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Using my ears, I determined the key of Theme from Schindler's List to be D minor. Looking at the sheet music that I have, I saw that the key signature is C major/A minor, but every single B in the entire first page is flatted with an accidental.

It does finally modulate to A minor on the second page, but I'm wondering what benefits there are to this method as opposed to the various alternatives. Why not write it in D minor, and then natural the Bb? Or start writing in D minor, and then change the key signature?

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    Where does the sheet music come from? It could be the person doing the copying that is less proficient. – ghellquist Dec 19 '18 at 20:52
  • @ghellquist MCA music publishing. – General Nuisance Dec 19 '18 at 20:53
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    Odd. This one is D minor. – ghellquist Dec 19 '18 at 20:57
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    How long is the piece? Is the D minor section just an introduction to the piece proper, or is the A minor section a modulation away from the global tonic of D? Are there any bits of D Dorian? – Richard Dec 19 '18 at 20:57
  • I see it sometimes too. In orchestral scores I am used to seeing key changes when they really are key changes. Sometimes if the passage is short it will be notated with accidentals. At that point it's kind of up to the composer/arranger what to do. – ggcg Dec 19 '18 at 21:26
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There's a blog series on film scoring that I can't seem to find again right now, but in it the blogger (who composes and conducts orchestras for film scores) mentions that key signatures are never used for film scores - all accidentals are explicitly written in. The reason is that when a film score is recorded, the musicians are seeing it for the first time that day. It is 100% sight read by the whole orchestra.

The blogger's workflow is to get to the recording studio about an hour ahead of time, and that's when he first sees the score. He reads through and looks for areas that may cause trouble or where perhaps the composer wrote something that won't work exactly as written. When the musicians come in, they see the score for the first time and perhaps minutes later will be running it down with him conducting. There is no prep time but the musicians are professionals who sight read very well, it's just helpful for them to not have to remember the key signature. According to the blogger, most passages will be recorded and done in three or fewer takes.

When you combine the intense, immediate sight reading with the tendency of film scores to have frequent modulation, modal mixture, and chromaticism of all kinds, it starts to make a lot of sense to have all accidentals next to the notes and not deal with key signatures.

Found it: http://www.timusic.net/debreved/how-to-score/

As with most modern music, we do not use key signatures in film scores. Even if the score is completely tonal. It is much easier for the players to have each accidental labeled. If we did use key signatures, players would end up writing in a lot of courtesy accidentals, as they will be sight-reading and they do not want to miss any.

Who is this guy? From his bio page:

Tim Davies is one of the busiest conductors and orchestrators in Hollywood. His film and TV credits include La La Land, Trolls, Minions, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Empire, The Peanuts Movie, The Muppets, Lego Ninjago and Frozen. He is also the most prolific orchestrator and conductor in the world of video games having worked on multiple titles from the God of War, Infamous, Sims, Resistance and Batman: Arkham series and Marvel’s Spider-man.

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    Interesting. But I wonder if “key signatures are never used for film scores” is really true. For typical tonal music, it is most definitely not easier to read with all the signs written as accidentals rather than cleanly in the signature. For atonal or at least highly chromatic music, sure, but although this is common in film it's not universal. I daresay if it's true that all-accidentals is the standard, then this is more due to laziness on the composers' part who “write” music completely through MIDI keyboard, and the “read at first sight” thing is just post-facto rationalisation... – leftaroundabout Dec 20 '18 at 2:17
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    I strongly disagree that it is easier to read a score with many accidentals if they are written individually than as a key signature. If that were the case, why should signatures have been invented to begin with? Solely for the convenience of copyists? – Kilian Foth Dec 20 '18 at 7:32
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    I wonder what they do with transposing instruments? Just have more accidentals? – JimM Dec 20 '18 at 8:20
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    Generally speaking, I'd have thought, most pro sightreaders would prefer a key sig., even if it changed, as that would mean any accidentals would signify non-diatonic notes. Don't most of us see a piece's key sig. and 'put that hat on' as we start to play, knowing roughly what to expect? Having not listened to much film music, maybe it does modulate too much to form an idea of a specific key. Leftaroundabout's theory makes sense. As far as courtesy accidentals having to be written in - pros wouldn't bother. – Tim Dec 20 '18 at 8:59
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    @IanGoldby I’m just reporting what a currently working and successful soundtrack conductor and composer is saying about why they don’t use key signatures. I certainly don’t know first hand. – Todd Wilcox Dec 20 '18 at 14:20

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