Key of G Flat or F# ?

Discussion in 'Art & Culture' started by Dinosaur, Jun 27, 2010.

  1. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    On a piano keyboard, G Flat & F# are the same key.

    I have heard of music written in the key of G Flat, but never heard of any music written in F#.

    Is there some reason for the above?

    Is there music described as written in F# ?
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  3. CheskiChips Banned Banned

    In my experience the key of the piece is dependent on how easy it is to write in that key.

    I can give you my experience with the two, that's about it. On keyboard it fundamentally (in terms of ability to read quickly) it doesn't matter. If it's written with an orchestra; composers like to keep the instruments close together in their Sharps/ far as I know it's easier to write a Gb piece because you can transpose to other orchestra instruments easier.

    This is why I think you see F# primarily in sonata's and rarely in symphonies. One of my favorite pieces; Liszt's Hungarian rhapsody No.2 is written in F# major. I think it's because the other two common chords in the piece are A#maj and C#min...had it been written in Gb the other two common chords would have been Bbmaj and Dbmin. The piece modulates on the 5th (C#) from minor to major modes...a lot of the aforementioned flat keys are associated with more bombastic pieces.

    There's something inherent about flats which is "bombastically heavy" as compared to sharps which is "light and fluffy". At least in Piano sonatas.

    Even then, those are my impressions as a trombonist. So I don't ever know of a great reason to write in F# unless its for communicating effect.

    --- Addendum

    I think it's also easier for Pianists to read sharps in fast ascending lines just by the nature of your brain and the keys.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2010
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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I can't see why it would be any harder to write in F# than in F. The key signature handles the accidentals - that's what it's there for.
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  7. CheskiChips Banned Banned

    It's not necessarily more difficult to literally sit down and write it. But transposing it in a way that everyone gets the same impression is difficult....

    For example:
    Concert Pitch - C Key of F# Maj
    C instruments: F#
    Bb Instruments: E
    G Instruments: C# (Db )
    F Instruments: B# (C )
    Eb Instruments: A


    Concert Pitch - C Key of Gb Maj
    C instruments: Gb
    Bb Instruments: Eb
    G Instruments: Db
    F Instruments: C maj
    Eb Instruments: Bbb (A)

    I think I did them all right...
    In any case just the major keys become a huge pain when transposing, with two very commonly keyed instruments having to move out of flats because their keys don't make any sense, while it's only true of one in Gb.

    If your piece moves to the dominant V chord in a transposition you have
    Concert Pitch - C Key of F# Maj --> V/I = C# (8 sharps) /F#

    Where as in Gb...
    Concert Pitch - C Key of Gb Maj -->v/I = C (no sharp/no flat) / Gb

    And if you do shifting tonic (something very common in Tonal Harmony)...
    V/ii --> D# (what...11 sharps?)/G#
    V/ii --> Eb/Ab

    It can go on and general. F# is just a key needed for very specific events...they're rare.
  8. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Some previous posts have confused me. I expected there to be some historical reason for a bias resulting in naming the key signature G Flat instead of F#. I have a perhaps mistaken belief that the two signatures are identical.

    For piano music, there is no difference between the key of G Flat & the key of F#. It is merely a naming convention. The Major chord for G Flat is G Flat, B Flat, & D Flat. The Major chord for F# is F#, A#, & C#

    The keys used for the above chords are the same: It is only the names that are different. Similarly for other notes & chords used with either G Flat or F#.

    The piano compromises by using approximations in order to allow the use of fewer keys. Violins, trombones, & various other insturments can distinguish between G Flat & F#. Does this result in a fundamental difference between G Flat & F# key signatures?

    I would expect only a few people to be able to distinguish the key of G Flat from F# when a melody is played on a trombone or violin.

    I first became aware of the key of G Flat due to a tribute at a piano bar to Irving Berlin when he was 100 years old. Irving Berlin tunes were played all night. Before each group of songs was played, a story was told about Irving Berlin's life at the time the group of songs was composed.

    One story mentioned that Irving was not adept at playing the piano. While composing, he played all his wrote all his music in the key of G Flat, because it was easy for him to play in that key.

    He had a piano built for himself which had a lever to move all the Key-Strikers. He could play in the key of G Flat, but the moved key-strikers would result in the sounds of some other Key signature, allowing him to decide what key would be best for a particular melody.
  9. CheskiChips Banned Banned

    The two signatures are practically identical in Jazz if not completely identical. I assumed you meant in orchestral or classical pieces - where transpositions for other instruments are necessary. There's no bias towards F# or Gb in Jazz that I'm aware of.

    Except maybe...
    If you were in F# maj and it called for a F#Dom7 you're lowering a sharp, as opposed to GbDom7 where you're putting a flat on a natural. If you ever wanted to augment a chord in F#Maj you'd be lowering a sharp with except to lowering the B as might happen in a E#D7 chord...which is not really ever done...

    In contrast, augmenting a flat seems more normal than augmenting a sharp. And having something like Cb-Dom7 in Gb would be a Bbb. Overall I think it's just easier to think of...if you think of it. Though I'll say I never read too many jazz pieces which went past 5 flats and 5 sharps...latin pieces usually being the former and pieces by saxophone composers being the latter.
  10. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    Cheski, I bow to your knowledge of music, sir.:worship:
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I have a friend who is a fairly successful composer. He wrote a piece in 24 parts, each of them in a different major or minor key. When he gets to that awkward key, the major-key segment is in F#M, but later on when he gets to the the minor-key segment, he scored it in Ebm instead of D#m.

    I asked him why, expecting his erudite answer to greatly expand my knowledge of music theory. Instead he just stared at me and said he never thought about it, and no one had ever pointed it out before. He didn't even realize he had done it. He says my question has kept him awake several nights, and he still can't answer it. It just happened.

    I can see why you would write a rock and roll song, or any genre that uses a blues modality, in F# rather than Gb. You're always flattening the third and seventh note of your scale; that's where the blues modality gets its tension. The third note of the GbM scale is Bb; you try to flatten that and you've belly-flopped on top of A natural. If you've also got an Ab in the same bar, that leads to some pretty awkward scoring. Much easier to score it in F#M, then the third note of your scale slides between A# and A natural.

    Of course F# is not a popular key for rock and roll. The only song I know in that key is, ironically enough, "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger. Most bar bands just transpose it into F or G. I have never seen the sheet music for that song, so I have no idea if it was scored in F# or Gb. It's really a crappy key for the bass guitar. No open strings, but you're playing down close to the nut where the frets are the farthest apart, so it stretches your fingers.
  12. stateofmind seeker of lies Valued Senior Member

    Randomly stumbled on this thread...

    Fraggle, the mystery as to why you would score in Ebm instead of D#m is because there is no D#m. Try and write the scale for D#m and see what happens... D#, E, Fb... oops. It doesn't work

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  13. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Yes it does work. Any major scale can form a minor scale and D# is a major scale, so um . . .

    The D# maj chord has D#, G, A# in it, the D# min chord changes the G to F#. There most certainly is a D# minor scale because I just wrote out a chord in that scale.
  14. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    D# minor is the same as Eb minor, of course. It would be notated differently, but harmonically it is identical.
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The key signature for F# includes E#, which is a jarring thing to see on a score. Of course the key signature for Gb includes Cb, which is just as jarring.

    A friend of mine is a composer and he says that when he writes in those keys (which of course is very rarely), he doesn't give it much thought, just chooses one modality and starts scoring.

    He once wrote a set of 24 short pieces, with one in each key. I looked it over and pointed out that when he got to this awkward key in the major mode, he scored it as F# without a second thought. Yet when he got to the same key in the minor mode, he scored it as Ebm with the same lack of consideration. He just shrugged it off again!
  16. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    Six sharps or six flats - both a pain in the butt to read.
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Indeed. In my experience, only career musicians can sight-read it, and only full-time composers bother writing it. As I said, the only time I've actually encountered it was when my friend challenged himself to write a suite that had movements in all 14 keys.

    I think I have a copy of that CD. I'll see if I can upload it.
  18. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

    Make sure you ask permission first.

    As a guitarist my preferred method of writing down music has always been tabs.

    I've spent so much time building up muscle memory for every mode I play in, that if I have to play in a key I usually don't play, I look away from the fretboard after I've found the root note and play by feel.
  19. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The West's eventual commitment to a twelve-tone equal temperament system treated or converged such as the same notes, and likewise with the respective keys that they're tonic notes and identifiers for. Definitely applicable when a musical instrument is confined by design to temperament (piano, guitar, etc) and the others by performance as part of a group with those instruments. When it comes to the non-fretted and non-keyboard instruments, the older distinction between pitches labeled G-flat and F-sharp (and the rest) becomes possible or more precise playing-wise, and can be aurally detected by those with a discriminating "ear" for such.

    The historical reasons for the compromise may be more complex than just enhancing compatibility between restricted instruments and freer ones.
    exchemist likes this.
  20. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Exactly. They are identical with equal temperament - which is a slightly imperfect compromise - but not necessarily otherwise.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Only a stop-less instrument like a violin or a trombone can play notes that are not in the chromatic scale. Most instruments cannot be played, much less built, with quarter tones or even smaller and more numerous intervals.

    Of course guitarists and players of other fretted instruments can bend their strings in order to raise the pitch slightly, and they use this as a technique in the blues. But in other styles of music, it doesn't seem to be important.

    Singers can do it, and often do. Love songs are often sung with some of the important notes just slightly flat.
  22. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Yes, anything that is tuned by ear , e.g. string or brass instruments, or the human voice, will in general NOT conform exactly to equal temperament. This is because equal temperament is slightly out of tune for any given key.
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Fortunately it's so close that our brains easily correct it to make it sound like the ratios of small integers. E.g., the G major scale sounds like 24/27/30/32/36/40/45/48, even though each note is a little off, and not all even in the same direction. (And I fudged to make the numbers easier. World-standard middle A is 440, not 432, so low A is actually 27.5, not 27.)

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