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Complicated question about notation
Is there a convention as to how to notate a chromatic run?
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September 9, 2019 - 5:30 am
Member Since: July 30, 2019
Forum Posts: 8
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I am adding a violin part to a folk song in the key of F# minor. There is a bar at the end of the intro (call it bar X) in which the harmony is E major and the harmony in the following bar (call it bar Y) is F#m. The four crotchet notes I am playing in bar X are E B E F and the first note in bar Y is F#. The question is: is there a convention to follow as to how those four notes should be notated i.e. should it be E B E F or E B E E#?

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September 9, 2019 - 6:46 am
Member Since: March 25, 2018
Forum Posts: 456
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Hi @Graham 

Well my first thought is to write a E natural (no accidental).. because in your first sentence you said the song is in the key of F# minor.  The relative major of this key is A major.  In either key, the E is played and written as a natural (refer to the circle of fifths).

But then in the description line of your post, you are asking about how to notate a chromatic run ("Is there a convention as to how to notate a chromatic run?"), which if I understand your post correctly, this is a completely different question than how to notate a F#min/A maj scale.  The chromatic scale itself has no set notation, that is, there is no key signature for the chromatic scale.  However, notes written chromatically are notated based on the major/minor keys in which the piece is written, AND whether the notes are ascending or descending.  In general, the chromatic scale is usually notated with sharp signs when ascending and flat signs when descending.  But to avoid confusion, the composer will refer to the key of the piece for the correct notation (exceptions explained below).

However your post does not indicate you are writing for a chromatic scale, and you are discussing or hinting toward a harmonic scale, which is another topic altogether.  Harmonic minors DO change how the piece is written and played.  The harmonic for F# minor is written and played with a E#, so as to differentiate that it is harmonic and not a natural minor.

Additionally, the notes F and E# are NOT the same tones, at least on string instruments.  The piano plays these notes identical (it is the same piano key).  Violin (and the other orchestral string instruments) use tension and release intonation, which is something achieved differently on keyboard instruments. 

It is important to know what sound you want to achieve when you add this part to the music because the notation will communicate what sound you want.  If you need to emphasize the harmonic of F# minor, you can write in a E#.  Whether this is perceptible to the ear will depend on the player (it can be played slightly sharp).  There are some gypsy and Arabic based music in which the E# is perceptible and preferred.  The instruments and technique used to play this style of music are suited for this sound.  This tends to be quite dissonant, or harsh sounding, but that is the style of the music.  I am not sure if this is what you want to achieve with the folk music you are playing.  Also, it is not commonly written this way and is unconventional, but you can write this any way you want, assuming the theory is sound.

Not having the music in front of me and just going on the excerpt you describe, it is difficult to give you precise answers.

So I am just slightly confused by your question, but I hope that I was able to cover several areas to help you.

(All... if my understanding of theory is lacking, please feel free to correct me.  I welcome any input)

- Pete -

Fort Lauderdale
September 9, 2019 - 11:33 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 15485

You seem to be referring to an F natural which should be notated as an E# since there are sharps in the key, but I actually prefer adding natural signs in these cases.
If you like, you can PM a screenshot, or picture of the sheet and I can make a suggestion. Sometimes we notate music for clarity rather than rules. Of course if I was turning in a project in music theory for a grade, I might do it differently.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

September 9, 2019 - 11:47 am
Member Since: July 30, 2019
Forum Posts: 8
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Here is a screenshot of the passage in question. Thank you for your very comprehensive replies. I think the idea of using sharps on ascending passages and flats on descending is a jolly good one. I'll stick with this. I just didn't want to make a silly blooper if there's a right way to do it.

musicquestion.jpgImage Enlarger

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Fort Lauderdale
September 9, 2019 - 11:53 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 15485

That is the best way to do it for sure. You did good. 😁

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

Gordon Shumway
London, England
Pro advisor

September 9, 2019 - 12:27 pm
Member Since: August 1, 2016
Forum Posts: 1547
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And maybe if there's a C#7 implied before the F#m (a perfect cadence), then that's another reason to have E#? However, I know what you mean about preferring F natural, Pierre.


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