# How to write music using standard notation / Finding key

I would like to ask a typical question from amateur musician. Most of amateur musicians understand tablature notation and often even some music theory, I personally can read notes but not in all keys (it becomes too complicated with great number of flats or sharps).

I find it feasible to write something in standard notation when there is a well defined planed key although it sounds very artificial as composition. In reality if I compose something I don't have planed key, I choose note because I like the way it sounds, and I find it very difficult to find in which key my composition is, and without knowing it, my notation is really ugly (a lot of flats and sharps that change all the time).

I would like to ask you, a real composer when he is writing a piece, how does he proceed? Does he envision all the parameters (like key) to be able to write it down easily and then eventually changes it, or maybe he writes it the way it sounds good to him in very ugly notation, and then tries to optimize it, by for example finding the key of this composition etc.

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Most pieces will have a 'home key' or 'home chord'. It's often the first one that's heard, and usually the last, too.This establishes a place where the listener seems to understand is 'home'.Each key has a certain number of sharps OR flats - rarely not both - so this establishes the key of the piece. As one learns scales, one realises that certain notes fit in certain keys. It's often easier, and less messy, to put these sharps or flats at the beginning of the piece.

If you are approaching it from the opposite direction,you need to find which notes are always, or usually,sharpened or flattened, after you've finished. Then, instead of using accidentals all through, put that sign at the beginning. Be aware that you may have inadvertently called the same note # in one place, b in another, as in G# somewhere, but Ab somewhere else.If you decide that most are #, for instance, then call all of them #. This may get confusing if you write something in a minor key, but that will make another question !

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Thank you very much for clear answer. – Marek Jun 23 '14 at 19:15

I don't have enough rep to write a comment.

These are very subjective questions that you are asking. Composers will very from one to the next. When I write music or mess around I don't worry about picking an easy or hard key (especially because transposing instruments may get a messy key even if I pick a nice one for C instruments). I play around in a key that I think fits the mood, or just works with the music I am writing.

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Of course, I understand. Thank you very much for your answer. – Marek Jun 23 '14 at 19:16

Some composers do "pre-choose" some parameters. But some times, the choice of key is determined more by the instrument than by inspiration. You'll be hard-pressed to find a violin concerto in D-flat major or a harp concerto in C-sharp major. (By the way, do you include timpani in your original compositions?)

Also, you might benefit from sketching your music on paper before going into your Finale or Sibelius or whatever. Maybe these questions of spelling will be clarified if it takes a little more effort to externalize your thoughts and there is no automatic default spelling to get in the way or thinking these details through.

If your music is kind of a little atonal, maybe you just need to dispense with the key signatures altogether and just try to avoid awkward intervals when they can be written as simpler intervals, e.g., don't write G-flat A-natural if F-sharp A-natural would be easier to read.

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Technology can be your friend for problems like this. If your keyboard has a transpose function, you are writing your compositions with a keyboard and if your computer and composition program take MIDI input, then:

You could write your compositions in C on the keyboard to take advantage of clearly seeing which notes are diatonic (the white keys) and which are accidentals (the black keys) but use the keyboard's transposition function to both sound in the key and write MIDI notes for the key in question. Many keyboards with transposition functions will display the key you have transposed to. The "C" note on your keyboard will be your key (tonic).

For me personally, it's easy to write in the appropriate key and signature but I took classical music theory as a kid.

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Thank you for your answer. The problem is I don't like the idea of being limited to a certain set of sounds, I like to change it, I like when composition evolves, changes key from time to time, but then still, you need to redefine your notation each time... – Marek Jun 25 '14 at 7:34