Chromatically correct

Another area that needs checking – and researching – is the chromatic spelling of various sections of the score, i.e. how to represent chromatic notes within the context of their key.

The main section of chromaticism in my score starts from page 20/bar 133 when Alice is about to fall down the rabbit hole. What I need to be acutely aware of now is the following:

  • Convention states, according to ‘The Musical Ear’ website, that one should stick to either sharps or flats when spelling; don’t mix the two.
  • Use the fewest number of accidentals possible.
  • Avoid doubling letters in the scale; only use one type of scale letter.
  • Know which scale / key your music is in to begin with and how it should be spelt, i.e. A minor: A B C D E F G-sharp A.
  • Each note needs to move up the scale with one letter and avoid doubled letters.
  • One needs to know how to spell the root note; some keys are easy (C major / A minor), but as a general rule, go with spelling that has the fewest accidentals.
  • Consider who you’re writing for. String players prefer sharps, wind players prefer flats.
  • If spelling a chromatic scale, spell it with sharps as you ascend, and flats when you descend.

Eric Taylor goes on to clarify the matter further in his Guide to Music Theory;

  • Theorists distinguish writing chromatic scales two ways; harmonic and melodic (or ‘arbitrary’).
  • Harmonic chromatic is the same ascending or descending, and whether major or minor. It includes all notes from the major and minor scale, whether harmonic or melodic, plus the flatted 2nd and sharpened 4th; it means each degree of the scale needs to be written twice, except the 5th and key note at the tonic and octave.
  • Melodic chromatic is less rigid in construction. It differs in ascending to descending and whether it is major or minor. It includes firstly all the notes of the key (and in the minor, these include notes of both the melodic and harmonic scale). Additional notes are then provided by sharpening diatonic notes (where required) in the ascending form, and flattening them when descending.
  • The most important thing to note, however, is this; the same letter/note name must NEVER be used more than twice in succession; A-flat, A-natural, A-sharp.

Elaine Gould has a couple of valuable insights in her book ‘Behind Bars’ that I wanted to note down here;

  • Notes are easier to read if they are forming the most familiar intervals – perfect, minor, and major – rather than augmented or diminished.
  • Chromatic scale figures use sharps to ascend and flats to descend (okay, so this is now becoming an established convention to observe it seems).
  • You need to spell stepwise figures as a scale, as adjacent pitch letters, i.e. use each letter once (C D E F G A B C).
  • You can use double sharps and double flats if they clarify the harmonic sense.
  • Avoid enharmonic spelling changes in the middle of a phrase where possible; it creates awkward intervals that are hard to read quickly.

I think it’s fair to say there is much to consider here and I will need to go through my score from this section and revise things carefully.

But for the avoidance of doubt, I will be applying the melodic chromatic version of notation to my score where required (and having already looked briefly at the score, I realise now that I have applied unnecessary accidentals to notes…these will be removed and I am hoping clarity will prevail).

* Bradley, J. (2015). Sharps or Flats? How To Spell Notes Correctly.Available: Last accessed 09 April 2016.
* Gould, E (2011). Behind Bars. London: Faber Music Ltd. Pgs 85, 581
* Taylor, E (1989). The AB Guide to Music Theory. London: ABRSM Publishing Ltd. Pgs 30-32


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