# Topic: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

1. ## Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

Hello,

I am doing an orchestration of a piece with Sibelius 4 and having a hard time determining the accidentals that should be used (should it be F# or G flat?).

Could someone clarify and simplify how to best derive what accidentals should be used when the piece doesn't use key signatures?

My understanding is you derive the accidental in this order:

1.) Determines the key scale the note belongs to by its context. Prioritize the accidental based on the current key that is implied. (This is difficult if the piece jumps keys often)

2.) My teacher also suggested respelling into 3rds. So for example, you wouldn't spell out C,E,F# because it doesn't look like it is in 3rds and harder to read than C,E,Gflat since the G flat is just a flatted 5th note of the C triad.

3.) When the notation follows an ascending chromatic scale, make the accidentals sharp. When the notes follow a descending scale, use flats.

How bad would it be if I just used step 3 from above for an orchestral performance? Are there special considerations for differnet instruments? I think I remember reading that harps prefer sharps for their notes - because of better sound. I am not looking for a definitive guide but some best practices and rules of thumb.

Thanks,
Karim

2. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

I'd say you're pretty close with your thoughts there, and I can't think of any special considerations for different instruments, but someone more up on the intricacies of orchestration might step in with better knowledge..

3. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

For the most part, ascending figures would sharpen the note and descending figures would flatten the note.

For example, in A major, one could write a figure "e, e sharp, f sharp, g sharp, a" and this would be better than "e, f natural, f sharp, g sharp, a".

Conversely, in D major one could write a figure, "d, c sharp, c natural, b, b flat, a" and this would be better than "d, c sharp, b sharp, b natural, a sharp, a natural"

However, there is one commonly used descending figure that goes against this general idea:

In C major, one would write "g, f sharp, f natural, e" rather than "g, g flat, f, e"

Or, in A flat major, one would write "e flat, d natural, d flat, c" rather than "e flat, e double flat, d flat, c"

Or, in the key of b major, one would write "f sharp, e sharp, e natural, d sharp" rather than "f sharp, f natural, e, d sharp"

This descending figure, starting on the fifth of the scale uses the "sharp" rather than the "flat" for the altered note.

One can find exceptions in published music.

In Jazz, throw out all the rules. I don't play or read Jazz, or popuilar music, but I have seen many instances of figures such as: b, b flat, b natural, b flat, b natural, b flat, b natural.... instead of b, a sharp, b, a sharp, b, a sharp, b.... It never made any sense to me, but I see those kinds of notation in many popular songs and jazz. I guess they kind of threw out the rules.

Hope this helps.

David

4. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

Originally Posted by karimelm
2.) My teacher also suggested respelling into 3rds. So for example, you wouldn't spell out C,E,F# because it doesn't look like it is in 3rds and harder to read than C,E,Gflat since the G flat is just a flatted 5th note of the C triad.
I must disagree with your teacher on this point. F sharp in this context is much easier to read than G flat. The rationale is that E to F sharp is a major second, a very common interval, so it should be spelled that way. E to G flat sounds like a second but looks like a third, and is just hard to read.

5. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

If you are a good sight reader, then one of the best ways to make this determination is to print it both ways, and see which way is easier to sight read. That's always the right answer...doing everything you can to make the part easy to sight read.

6. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

Being practical, I agree with Bruce.

However, the question of where the note is going (e.g. F# -> G vs. Gb -> F) can be important when you're writing string parts, especially on inner voices in chords. I'm not even talking about the ill-tempered difference between enharmonic notes, I just mean that psychologically, the player will tend to play the F# a little higher. Sometimes players have to be surprisingly far "out of tune" to make chords sound in tune.

7. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

Originally Posted by danpowers
I must disagree with your teacher on this point. F sharp in this context is much easier to read than G flat. The rationale is that E to F sharp is a major second, a very common interval, so it should be spelled that way. E to G flat sounds like a second but looks like a third, and is just hard to read.
I agree wholeheartedly with this comment. Major 2nd or,Diminished 3rd in function, this is a whole-tone and should be written as such.

Also, don't forget to take the particular instrument into account.

To not waste words on the subject, a general rule is that brass instruments like flats, and strings like sharps. Obviously this will change depending on direction and other factors, but a unison line for trumpet/violin may well have a sharp in the vln, and the same note spelled enharmonically for the trumpet. Well, trumpet being written a second higher, maybe that's a bad example. How 'bout cello and trombone?.... If you haven't already, familiarize yourself with the tunings of the string family, and the fingerings/etc of brass and winds. Nothing fancy-just the basics. That will help you make the right choices.

Final note: there's no one better to ask than people who play the instruments in question!

Belbin

8. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

Originally Posted by belbin
To not waste words on the subject, a general rule is that brass instruments like flats, and strings like sharps.
There may be something to this if you're writing for beginners, but speaking as a string player, I don't find flats any more difficult to read than sharps. I think this will be true of anyone playing above a certain level (I won't speculate exactly where that level may be!)

9. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

The key signature, performer, grade of piece, and instrument should also be taken into consideration.

Sean

10. ## Re: Producing Correct Accidentals with Notation software

hmm what? first what is the style of the music you are composing? Is is Polytonal?(with Sharps say in the one part of a chord and flats in another? reaching larger harmony then a 13th.)
Find out what mode it is or what tonic or dominate is then determine what key it's in from that then you can determine if it it's flat or sharp for the chord...ie... diminished or augemented etc, the position of the chord etc.
Your teacher is on some crack man.

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