east Scotland
August 4, 2020 - 4:52 am
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@JohnBAngel - there is no such thing as a stupid question, and you ask about something that must puzzle many newcomers to music theory.

The reddit extract found by @Mouse is indeed the clearest description I have seen, and once understood - it becomes intuitive.

Last comment @ELCB - yeah - our determination of pitch varies, but generally around a +/- 5 cent shift is a reasonable approximation I guess. ( And that will vary both on an individual level, the sound-pressure-level of what is being listened to, and indeed the pitch as well ( it seems that down at lower frequencies ( 100Hz or less ) we are generally less able to detect changes as small as 5 cents). [ Exposure to, and repeated practice of tuning instruments, I believe, helps narrow the range - I'm certainly aware of a much smaller detectable-pitch-change-range.  That, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with having "perfect pitch" - which I most certainly do not.  On the other hand, my "relative pitch" determination is, I feel, pretty good!]

I get what you say about the piano - and - I think you're getting to the root of the issue - and as I see it, the problem is that our standardised western scale IS an approximation - it is 12TET (12 tone equal temperament) - where "basically" each semitone is separate from the next by a multiplicative factor of the 12th root of 2 ( 1.059 apprx ).   When we play on a fretless instrument, we are not bound by that unfortunate rule ( ! ) and of course, we have the beauty of just-intonation at our fingertips.

Oh - for those new to this - I should also mention the "musical cent" - we could split the distance between semi tones by whatever we wanted - but - the standard method is to regard there being 12-cent-steps between each semitone - ( making 1200 cents to span an octave - i.e spanning any 12 consecutive piano notes on the 12TET chromatic scale ).  I suppose ( I'd have to go calculate it, but it doesn't matter right now - this is just conjecture ) that a single 1 cent step may be intended to approximate to the granular limit on the human perception of pitch-change - I don't know, just a thought.  Or it may simply be that splitting things into 10's or (in this case) 100's or some other power of ten and so on is simply easier.

Interesting stuff !

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Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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JohnBAngel
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August 4, 2020 - 11:39 am
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Thank you all so much for the insight into my question.

@Mouse- hit it right on the head.

@BillyG- this is my first foray into fretless instruments, so your tonal variation description with the cents makes "sense". I have a tuner that recognizes variation to one cent, so I am going to see how many cents it will take me to discern the tone change. Might be good practice for my ear. When I started on the violin, I was actually happy to get my tone within plus or minus 5 cents- then I discovered that my finger placement on the fingerboard was inconsistent. Now I have to get it within plus or minus one cent.

@ELCB- I believe you have hit on something when you say the system in outdated. I am finding that I go flat or sharp in quarter-tones, or maybe less, when I am practicing improv with the blues. So how would a quarter-tone be notated? I will check my resources on this subject. I am sure this has been addressed somewhere.

THE SCIENCE OF ACOUSTICS IS HUGE!

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BillyG
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August 4, 2020 - 12:24 pm
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JohnBAngel said
......... So how would a quarter-tone be notated? I will check my resources on this subject. I am sure this has been addressed somewhere.....

THE SCIENCE OF ACOUSTICS IS HUGE!

I have seen this used in MuseScore (my go-to score-editing software) - https://musescore.org/en/node/286610

But, I've also seen (in context) simple indications of a slide / gliss but, starting and ending (implied - the note is shown only once) on the same note !  So, I guess it is to be "understood within the genre being played".   It's the sort of notational limitation in some ways that both you (John) and @ELCB are getting at, I guess.

My feelings about sheet notation are often misunderstood - sheet is essential of course for conveying the composer's intentions - but - at the same time - is (in some respects) only a guide to an individual player's implementation/interpretation.  That has to be true, otherwise every time the same piece of music was played from sheet, by anyone, with the same instrument, it would sound the same, and might as well be played by a robot.    Billy awaits the sheet-notation-flame-wars !!!rofl ( it's really my strange sense of humour at work here)

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Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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Mouse
August 4, 2020 - 1:01 pm
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If I understand this discussion about piano keys being right in tune and string instruments having slight variance, I think that is something that string instrumentalists just have to learn to do, intonation. I am not sure I will explain this right. I tend to do long posts, but I need to explain what I mean.

You can’t have a notation for every little slight variance in a tone. Can you imagine reading that on staff lines? You would have to at least double the number of staff lines. No system is perfect. If you intend to be a little off (a little flatter than a flat), you just have to make a note for yourself on your sheet music. Again, I am not sure I have followed Emily correctly, if not, my apologies.

There has to be some kind of standard used so that people can write music for different instruments or voices with some sort of organization so all can work together. Some instrumentalists cross over to other instruments that are not even in their group. They would have to learn what all those extra motes are on the staff for the violin.

There has to be some kind of standard used so that people of different instruments and voices can use the best one that suits them, ie treble, alto, tenor or bass.

There needs to be uniformity in some way so it all works together.

The piano is the best because it is stagnant. The A is an A, B flat is a B flat. We hear that tone. If your piano is in tune, you can use it to help with your stringed instrument intonation.

The beauty of the bowed string instrument is that you can do variances for effect, not sure why, but you can. Maybe say, “My intonation is not off, I meant it to sound like that. It is the rebel in me!”

I suspect, but I do not know, that some wind instruments have the same issue. But, there is that set of rules, set of specific notes that everything is built upon. You can do whatever you want, but because the basic set of notes and staff are there, is stagnant, all composers, instrumentalists, etc can use it and adapt it to their own needs.

Again, this is what I think was being questioned above, or one of the things being questioned. You can’t have a bunch of fractional tones written in music as a rule. That would confuse everyone and cause the staff to have more lines to accommodate them. 

Don’t forget, the piano also has the three pedals to create variance for their own interpretation. There is also the softness and loudness for instruments to convey their interpretations.

You know they will not use larger paper, the text would even be smaller than it already is. 😂

Again, my apologies if I misunderstood the statements above. That is what came to my mind, of little music theory, when I read it.

Cello and Viola Time! 

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BillyG
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August 4, 2020 - 1:52 pm
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cid said
.......Again, this is what I think was being questioned above, or one of the things being questioned. You can’t have a bunch of fractional tones written in music as a rule. That would confuse everyone and cause the staff to have more lines to accommodate them. 

Indeed so @Mouse.

I was on the search for concise information concerning microtonal music - I can't find the page I was thinking of - but came across this on wikipedia -

microtone-from-wiki.JPG

This is not what I was looking for - but - it happens to show another form of on-sheet notation for "microtones" - but specifically addressing only 1/4 tones, 1/2 and 3/4 tone intervals.  For something with a finer quantisation of tonal intervals I'm not entirely sure.

I *think* what I was trying to find was something I had read some time back regarding Eastern-style microtonal music, but failed.  Nevertheless, I'll post the wiki link for those interested since it is germane to the discussion.

The full wiki article I took the image from is here - it is quite detailed, but again, useful to read through if anyone is interested in the physics and math behind the current 12 Tone Equal Tempered scale (and indeed why it is an approximation - the "approximation" becomes evident when chords are built from certain intervals - but - it's what we have and has served us well !) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.....onal_music

***EDIT*** to clarify something I wrote back in post #8 - I was clearly confused - I indeed HAVE seen the little vertical squiggly-line (as shown in the image above) and I had interpreted it as a glissando (effectively on the same note - so - more like a "SHORT slide into the note") but understanding what was intended (largely!).  So, basically - ignore my reference to a notated glissando - it is quite a different thing !

Ahhh, indeed.... facepalm

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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ELCB
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August 4, 2020 - 2:14 pm
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JohnBAngel -

Thanks BillyG - that info really helps! 

Hi With Flowers Smiley cid - I was asking why not a better form of notation to encompass more of the pitch range fretless string instruments (as well as many others) have, instead of what the piano limits?  

In the meantime, I found this -

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.....t#Notation

And this -

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.....f_notation

And maybe more of what you were looking for, BillyG -

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.....arter_tone

 

So, my question has been addressed.

- EmilyEye Alien Walking Caterpillar Monster Emoticons

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Gordon Shumway
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August 6, 2020 - 10:37 am
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This might impress or amuse or bemuse or [insert missing word]

Andrew

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GregW
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August 6, 2020 - 11:30 am
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hmmm..why not just take the frets off?  

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ELCB
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GregW -Woohoo Jump Emoticons That's the way to do it!

Gordon Shumway -  Very cool!

Here's an interesting article pertaining to your video (from in the "Why 12 Notes?" thread).

https://fmq.fi/articles/instru.....he-notes 

 

Just Looking Around Smiley- Emily

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starise
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August 6, 2020 - 1:23 pm
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Nothing to fret about there *ahem*

I'll go fretless but I'm keeping my underwear.

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