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Naming your scales

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Crazy Dave Miller
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I've got a semantics question (at least I think that's the right word, stupid college English classes)

There are 12 possible tones in the diatonic scale system encompassing 21 different names for the notes (F,C,G,Eb,D#,etc) though 9 of those names are interchangeable (i.e A# is Bb, E# is F). Therefore there are 21 possible names for the 12 diatonic scales in any particular mode.
So here's my question:
I'm writing a song. The key is C#/Db major. Is it C# or Db, or can it be whatever I want to call it? I'm assuming it's Db because that's the 5 flat context, whereas C# would mean I'm playing F and C but calling them E# and B#.
Highly related question: are there only 12 "proper" names for the keys in the major diatonic (Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E B) or are there 21?

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NoteBoat
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Well, since you asked....

There's more than 21. You can also have double sharps and double flats, so theortetically you have:

C = B# or Dbb or C

etc.

There are 15 that are practical - since there are seven letter names, you can have each one as a sharp, each one as a flat, or the natural key (C)

There are 13 that are commonly used, since out of the 15 practical ones, it's easier to write Db (5 flats) than C# (7 sharps), and the same is true of B (5 sharps) and Cb (7 flats).

You do sometimes see music in key signatures containing double flats or double sharps - like the key of D# (which would be D#-E#-Fx-G#-A#-B#-Cx, or 9 accidentals if you count the doubles twice). This was done sometimes in the 1800s to make a major/minor key modulation clear to the performer - the piece would move from D# major to D# minor (relative to F# major). In the early 1900s, music typesetters finally figured out that musicians might just be smarter than they look, and they did away with that in favor of fewer accidentals.

If you really want to wrap your mind around strange things, some modern compsers use key signatures that do not relate to major scales.... you might see a key signature containing just G# and Db. I haven't heard anything along those lines that I'd care to hear again, though :)

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stratwrassler
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>>>>So here's my question:
I'm writing a song. The key is C#/Db major. Is it C# or Db, or can it be whatever I want to call it? I'm assuming it's Db because that's the 5 flat context, whereas C# would mean I'm playing F and C but calling them E# and B#....

Yep, I'd call it Db rather than C#.

Peace,
-Rick

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greybeard
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If you were to play it as C#, you would be playing with 7 sharps!

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blutic1
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Another thing to consider is tuning your guitar down a half-step. E, A, and D are, as I'm sure you know, common open chords. Also, in blues, rock, metal, etc. you often bounce around on the open E, A, and D strings. If your songs needs a Db, Ab, or Eb chord, or all three, you can tune down and play the normal / natural chords. Much easier.


   
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hbriem
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It's very common to see tabs or chord charts on the internet where songs are annotated Ab, Db and Eb. Or even more obscurely, F#,B and C#.

In real life, these songs are probably being played in A and G respectively, but with guitars tuned down a half step. Beginners go mad trying to make all those weird chord shapes.

Also common is seeing folky stuff in something like Eb, with the chords Eb, Ab, Bb and Cm. What is most likely happening is that the song is being played with a capo on the 3rd fret, using the shapes C,F, G and Am.

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NoteBoat
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It all depends on the type of music you play, and the instrumentation. Bb and Eb are very common keys if you work with horns - it's easier for a guitar to transpose than a trumpet or sax (Bb or Eb, depending on the instrument, is like C to them - they read it without accidentals).

This can lead to some confusion if you try to play along with CDs... a good example is Joe Cocker's version of "The Letter". Every guitar book I've ever seen with the tune has it in Am, because it's easy to finger. Am won't work against the CD, though - if I'm remembering it right, it's actually in Bbm.

Lots of standards from the big band era will also be in keys like Eb or Ab. F# and B are less common, because sharp keys aren't as good as flat ones for other instruments. Some singers have weird ranges, though - I think Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" was done in B.

The key of C# I've only seen in classical music, to indicate a clear change fom C#m (4 sharps) to C# major.

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stratwrassler
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I've discovered it's a good vocal key for me, and now horn players hate me. :twisted:

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-Rick

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Ricochet
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In real life, these songs are probably being played in A and G respectively, but with guitars tuned down a half step. Beginners go mad trying to make all those weird chord shapes. That, or the pitch has been changed by speeding up or slowing down the recording. That's been very commonly done.

There's a widely discussed theory that many (if not all) of Robert Johnson's classic blues recordings were recorded with the disk slowed down to about 80% of standard speed. His songs sure do sound better and more natural when played at that speed, which puts them back into the key of G mostly, and they sure are easier to play in Open G than in some of the fanciful tunings and capoings modern interpreters have come up with to play them as heard on the recordings!

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