top of page
  • rbedwell3

Notation as a means to convey meaning I: Accidentals

When trying to understand the complexities in music theory and the directions that music moves in, the correct use of accidentals is a vitally important principle. For example, in C Major, the appearance of the note C# conveys the meaning of:

1) the use of the D Melodic scale, including one of its seven modes.

2) the use of the Altered/Superlocrian mode specifically.

3) the use of the chord A7.

4) the change of chord or key to the minor on the second degree.

5) the probability of a perfect cadence leading to the D minor chord or key (A7 – D min).

That is just for the note of C#, and the importance of the accidental ‘#’ in paramount in this, in differentiating from the natural unaltered C note.

In the other direction, when in C Major an Eb appears, the meaning that is implied is:

1) the use of the C Melodic scale, including one of its seven modes.

2) the use of the Eb Lydian+ mode specifically.

3) the change of chord or key to the parallel minor (C minor).

4) the use of the 7#5 chord (Eb acting as the enharmonic equivalent of D#) in creating a perfect cadence to C minor.

Now, these are the implied meanings of the two simple alterations, C to C# and E to Eb, when playing in the key of C major. Understanding this helps to connect with the music and to be able to interpret the composer’s intention by recognising the importance of each altered note and what they signify, thereby influencing the performance of the music in question. Compare this to a recital of a Shakespearian sonnet. Without an explicit knowledge of every word and colloquialism contained within the text, there is a danger of delivering the work without meaning, leaving the audience disconnected from the truth of the words and in the dark regarding the development of the sonnet.

Let’s change to the key of B Major ( B C# D# E F# G# A#). I am now going to modulate to the relative minor, G# minor, by the simplest relative minor change: via the Harmonic minor. For this I introduce the accidental of F## (NB: I don’t have the double sharp symbol in my font) into the music. So now I have the notes G# A# B C# D# E F##,which is G# Harmonic minor. The F## is used to imply the following:

1) the use of G# Harmonic minor or one of its modes.

2) the use of F## Alt bb7 specifically.

3) the chord of D#7 (D# F## A# C#).

4) the probability of the perfect cadence in G# minor: D#7 to G# minor.

In the above example, it is easy to see the importance of the use of the accidental ‘##’ to convey meaning. If the enharmonic equivalent of G natural was substituted instead, creating the scale of G# A# B C# D# E G, the four meanings implied above would evaporate and we would be left ignorant of the musical effect, listening or performing without the knowledge of the music’s meaning. This is vitally important when composing, otherwise it leads to a stumbling for notes without an understanding of the implications of the note alteration.

Let’s move into the key of G# Major now, G# A# B# C# D# E# F##. This key is used regularly in music, it is not merely hypothetical. When playing in C# Major and moving up a fifth in the keys, the G# Major key is used. I am now going to follow the first alteration using the Melodic scale, namely number 4 on the implied meaning list and modulate to the minor chord or key on the second degree, A# minor. That gives us the notes of A# B# C# D# E# F## G##, A# Melodic. That change implies:

1) the use of the A# Melodic scale, including one of its seven modes.

2) the use of the G## Altered/Superlocrian mode specifically.

3) the use of the chord E#7.

4) the change of key to the minor on the second degree.

5) the probability of a perfect cadence leading to the A# minor chord or key (E#7 – A# min).

NB: Bb Melodic could be used, but again the meaning of the alteration is then lost. Now that we have A# Melodic, we have the possibility of introducing triple sharps into the music. I am not kidding, they do exist and so do triple flats. (The meaning of the triple accidental is obviously important to the composer so it should be for the performer too.)

The sharpening of the F## to F### now leads us into Alt natural 7 territory. This implies:

1) the use of the Alt nat 7 scale (1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 7) or one of its modes.

2) the use of the chord D# sus4.

3) the development of a progression from the D# sus4 chord.

My point is that understanding the meaning contained within accidentals is part of the science of music, science here being defined as ‘the state of knowing’ of how music works. For some reason, this aspect of music theory, along with the study of modes and how they work, seems not only to be disregarded but even frowned upon. I disagree entirely with this viewpoint and educate my students accordingly. My book is found at https://www.bedwellmusic.co.uk/general-7and my group on modes and all that entails is found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/modalmethodmusictheory. Thanks for reading.

PS: Yoda is not actually playing the guitar in the picture. It is an AI generated image. And anyway, that would be silly. Yoda is a double bass player.


1 view0 comments

Comments


bottom of page