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For theory practice, I am being asked to write the E♭ Chromatic Scale in the key of E♭ Major. I've learned that it is generally advised to use sharps on the way up and flats on the way down.

Since the first note is E♭, I have to write it as that pitch. However, as I continue, I find this problem: (Key Signature: B♭ E♭ A♭)

E♭ E-natural F F♯ G (G♯ A-natural)

The part in parentheses is the part I'm having trouble with. Should I write G♯ A-natural or A A-natural?

Thanks in advance.

P.S. I am doing this for Certificate of Merit so I am wondering what they will accept.

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Here is an example of a chromatic scale from Mozart's B flat piano sonata K.333, the Andante Cantabile movement which has a key signature of E flat major. The excerpt is from m.54...

enter image description here

I highlighted in yellow the passage involving the notes of the OP's question.

A G# is not used. The Ab of the key signature is used and then a natural is applied to it to raise it to the next tone.

But that isn't really interesting as it follows the general rule of raising tones for an ascending chromatic line. The interesting part is the Db to D♮ instead of C to C# of the preceding beat. The only explanation I can think of is chromatic non-chord tones are often temporary leading tones and a C# could then seem to be a temporary leading tone to the actual leading tone D♮. A leading tone to a leading tone is a sort of musical non sequitur Otherwise, I really don't understand the choice.

  • I actually believe this example settles my mind more since Mozart probably did ponder this question a bit – awesomeguy Dec 5 '18 at 22:21
  • The whole movement is loaded with chromaticism so it's worth checking out the entirety. – Michael Curtis Dec 5 '18 at 22:36
  • @awesomeguy, Mozart pondering this issue: not so much! But I wholeheartedly agree with Michael’s assertion that you should study the repertoire to learn best practice. – Dean Ransevycz Dec 18 '18 at 11:08
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I think your examiner's point in specifying a key is to get you thinking about writing in the friendliest way possible for the musician consuming your music. To that end, yes, raising notes on the way up & lowering them on the way down is a good rule of thumb, but one must also temper that with the need to introduce as few accidentals as necessary.

Having a key sets some initial parameters, namely 7 fixed notes, so ideally we need only inflect 5 of them to achieve a chromatic scale. Keeping to these rules — raise notes when ascending, lower when descending, inflect notes only when necessary — yields this chromatic scale on E♭:

E♭-E♮-F-F♯-G-A♭-A♮-B♭-B♮-C-C♯-D-E♭ | E♭-D-D♭-C-C♭-B♭-B♭♭-A♭-G-G♭-F-F♭-E♭

...which yields 5 accidentals in each direction; although, B♭-B♭♭-A♭ is more easily parsed when written B♭-A♮-A♭ — a change which adds one accidental to the descending scale. This is certainly easier to read with a key signature of B♭, E♭, A♭ than introducing notes like G♯, which adds extra accidentals to the scale & severs any relationship to E♭ Major.

As an aside, it may be an outmoded idea now, but i learned that there are 2 forms of the chromatic scale: melodic & harmonic.

The melodic form on E♭ in the key of E♭ Major is that described above.

The harmonic form is related to equivalence of the major & minor modes, and near-neighbour chords.

Combining E♭ Major & E♭ minor yields:

E♭-F-G♭-G♮-A♭-B♭-C♭-C♮-D♭-D♮-E♭

The missing lowered super-tonic & raised sub-dominant are provided by chords that resolve to the dominant: V of V (II) providing the raised sub-dominant (F-A♮-C) & the "Neapolitan" (N or II♭) providing the lowered super-tonic (F♭-A♭-C♭).

Like the harmonic minor scale, the harmonic chromatic scale is the same in both directions, hence:

E♭-F♭-F♮-G♭-G♮-A♭-A♮-B♭-C♭-C♮-D♭-D♮-E♭ | E♭-D♮-D♭-C♮-C♭-B♭-A♮-A♭-G♮-G♭-F♮-F♭-E♭

Digression aside, i think the solution is to leverage your key signature & only use accidentals where necessary. So use the A♭ & don't introduce a note for which you already have an enharmonic equivalent in the key.

  • good point about the double accidental on the descent from Bb – Michael Curtis Dec 4 '18 at 15:05
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Strictly speaking, I can't see how there can be a 'chromatic scale in Eb major. Eb major contains 7 diatonic notes, including, as you say, Bb Eb and Ab. By including F#/Gb, straightaway, it's not 'in Eb'. It only starts on Eb...

The general rule, which is born out of logic, is to try to avoid writing notes which necessitate the very next note having to have a cancelling natural sign before it. So writing Eb then E natural gives a dilemma at the start!

But that's presumably where the examiner wants you to start - Eb rather than D#. So, Eb, Enat, F, F#, G, G# etc rising. Falling, Eb D, Db, C is probably better than using sharps then naturals.

  • I think the point of the specifying a ket is to give a point of reference. In this case we know that we have B♭, E♭ & A♭ already, so the G♯ is unnecessary & confusing. – Dean Ransevycz Dec 4 '18 at 1:22
  • I posted an answer showing a chromatic scale in Eb major. It's not Eb up the octave to Eb, but Bb up an octave to Bb. The series could be permutated to get the tone sequence on the tonic. – Michael Curtis Dec 4 '18 at 14:08
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Definitely G-G♯-A. A good question to ask yourself is "when writing these notes, am I having to write a bunch of natural signs?" The sharps are used because one doesn't have to write G♮ if the note before it is F♯, but if the note before it is G♭, a natural sign is needed (unless across a bar line, but chromatic scales are written the same way regardless of bar lines). The lack of natural signs in the chromatic scale makes it much easier to read, and musicians will thank you for writing it this way. (Well, they won't thank you, since it's estalished practice, but they won't hate you for not doing it right.)

As to why G♯ instead of A♭? Well, most chromatic scales are written with a key signature of no sharps and no flats, so there, it doesn't matter. The convention is to reduce the number of natural signs required, therefore sharps are used. If it gets to the point where A♭ needs to be written as A♭ to show its function more properly, you probably aren't writing a chromatic scale anymore.

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    I don't think adding a note that has an enharmonic equivalent in the key signature enhances readability at all. The G♯ should be avoided. – Dean Ransevycz Dec 4 '18 at 1:20
  • What, A♭ to A♮ to A♯? Explain to me how that is easier to read. That looks like the same note written 3 times, but it's three different ones! – user45266 Dec 4 '18 at 1:40
  • Or A♭-A♮-B♭-B♮, but that has two instances of naturals occuring where they shouldn't be necessary. – user45266 Dec 4 '18 at 1:43
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    @user45266: the G♯ should be avoided as the A♭ already exist in the key signature of E♭ Major. So you end up with G - A♭(no accidental) - A♮(with accidental) - B♭(no accidental). I do agree that A♭-A♮-A♯ is pretty dumb: just as well i didn't suggest it! – Dean Ransevycz Dec 4 '18 at 4:57
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    "...most chromatic scales are written with a key signature of no sharps and no flats..." perhaps this point is about textbooks or exams, but in actual music chromatic scales are used with any key signature using any number of sharps or flats. – Michael Curtis Dec 4 '18 at 14:14

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