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#1893589 - 05/08/12 03:36 PM b and # signs in scores and in chords
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Something was brought up to me by a couple students, so I am bringing it up.

1) In reading scores, b and # marks mean to "adjust" letters, white keys on the piano, to the left or right.

2) In chord symbols (and in other things) b and # means to lower or raise a DEGREE of a SCALE.

The second idea is quite different from the first.

C#7(b9) means to take the 9, D#, and lower it to D.

C7(b9) means to take the 9, D, and lower it to Db.

C#7(b9) means to take the 9, D#, and lower it to D.

Cb7(b9) means to take the 9, Db, and lower it to Dbb.

Since I teach these concepts only AFTER reading is as solid as a rock, it has never been a problem. But now see that a very intelligent student who INTELLECTUALLY knows what b and # do in notation could get horribly tangled-up.

Obviously the same problem is there for #, since #9 (for example) could be natural, a sharp, or a double sharp.

While writing this I realize, for the first time, why I prefer - and + to b and # for chords.

Thoughts?
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#1893597 - 05/08/12 03:57 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
keystring Online   content
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Gary, I think what bothers me is the tendency to use "flat" and "sharp" as verbs meaning to lower and raise a note. For me most of the time the "b" symbol as in "Bb" identifies a particular note which I can hear and find on the piano. At another time I might see "A#" which also identifies that same sound and piano key, but perversely that is not a problem. Maybe it's the same as the guy next door being Bob and Jack's father but it doesn't confuse us.

When people talk about "flatting" a note, then they are lowering that note. That is not the same thing as the note being what it is. Of course you can see our Bb that way too. We learn where B is, and then we learn that Bb is a half step below. I think that as we become experienced we toggle between the two worlds, as we need to.

However, what happened to me at some point is that people would say "To change a G major chord to G minor, "flat" the B, rather than "lower" the B. After a while I started associating the word "flat" and the symbol .. um... by association. Then when somebody said "G minor" sometimes I found myself playing Gb major because these associations got jumbled in my mind.

This may be me since letter names for chords are relatively new for me, and even note names are only a few years old, and I am also somewhat left-right visually dyslexic. What I did realize, though, is that "flat" and "sharp" can be a specific location - an absolute name for something I hear and see as "Bb" - and it can describe a movement. I prefer to have a different name for the movement. I also decided that for myself I prefer the "-" symbol for chord names.

(addendum: I was responding to the original form of the post which referred to my post in the other thread.)


Edited by keystring (05/08/12 04:00 PM)

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#1893625 - 05/08/12 04:58 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
Studio Joe Offline
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Registered: 03/28/07
Posts: 1803
Loc: Decatur, Texas
The problem with using - & + for lowering and raising is that it will cause confusion. The + sign immediately after a letter has long been accepted to mean aug5th. So would you read C+7 as Caug(7) or as C(#7)? The - sign is often used instead of m after the letter to indicate a minor chord. So would C-9 be Cm(9) or C(b9)?
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#1893633 - 05/08/12 05:15 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
Morodiene Offline
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Registered: 04/06/07
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Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
This is a problem that I have with much of jazz (and rock) notation. There are no definitive ways of naming a chord, so you have to be able to interpret several different symbols. Unfortunately, no one can agree on which system is best, so a bunch of them are floating out there.
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#1893642 - 05/08/12 05:26 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
PianoStudent88 Offline
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Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2978
Loc: Maine
Studio Joe, I thought I remembered that + and - were sometimes used for aug and dim, when this came up on the other thread about using + and - for # and b. Thank you for confirming that!
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#1893655 - 05/08/12 05:36 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: keystring]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: keystring
Gary, I think what bothers me is the tendency to use "flat" and "sharp" as verbs meaning to lower and raise a note. For me most of the time the "b" symbol as in "Bb" identifies a particular note which I can hear and find on the piano. At another time I might see "A#" which also identifies that same sound and piano key, but perversely that is not a problem. Maybe it's the same as the guy next door being Bob and Jack's father but it doesn't confuse us.

That was not a potential problem I had in mind, but if I check with students, I will probably find out that other people are thinking the same thing.
Quote:

When people talk about "flatting" a note, then they are lowering that note. That is not the same thing as the note being what it is. Of course you can see our Bb that way too. We learn where B is, and then we learn that Bb is a half step below. I think that as we become experienced we toggle between the two worlds, as we need to.

That is a tricky point. When I SEE symbols, I process them one way. When I HEAR those symbols, I process them differently. b and # become more complicated when I hear the words for them.

If you say to me, Cb Eb Gb, I have to process all that and put it together. When I read a chord with those notes, it is just a "thing". "Flat 9 chord" is a "thing" to me, so I am only waiting for the root. When I see Cb(b9), in writing, it is also a "thing". I see W B B W W, W=white, B=black. Most people would probably write down: B D# F# A C, if they heard the chord in isolation and were asked to notate it. But if I hear someone say "Cb7(b9)", it will take quite a long time to process that. It causes a brain-freeze.

For me hearing "names" interfere with what I see and what I hear. Or they are superfluous and actually cause a glitch. The names come to me way SLOWER than the the things they represent.
Quote:

However, what happened to me at some point is that people would say "To change a G major chord to G minor, "flat" the B, rather than "lower" the B. After a while I started associating the word "flat" and the symbol .. um... by association. Then when somebody said "G minor" sometimes I found myself playing Gb major because these associations got jumbled in my mind.

That is a problem I have not yet run into, that I KNOW of...
Quote:

This may be me since letter names for chords are relatively new for me, and even note names are only a few years old, and I am also somewhat left-right visually dyslexic. What I did realize, though, is that "flat" and "sharp" can be a specific location - an absolute name for something I hear and see as "Bb" - and it can describe a movement. I prefer to have a different name for the movement. I also decided that for myself I prefer the "-" symbol for chord names.

The "newness" may be causing you to go through stages that I went through long ago and no longer remember. There was a time, decades ago, when I had to stop and process G7 vs Gmaj7. I knew V7 but the letters were new to me. Maj triggered a response to the triad itself, and I reached for G7. Gmaj7 was not a "thing" yet.

Something similar happened with x (double sharp) and bb. Also with E#, B#...

I KNOW that at first I had tell myself, when I saw E#, don't play the white note on the left but the one on the right (what we usually call F).
Quote:

(addendum: I was responding to the original form of the post which referred to my post in the other thread.)

I understand. I didn't want to take you out of this; I wanted to make sure it addressed more people, because what we are talking about could be important to quite a few students. smile


Edited by Gary D. (05/08/12 05:43 PM)
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#1893665 - 05/08/12 05:49 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2978
Loc: Maine
I think it doesn't bother me because to me # means "move a half-step higher" and b means "move a half-step lower." So F# is a half-step higher than F, Fb is a half-step lower than F, etc.

To me it's exactly the same thing with numbers as with letters. In E7(b9), the b9 means "move 9 a half-step lower". Since 9 for E is F#, then moving it a half-step lower makes F. Or in E7(#9), it means move 9 a half-step higher: from F# to Fx. No confusion for me.

ETA: since # and b mean the same thing for me in the realm of numbers as in letters, it means that the +/- notation is actually a slight extra burden: a new notation to learn, for a concept that for me already has a well-understood notation: # and b.


Edited by PianoStudent88 (05/08/12 05:52 PM)
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#1893682 - 05/08/12 06:10 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Studio Joe]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Studio Joe
The problem with using - & + for lowering and raising is that it will cause confusion. The + sign immediately after a letter has long been accepted to mean aug5th. So would you read C+7 as Caug(7) or as C(#7)?

You are right.

C+7, for me, means Caug7, ALWAYS, and when I am notating for others, I use the second, for clarity.
Quote:

The - sign is often used instead of m after the letter to indicate a minor chord. So would C-9 be Cm(9) or C(b9)?

I think I mentioned that somewhere else.

C-9 would be ambiguous. My first instinct, seeing it written in a lead sheet, would be Cm9.

So for C "flat 9", using the minus:

C7-9.

Rethinking it, I supposed C7b9 is equally fast and clearer.

If I see Bb-9, by itself, in a lead sheet, I would read Bbm9.

However, NOW there is a spacing difference here: Bb7(b9) vs Bb7-9. I would use the second because it cuts off 2 key strokes...
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#1893683 - 05/08/12 06:17 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: PianoStudent88]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
I think it doesn't bother me because to me # means "move a half-step higher" and b means "move a half-step lower." So F# is a half-step higher than F, Fb is a half-step lower than F, etc.

To me it's exactly the same thing with numbers as with letters. In E7(b9), the b9 means "move 9 a half-step lower". Since 9 for E is F#, then moving it a half-step lower makes F. Or in E7(#9), it means move 9 a half-step higher: from F# to Fx. No confusion for me.

ETA: since # and b mean the same thing for me in the realm of numbers as in letters, it means that the +/- notation is actually a slight extra burden: a new notation to learn, for a concept that for me already has a well-understood notation: # and b.

I process it the same way, but Studio Joe brought up some important points.

At any moment -/+ may work in place of b/#, then the next moment they don't.

As I just mentioned, Bb7b9 is harder for me to read than Bb7-9. For the first I THINK I would need Bb7(b9), and I'm not sure why.

In the end there are many different ways of notating the same chords, and I THINK that those of us who have read a lot of lead sheets know by instinct which forms are common, and which are not.
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#1893687 - 05/08/12 06:18 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2978
Loc: Maine
[cross-posted! never mind!]

Why do you need the parentheses? Can you write Cb7b9 instead of Cb7(b9)?


Edited by PianoStudent88 (05/08/12 06:20 PM)
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#1893694 - 05/08/12 06:23 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: PianoStudent88]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Yes, you can. It depends on which is clearer to your eyes...
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#1894164 - 05/09/12 01:09 PM b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: PianoStudent88]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Doctor Detail checking in . . .

Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
Studio Joe, I thought I remembered that + and - were sometimes used for aug and dim, when this came up on the other thread about using + and - for # and b. Thank you for confirming that!

PianoStudent88,

First of all, never pick a 14 character moniker! By the time I am done typing it, I have forgotten what I was going to write.

Secondly, I believe you know differently from that which you wrote above, but just in case:

The plus sign (+) COULD signify raising a certain pitch by one-half step, but typically indicates an augmented chord (whose 5th has been raised in pitch by a half step.)

On the other hand, the minus sign (-) COULD signify lowering a certain pitch by one-half step, but typically indicates a MINOR chord (with its characteristic minor third.) I can think of no instance where one would use a minus sign to indicate a diminished chord.

------------------

And to all - I am a big proponent of using parenthesis to add clarity. I believe that IF it can be misinterpreted, it WILL be.


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#1894168 - 05/09/12 01:14 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: Gary D.]
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2978
Loc: Maine
OK, just colour me confused, then.

/s/
PS88 (only four characters)
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#1894181 - 05/09/12 01:26 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: PianoStudent88]
LoPresti Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/10
Posts: 1304
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
OK, just colour me confused, then.

CONFUSING! Do not feel alone! That is precisely what much of this on-going discussion is about. We have well established, exact ways of constructing and spelling these more advanced chords, but not a consistent way of calling them out. Our nomenclature is not up to the task, and it is further complicated by various methods of "common usage."

Your thinking is perfectly logical: A (+) immediately after a chord letter raises that chord's 5th by one-half step. Therefore, a (-) immediately after a chord letter SHOULD lower that chord's 5th by one-half step -- perfectly logical, AND contrary to common usage.


Edited by LoPresti (05/09/12 01:40 PM)
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#1894199 - 05/09/12 01:54 PM Re: b and # signs in scores and in chords [Re: LoPresti]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4649
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: LoPresti
Doctor Detail checking in . . .

Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
Studio Joe, I thought I remembered that + and - were sometimes used for aug and dim, when this came up on the other thread about using + and - for # and b. Thank you for confirming that!

Dear DD,

I suggest PS88, which apparently has already been given the OK. smile
Quote:

The plus sign (+) COULD signify raising a certain pitch by one-half step, but typically indicates an augmented chord (whose 5th has been raised in pitch by a half step.)

I agree. Everything about this kind of notation is blend of conciseness and clarity.

C+ and C+7 work great for me.
I prefer Cm to C- (since no time is saved), but certainly C-7 is used and is clear.

With chords that add to 7, such as C7, C7+9 would work for me (obviosly not meaning augmented), but C7#9 is clearer.

I'm not always sure what I prefer until I run into it. If it causes me to hesitate, I rewrite it.
Quote:

On the other hand, the minus sign (-) COULD signify lowering a certain pitch by one-half step, but typically indicates a MINOR chord (with its characteristic minor third.) I can think of no instance where one would use a minus sign to indicate a diminished chord.

I use the minus sign in these:

C7-9, C7-5. But I would not use C-7-5. Based on this logic C7b9 and C7b5 is probably clearer, generally.

I also can't imagine a dim or dim7 chord with a minus.
Quote:

And to all - I am a big proponent of using parenthesis to add clarity. I believe that IF it can be misinterpreted, it WILL be.

I agree with that. However, there is also the matter of spacing between chords, and the exta characters, when typing, sometimes causes my chords to ram into each other. I am then forced to use a smaller font, so there is a trade-off. But definitely, if there is doubt, use parentheses. smile


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