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# = flat/sharp?

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(@greybeard)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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The Germans expanded the musical alphabet to include 'H'. They used H to describe the 'hard B' sound... so their musical alphabet became A-B-H-C-D-E-F-G.
I think that should be A, H, C, D, E, F, G
That order is a bit confusing, so everyone else took a different route. When the second accidental was added (F#), the Germans realized expanding the alphabet further would make it rather silly with the letters out of sequence... but still use their 'H' today as B natural!
.....and their B is our Bb. So they have A, Ais/B, H, C, Cis/Des, D, Dis/Ees.................., where "is" is the same as "#" and "es" is the same as "b"

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(@greybeard)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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NoteBoat - Please confirm if you can. Just as the flat sign came from the letter "b". The sharp sign (#) came from the letter F, didn't it? Somehow the origin of the flat sign is much stronger in my memory than the sharp.
As I understand it, the sharp sign also derived from B (B quadratum, the square B), same as the natural sign and "H".

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
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(@noteboat)
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I'm pretty sure I had the order right - their chromatic scale would be A-B-H-C-C#-D-D#-E-F#-G-G#, so the order of the letters would be ABHCDEFG. I've heard a rumor (that I haven't really bothered to look into) that the Germans realized how silly it was... but kept it, because the first four letters form an anagram of BACH :)

The sharp sign also came from B, but not directly from the B natural note - it happened in two steps. When it was decided that B should be split into two tones, it was simply written as a round or square note. Notes didn't have stems then, because time signatures were a later development, so they were just basically circles or squares. Some people credit this development to Guido d'Arezzo, but I doubt it - there aren't any existing examples from his time (11th century), and it seems to me folks simply like to credit Guido with an awful lot of stuff... the invention of solfege, the first use of the staff, etc.

The two notes were used as dots until about the beginning of 15th century. At that point, the range of instruments started getting bigger, and we could write music in more than one octave... it was easy to tell the B notes apart by shape if you were only looking for them in one place, but scattering different shapes across the staff was confusing. The natural sign developed directly from the shape of B quadratum, and the flat sign from B rotundum.

The sharp was first used in the late 1400s, and it's said the first use was by the composer Josquin des Pres - who wanted to use both a natural F and a raised F in the same piece. Since a natural F could be shown with a modified square in front of it, he wrote the square with an 'x' through it, indicating the pitch should be raised from the natural instead of lowered.

Key signatures developed a bit later, and early key signatures only showed just one accidental, no matter what key you were in - you saw that B was flat, or F sharp, and you figured out the other notes from the accidentals in the score, or (commonly) by ear. Our modern key signatures developed about the 17th century, and even then for the next 100 years or so compositions in minor keys didn't match what we use today - since the melodic minor has the sixth note sometimes flatted and sometimes not, that was always written in the score. If you look at an original copy of a piece of Bach or Handel that's in a minor key, you'll see it's one flat short; only 2 flats for C minor, because the third flat, A, isn't flatted through the entire piece... they just marked each appearance of A as needed.

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(@fretsource)
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Thanks for the memory jog, guys. Yes, indeed - the sharp sign also came from the letter B.


   
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(@chris-c)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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The sharp was first used in the late 1400s, and it's said the first use was by the composer Josquin des Pres - who wanted to use both a natural F and a raised F in the same piece. Since a natural F could be shown with a modified square in front of it, he wrote the square with an 'x' through it, indicating the pitch should be raised from the natural instead of lowered.

Great information. :) I've got some of Josquin's music on CD - sung by the Tallis Scholars - so it's good to know a bit more about his place in history. I'd like to say that I'll listen to see if he's using two the Fs on the CD, but at this stage I've still got "Van Gogh's ear for music" and wouldn't yet know by ear if he was using three Z flats and a Q blunt.... :(

Thanks to everybody for the help and for some really interesting reading.

Cheers,

Chris


   
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