0

As the title says. It seems that the really sharp keys (e.g. C#, F#, etc.) are really cumbersome to write and play in, so I was wondering if there were any advantages to them over keys like Db and Gb.

1

In general, flat keys have less accidentals than the equivalent sharp keys (for example, Db major has 5, and C# major has 7). So, talking about the main key of a song, there seems to be no advantage, and I don't think one would have a reason to prefer C# major over Db major.

The only way I can think C# major is better would be during a (short) section of the song that was before in a key that has sharps and not flats, so that the accidentals would be minimized. For example, if the song is in C# minor, and you want to modulate to its parallel major, you would have more trouble converting all the notes to Db major (removing all 4 sharps and adding 5 flats), than converting to C# major (just adding 3 sharps). This only makes sense of course if you don't want to rewrite the key signature, because if you do, Db is still better.

Curiously, you cited F# major and Gb major as an example, but these are the only keys that have exactly the same number of accidentals (6), so in this specific case it makes no practical difference for most instruments.

  • 1
    “Flat keys have less accidentals” is a pretty nonsensical statement. What's actually going on is, flat keys have more accidentals in their name (e.g., the 3-♭ key is called E♭, which has a ♭ whereas the 3-♯ key is called A which doesn't have a ♯). – leftaroundabout Dec 28 '18 at 23:39
  • Well, I think you misunderstood, he wasn't talking about the name but about the total number of sharps or flats in a key. – Lars Peter Schultz Dec 29 '18 at 0:15
  • @leftaroundabout when I say " flat keys have less accidentals than the equivalent sharp keys", I mean keys that have a flat note as root have less accidentals than the keys that have a sharp note as root. – coconochao Jan 2 at 12:51
  • Yeah, but this is not because the flat keys have fewer flats but because the way we name keys puts a ♭ in the name earlier than it puts a ♯ in the name of sharp keys. F is still a flat key and D is a sharp key, even though both don't have any accidentals at all in the name. – leftaroundabout Jan 2 at 14:01
  • @leftaroundabout Yes I get it, I think "flat keys" was not a good word choice, I meant "keys with a flat in the name". – coconochao Jan 2 at 15:57
1

The relative (dis)advantage of a key signature relates to the use of accidentals to inflect note throughout the rest of the piece & the effect on the readability of the music as written. (In this answer the word accidental refers only to an inflection sign — sharp, flat, natural, &c — that makes a note different from the key signature. Other answers have inaccurately used the word to describe the symbols in the key signature.)

For example: in a piece in G-flat, V7 of IV (C-flat 7th) would require a B-double-flat, whereas in F-sharp it would be a simple B7. Similarly, a it’s not many secondary dominants away to double-sharp territory in F-sharp.

It’s a similar choice when writing highly chromatic or atonal music: one would choose to use sharps or flats depending upon the readability of the resulting notation.

As for any intrinsic difference in readability of sharp key signatures over flat key signatures, there is none. One could write a piece in B Major (5 sharps) that is more difficult to read than if it were notated in the enharmonically equivalent C-flat Major (7 flats) by virtue of the nature of any chromaticism.

  • 1
    You are right on the usage of the term "accidentals". I just edited my post on that. Sometimes I have to think twice when writing in English. I am used to think of those terms in Danish since I am Danish. In Danish sharps and flats are called "fortegn" which means a sign that is written in front of something. Then there are the "loose" ones = accidentals ("løse fortegn") and the "firm" ones which are the key signatures ("faste fortegn"). – Lars Peter Schultz Dec 28 '18 at 23:47
  • Thanks, @LarsPeterSchultz. I like the Danish logic — less apt to confusion —, but English being English we like to maximise the available opportunities for confusion. – Dean Ransevycz Dec 29 '18 at 0:21
1

As the title says. It seems that the really sharp keys (e.g. C#, F#, etc.) are really cumbersome to write and play in, so I was wondering if there were any advantages to them over keys like Db and Gb.

I think @coconochao's answer is great, but I would like to elaborate including some words on the topic of keys with many sharps or flats.

In Chopin's C# minor waltz opus 64 no. 2 there is a middle section in Db major. So Chopin does alter the notation from sharps to flats when changing from minor to major. But in music where there is only a short section in a different key Chopin keeps the sharps if the main key is a key with sharps. You can take a look at Chopin's music yourself and see what he does.

Keys with a lot of either sharps or flats can certainly be cumbersome on many instruments, but not all. There are two aspects, the reading part and the playing part. Once you are good at reading it, the subject becomes how it fits on the instrument that matters. On piano many sharps or flats can be very good because the black keys are easy to hit. So such keys are often much more handy than C-major on a piano. But on violin those keys with an excessive amounts of flats or sharps are not easy, although C-major is not the best key on violin either. I play both violin and piano; the feeling on those two instruments is very different.

If I get a piece for violin with 6 sharps or flats as the main key I would certainly prefer 6 sharps and not 6 flats. Let us say there is the note F#. On violin you would use the "F-finger" and raise it a half step. But if the notation is Gb you would use the "G-finger" and lower it half a step. As soon as you know the piece you might change the fingering, but at the first look sharps means raising fingers and flats mean lowering fingers. Fortunately 6 sharps or flats as a main key is a rare key in violin music, although temporarily keys with an excessive amount of sharps or flats happen but as I said rarely as a main key.

On piano the keys with 6 sharps or 6 flats can be "handy" for the hand position. The best chords for the hand position are those chords which have a mixture of black and white keys.

  • 1
    A little comment about 6 sharps or 6 flats on the violin. I said I preferred the sharps. But now that I think of it I will say that it is only if it is major; I prefer F# major and not Gb major on the violin, but if it is minor I prefer Eb minor instead of D# minor. Interesting isn't it? But I certainly prefer tunes with fewer sharps or flats than that on the violin. – Lars Peter Schultz Jan 5 at 1:12
0

Yes, it is. Just write it in C and when you have finished you may add the sharps in front of the line right behind the clef. In my opinion it is an advantage to write a piece in C#, because the analys can be „reduced“ to C major, then the perception is easier for reading! try it with the preludium in C# (WTC of Bach) then transpose it to C#

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.