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I understand the concept of a blues scales and its structure. For example, the one I've been trying to write on sheet music is D Major blues. The scale contains the following: D E F F# A B Now the main issue is, am I supposed to write the key signature as D Major and then add accidentals from there? If not, why? I've tried searching online for sheet music based on the blues scale and it appears that all of them basically don't have key signatures. On the contrary- it seems easier if I just put the key signature and add the naturals or any other accidentals because it feels easier to read as a result... rather than having to put a bunch of accidentals without a key signature on it.

if it's possible, I would like a notated answer. If not, that is fine- I'll try my best to note them down

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The standard notation

The standard is to write the diatonic key signature -- in this case F# and C#, since it's a "D Major" blues -- and use accidentals as needed. In that way, it's similar to writing in "harmonic minor" -- you use the minor key signature with accidentals in the body of the piece.

Here's an example of a blues in D Major, "Statesboro Blues", by Willie McTell. Note the D major key signature.

D major blues excerpt

A bad alternative

Contemporary music does allow for some flexibility. Bartók, for example (okay, not that contemporary as of now, but a convenient example), uses odd key signatures like, say, F# and G#. So if your entire piece is structured entirely around the blues scale, you could just have an F# in the key signature and no other sharps/flats. However, this would be very confusing to most blues/jazz players. Every blues I've ever played, the key signature has been "in the key of" the blues (A "Bb" [major] blues has two flats; a "C minor" blues has three flats, ...), with accidentals as needed.

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  • Hmm it certainly would be confusing for it to be in the key of F#... By "in the key of" the blues do you mean (taking D Major blues again) putting 2 sharps as the key signature (because it's D major) and adding the accidentals from there? Apologies, I'm a little confused – Leffles Nov 19 '20 at 5:19
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    @Leffles Please let me know whether or not my edit clarifies. – Aaron Nov 19 '20 at 5:30
  • It's much more clearer now, thank you for answering various questions of mine! – Leffles Nov 19 '20 at 5:40
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Music is usually written in the key that it's in. If you feel that is D major blues, then it gets written in D major. The tonic will definitely be D, and it certainly won't have a minor feel to it, so it certainly won't be written with one flat in the key sig, - for D minor.

There is usually a problem writing in D minor, as often it contains C♯, the leading note. But that will always be written as an accidental, never in the key sig - unless it's Bartok!

O.k., you may well not use the C♯ that's written in the D key sig., but even in key B, with five sharps, there's no obligation to use every one in the melody!

There's always going to be a problem with those F notes, though. If you leave F♯ out of the key sig., it'll need an accidental each time it appears; if you put it in, you'll need an accidental natural (♮) each time you want plain old F! There's no way round. Notation wasn't invented to write blues.

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I would use the minor scale, and preferably notate the blues note as a sharp 4 rather than a flat 5.

For example, a blues in E would use the E minor scale, or E minor pentatonic if you will, (relative minor of G major, so one sharp in the key signature), and I'd write the blues note as A# rather than Bb.

Having said that, I suspect that other people will instead prefer thinking of the blues note as a b5 instead of a #4, or be flexible about it, depending on context.

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  • Do you mean that I change D Major blues to D minor blues? – Leffles Nov 19 '20 at 5:04
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    Well, the blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic with a passage note. You can use it against major chords, and you can add a major third, but intrinsically it remains a minor scale. That's how I conceive it at least. I'm sure others will have different opinions.... – MMazzon Nov 19 '20 at 5:10
  • I see... Though if I were to add chords I would try that. Unfortunately- I'm working on a solo melody only. It would still then remain as a minor scale then? – Leffles Nov 19 '20 at 5:20
  • If you're working on a melody, I'd suggest to write in the key that most closely fits the notes and the mood. If the melody mainly feels like major, write in D major, and if it mainly feels minor -- i.e. many more minor thirds than major thirds -- then write it in D minor. Use whatever makes your life easiest... – MMazzon Nov 19 '20 at 5:24
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    There are, in fact, two blues scales - major and minor.Just like there are two pentatonic, and effectively the full major (Ionian), and its relative minor (Aeolian). Blues isn't restricted to minor blues! – Tim Nov 19 '20 at 6:51

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