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I am reading though Dariusz Terefenko's Jazz theory book, and in the chapter on Improvisation (chapter 10) he lists a few typical 1-, 2- and 4-bars blues riffs, all on a Bb blues scale. Several of these riffs have an F flat, as in the example below:

one-bar Bb blues riff:

Is there a particular reason why the 3rd, 4th, and 5th notes of the fragment are notated as F/Fb/E (with the b implied by the key signature), instead of F/E-natural/E ?

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  • No, when the blue note is in the middle of the fifth and fourth there is no rule. If you play it slowly and add a chord on every note then yes, it will be noted Fm / F♭ Maj 5♭ (a substitute dominant) / E♭ m. – reuns Mar 14 at 20:44
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One particular Bluenote is the flattened fifth, and since the key here is B♭, the fifth note of which is F, that makes the ♭5 named as F♭. Which may be the same pitch as (enharmonic to) E, but technically it gets called F♭. And, if it was written as an E♮, there would have to be a natural sign before it, then a flat sign for the very next note - an E♭.

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    Ah, I see it, the flattened fifth comes out much more clearly this way, it makes sense – stefano Mar 12 at 16:23
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The F-flat saves one accidental and make the notation a bit cleaner. There are two reasons for preferring flats here: there are flats in the key signature, and descending chromatic lines are easier to read with flats. An E-natural would be a bit messier.

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There's a basic rule in music theory-- flattened notes fall, and raised notes rise.

If you were going UP the scale, it would probably be written E(actually, it's E-flat, check the key signature), E♮,F.

As for the other flattened notes, there's another basic rule for notes which aren't leading to an obvious resolution-- in a key signature with sharps, write non-scale notes using sharps, and in a key signature with flats, write them with flats.

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  • I don't really agree with this answer - accidentals should generally be notated by their chordal or counterpoint function, which don't necessarily (though might) relate to melodic direction or the key signature. In this case, @Tim's answer correctly notes that the function of the E♭ is a ♭5, so it's written that way instead of as a ♯4. I agree that often a melodic direction will tell you how the note resolves, but I wouldn't call it a "basic rule". As for the other rule, there are loads of counterexamples - e.g. in D minor, a key with 2 flats, you will always find a C♯ in a V chord. – Ken Williams Mar 13 at 21:41
  • I'd say that a C# in d minor "leads to an obvious resolution"-- the tonic. Your point is a good one, though-- rules are generalizations, and the composer has to decide if another spelling will better fit the musical ideas he wants to express. – Bennyboy1973 Mar 13 at 22:17
  • Totally agree - just pointing out that it contradicts your second point. And in an A major chord it will be spelled as a C# no matter whether it goes upward or not - it’s common that it goes to A and lets some other voice pick up the resolution to D, but that wouldn’t make it be spelled as a D flat. – Ken Williams Mar 13 at 22:25
  • Switching voices doesn't matter-- you still consider it a c#->d resolution. In theory books, they'll draw a line between the involved voices to show that. same goes for flattened 7ths falling to the subdominant. And there IS an alternative to the C#-- having an a-minor chord without it. – Bennyboy1973 Mar 14 at 1:50
  • Yeah, I agree with all of that, but I'm not sure what your point is - I'm just saying a melodic line's direction doesn't necessarily tell you the spelling of the note, nor does the key signature. The contextual function is what tells you. – Ken Williams Mar 15 at 2:57
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This is to satisfy the Western traditional seven-notes-per-octave thinking. The "blue note" is thought to be a modification of the fifth note of the scale, which is F here, and it is bent down, flattened, becoming an Fb.

But it's just an approximation, trying to shoehorn blues into Western tradition. Notation is a written language, for communicating musical ideas from people to people, in some cultural context. In the culture for which this particular language was slowly developed, things are looked at this way.

You could just as well bend the 4th note up instead of the 5th down. You'd start from Eb, and it goes veeeeeery slowly up up up ... at what point exactly does it become an Fb? Or does it become an E? It's how you want to look at it.

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  • Had this been jazz, that note would be a #4, hence E natural. Never worked out what the difference is - except Blues uses b3, b5, b7 - but there again, it's pretty damned close to jazz, isn't it? And - it's in a jazz book. Think I asked a question about that note, ages ago. – Tim Mar 12 at 16:35
  • @Tim In jazz it would depend on which direction the note is headed: b5 moves toward 4; #4 moves toward 5. In a half-diminished chord it's b5; as an upper extension of a seventh chord it's #4. – Aaron Mar 14 at 12:16
  • @Aaron - that's fair, but #4 note is used in its own right, not just as a #11. And even if true, why do we never see #4 in Blues..? – Tim Mar 14 at 12:25
  • @Tim Can't speak to that; I've never heard that claim before. – Aaron Mar 14 at 12:28
  • @Aaron It's true that if you look up the blues scale online somewhere, it will likely list that note as a flat fifth, even ascending. But if you look at actual blues music, you'll find PLENTY of #4 all over the place. Same for jazz. In enharmonic spellings, a writer will choose the spelling that they think most suits the context. – Bennyboy1973 Mar 14 at 20:47

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