Key Signatures.

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Thirteen Ball, Nov 1, 2007.

  1. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Is it just me, or have these rather gone out of fashion? Specifically in test-pieces.

    Looking through a couple of Vinter pieces we've been running through to get into the right vibe for the areas, the key is marked like it is in any other concert piece, and each section is in a specific key, with a few divergances.

    But edging toward the more modern end of our pad, I find that on several occasions, whole contest pieces are written in C major band pitch, with accidentals where necessary. Even though sometimes it's pretty clear what key a particular movement is in.

    I can completely understand a composer not wanting to put a dozen key changes in a movement as modern music sometimes has atonal qualities or modulates into several keys, and it stops each episode being parcelled up separately lending a different flow to the scoring. I often write that way myself as it avoids changing key every 20 bars in certain passages!

    But I can also understand the other side of the coin. I got something of an ear-bashing from my girlfriend for passing her a part I'd written in the perpetual c-major style as described, and she kept forgetting the repeated accidentals, or to naturalise the note a bar or two later. Something I myself am often guilty of as well!

    Being both a player and writer, I'm kind of in a middle ground as I quite like to know what key I'm in when playing, but I do prefer to write in the rather less rigid manner when composing.

    What does everyone think?
  2. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I personally would check if certain accidentals are repeated on a regular basis. If they match a key, I would use that to ease the performers' problems with reading too many accidentals. Only problem then is the reader wrongly associating key signature with tonal centres.
  3. johnmartin

    johnmartin Active Member

    We tried out Essence of Time and Prisms recently, both by Peter Graham. I'm sure that both of these excellent pieces are written in this fashion.
  4. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    It also depends on your objectives as a writer. Players are less likely to want to play a piece that is awkward to read and rehearse than another that can be mastered after a short time. If you are composing as a personal statement and not seeking regular performances then you can opt to do as you wish!
  5. Baritonedeaf

    Baritonedeaf Member

    As far as I am aware, Mr Sparke uses this in his pieces as well - I personally prefer it! My Key signature reading is shaky at best, and i often end up writing in on some certain sharps and flats anyway.

    Just find it limits the careless error count! ;-)
  6. Baritonedeaf

    Baritonedeaf Member

    An example i would cite is the excellent Airs and Dances by Alan Fernie - the last movement goes into 5/6 sharps - I certainly wrote in all the A sharps as i kept missing them out when playing it up to speed...

    Perhaps I am just a bad player!
  7. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    I wonder if this is perhaps related to the change (in recent years) from composing on paper to composing on computer?
    Does the computer assume key of C unless told otherwise, then assign flats/sharps as neccessary?

    One I've noticed which I'm sure is down to computers is the tendency to get sharp accidentals where you'd expect flats (of the note above) normally - I've altered a few parts because of that, it makes playing runs and suchlike harder if unexpected notes crop up in the middle! (my excuse and I'm sticking to it :) )
  8. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - when you use a blank sheet of manuscript you have to decide on key signatures so notation software isn't any different. What can be more helpful in software based systems is the application of accidentals when importing MIDI files. They do a not bad job trying to guess common key signatures but lack in determining sharps/flats based on the movement of the part. I still use the rule that ascending lines require sharps and descending lines flats.
  9. Mr_Chairman

    Mr_Chairman Member

    I've often wondered why 'Isaiah 40' has a key signature of 1 flat for the first 50 or so bars when the logical key signature would be 4 flats (F minor?) - am I missing something?
  10. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - perhaps it is the modal character of the piece?
  11. RandomHornPlayer

    RandomHornPlayer New Member

  12. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Certainly Sibelius will use what it "thinks" is the most likely accidental; so it would use an F# instead of a Gb unless told otherwise. When you start a blank score in Sib it defaults to open key unless you specify.

    Where possible I use a key signature to make the actual notes easier to read, there's nothing I hate more as a player than trying to sight read a page plastered with accidentals.

    Having said that, in common with a lot of band composers I tend to write in modes (particularly Lydian and Mixolydian). So for instance, I'll write a passage with C as the tonic and G as the dominant but using a load of F#s, or Bbs, - so the key signature would be G or F Major. Possibly this makes my key signatures a bit misleading sometimes - because it makes performers expect a key centre that isn't there - but on balance I think it makes things easier.
  13. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Not being a Horn player (French Horn that is), I am merely quoting what I have heard, but this has been put to me as the "usual" way Horn parts are now written in modern music. Perhaps it is linked to this trend?
  14. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    - early french horn parts were typically written in C as crooks were used to alter pitch but parts would be named Horn in F, Horn in A etc.
  15. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    I believe that this practice has become more common with computer typesetting. When music was printed via lithograph or gravure press or handwritten by a calligrapher, each accidental required an extra operation to put in place. Preparing a piece written open key might require many more accidentals and therefore increase the time and expense for the preparation. With computerized notation, the time factor for accidentals is essentially eliminated.

    I generally prefer open key (probably because I have become locally famous for missing more key changes than anyone else in my band :p ).
  16. Anonymous_user

    Anonymous_user New Member

    Not often you see crooks and french horn in the same sentence :biggrin:
  17. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    :clap: ... I didn't see that meaning at first!
  18. Brian Bowen

    Brian Bowen Active Member

    It certainly wasn't uncommon to drop key sigs before the use of computers. Composers abandoned traditional key signatures when writing atonally or non-tonally and if the music frequently changed its key centre. Some pieces may have a mixture of trad. key sigs. when the music is in a definite key centre and no key sig. when no definite key.

    I've found it expediant, for players sake, to drop key sigs if the music is very chromatic in a multi-flat/-sharp key sig. However, I suspect some writers abandon key sigs in what is tonal, key centred music simply as an affectation.
  19. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    James Curnows' "Saints of God" was the first one I remember. BM was totally confused by it.
  20. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    I first noticed this in the early 90's and in my ignorance assumed (probably wrongly) that it was to do with the notation software at that time.

    Just looking at my part for <generic test piece> by <well known composer> tonight which we will be playing in a few weeks it is written without key signatures and with accidentals, though clearly some bits of it are in a pretty straight forward key. Maybe I ought to ask <well known composer> why he seems to prefer this? ;)

    It doesn't bother me either way, although I do notice that I miss more key changes if we spend a night bashing a test piece written like this and then spend the last five minutes on something fairly straightforward written in a key. I guess its a mindset thing. "No key signature" music does make any run look impressively difficult though...:)

Share This Page