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I'm writing a song and I am not sure if I'm writing in an obscure scale, or just using a standard scale with added sharps and flats. All I know is I really like the sounds I'm creating on piano, and that is the most important part. I would like to start writing it out on paper (for collaboration purposes), but first I need to figure out this scale thing. Please be gentle with me. My main education is in singing, not piano and composing... but I do OK. I'm advanced in some areas and mediocre in others. Help would be greatly appreciated.

The scale is: D E F G G# A A# B C C# D or of course D E F G Ab A Bb B C Db D

The closest thing I could find was D minor blues, but that's not quite right.

  • Are you writing just a lead tune, or are you writing out full chords? If the latter, you'll need to decide which chords are "in the key" and which have blue notes. – Carl Witthoft Oct 2 '15 at 14:21
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    Note, there are other ways of composing that don't require being in a key, or being based on a scale. – aparente001 Oct 2 '15 at 21:16
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Just because a piece has certain notes doesn't necessarily put it into a particular key. True, if it contains C,D,E,F,G,A and B, there is a very good chance it'll be in C major (or poss. A minor) (or maybe D Dorian - the list goes on!).

But there are things called passing notes, which blend between other notes and don't always belong to the parent key. They will be your red herrings.

It will be easier to determine the key when the 'odd' notes are identified as being used on the weaker parts of the bars, so they will be more of a colouration or a way to chromatically move between other 'main' notes.

For now, it may be best to write it out with no key sig., and when it's finished, look at which accidentals occur only a few times. These will probably end up AS accidentals, with the ones occurring lots of times becoming the key sig. It does sound like it's a bluesy set of notes, and don't forget that in blues, when the tune is on the sub/dominant chord, another couple of blues notes pop up to be used, which don't feature in the key sig. anyway. But in blues writing, the m3, d5 and m7 notes don't get a mention in the key sig. in any case.

Another deciding factor will be the tonal centre, which will give a clue to the letter name of the key.

  • The notes with accidentals are a key part of the song, not just occasional. I started out in Dorian/D minor but then it took on a life of its own! – musiclover238 Oct 2 '15 at 7:39
  • @musiclover238 - is there a specific reason you wrote out the notes starting on D? If the piece FINISHES on a D, then that's a good clue to the key. – Tim Oct 2 '15 at 7:50
  • If you reveal the chords you've put to it, it's another clue. If you think it's Dm, then the key sig. will be just one flat - Bb. The other notes will be accidentalised. – Tim Oct 2 '15 at 9:08
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You're right, the key is D minor, but there is not one single scale containing all these notes. Since a piece in minor can use all notes of the natural, the harmonic, and the melodic minor scales, you already get D E F G A Bb B C C#, which are all the notes in your question except for the Ab/G#. Depending on the way it is used, the latter could be a blue note giving some bluesy feeling to the melody, or it could be an ascending approach/leading tone to the note A.

Also take a look at this answer to a related question.

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We can't hear the music, so we can't tell you what the key "really" is, or even if it makes sense to talk about it being in a key.

But from a pragmatic point of view, the purpose of a key signature is to reduce the number of accidentals in the notation. So assuming all the notes occur roughly the same number of times in the piece:

  • No signature - 3 notes with accidentals
  • F# - 4 notes with accidentals (you need F natural)
  • F# C# - 4 (you also need C natural)
  • F# C# G# - 4 (... and G natural)

So sharp signatures don't gain you anything ...

  • Bb - still 3 notes with accidentals (you need B natural)
  • Bb Eb - 4 (E natural)
  • Bb Eb Ab - 4 (A natural)

... and neither do flats, though 1 flat (D minor) is no worse than no signature at all.

If the key note really is D, I would use one flat; otherwise, no key signature.

Bb, B, C, C#, belong to the D melodic minor scale. In "common practice notation" (the basis for classical music notation from about 1700 to 1900) you would write G# not Ab, since G# is part of the "dominant of the dominant" chord, i.e. E major.

But to repeat, if the piece doesn't sound like it's in D minor, ignore all this advice!

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I noticed that with 10 notes, this scale is almost the entire chromatic scale. It is 1 of exactly 6 scales with 10 notes. None of these scales have widely used names, however William Zeitler, who gave names to 1490 different scales, has named yours the "Gothyllian" scale.

From inspection, you will have the easiest time writing this out if you put the key signature in C Major or F Major because either of these key signatures will let you write the music with only three accidentals.

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