If I'm playing a piece (piano) in D harmonic minor, I only sharp the 7th (C) if there is an accidental. Is that right?

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    What makes you think that the key is D Harmonic Minor? Note that there is no key of D Harmonic Minor, but you could see a key signature for D Harmonic Minor. In that case, the key signature would contain a B♭ and a C♯, but the key would still just be D Minor. Then you would sharp all Cs, no accidentals needed. But if there is no C♯ in the key signature, only sharp Cs when accidentals are encountered. – ex nihilo Feb 22 '18 at 7:42
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    @DavidBowling - I think that is the point of the question. In a piece, say in Dm, then the key sig will have one b. That will mean all the Bs notes will be played Bb automatically. So, if every C is played as C# in the piece, it would make sense (at least to OP) to display C# also in the key sig. – Tim Feb 22 '18 at 8:04
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    @Tim -- I meant the question at the beginning of my comment literally: does OP think that a piece is in D Harmonic Minor because the key signature they are presented with contains a B♭ and a C♯? Or do they have some other reason, e.g., the D Harmonic Minor scale just sounds good to them with this piece, yet there are no C♯ accidentals? In short, I was trying to get a better picture of what OP was thinking about. – ex nihilo Feb 22 '18 at 16:43
  • @DavidBowling, I'm reading the question as if the OP is composing a song in D harmonic minor and is wonder how to write out the key signature. (In other words, I'm assuming the OP is correct in stating that the song is based on D harmonic minor.) A little more context might be helpful, though. – jdjazz Feb 24 '18 at 15:52
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    @jdjazz -- From "I'm playing a piece (piano) in D harmonic minor" I took it that they were playing from sheet music rather than composing, but you may be right. It would be nice for OP to shed some light on the matter. – ex nihilo Feb 24 '18 at 16:27

The piece is not in D harmonic minor. It is in D minor. Harmonic minor refers to a scale, not a key. Only play C#s if they are written as sharps. If not, just play C naturals.

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D minor is the relative minor to F major. As such, it's given the basic key signature of that key - one flat - Bb.

Minor keys have vagaries which muddy the waters a little. There's the natural minor notes, which mirror those of F major exactly. Some pieces in Dm use those exclusively. Sometimes a more definitive leading note is needed, so the penultimate note of the natural scale is raised. Hence the C# from the question.

Sometimes, the interval between the 6th and 7th note in the harmonmic minor scale doesn't sound too good, so that's also raised. Hence the melodic minor.

However, the key signature of Dm stays as Bb only. If the piece needs C to be raised to C# each and every time, so be it. It gets an accidental each and every time.

Afew composers actually did write out key signatures with something like Bb and C#, to signify Dm, but it never really caught on. At the end of the day, it's not difficult to realise that with Bb as the key sig., and some C# accidentals, that it's going to be Dm, using harmonic notes. Just as, with the same key sig, if the piece centres around G, it's probably G Dorian.

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  • Can you name a composer who used, or a piece that uses, such a key signature? – phoog Mar 8 '19 at 5:34

You're looking at this backwards. Presumably you have a piece with a key signature of one flat, and a tonal centre of D. So you, probably correctly, surmise it's in D minor. It's very possible there will be a sprinkling of C# accidentals. If they occur in a scalic passage, it's very likely a D harmonic minor scale. That is One Of The Things That Often Occur In A Piece In D Minor. Nothing more and nothing less. There are many more. Some of them use notes that aren't in ANY form of the D minor scale!

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An accidental is relevant for the note directly afterwards and for every subsequent note on the same line and clef in this bar, unless there is a natural sign.

In this example you would play C# C# C# C# | C C# C C enter image description here

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