Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

So I have always composed my atonal music using natural signs after having showed a sharp of flat, recently I showed someone one of these compositions and they told me that I should not use them when composing atonal music because it is presumed that the notes are naturals when not shown with a sharp or flat. I have also heard people say the you shouldn't do it because it bring around the idea that they are "accidentals" which is contradictory to the idea of atonality in which all notes are given equal precedence. 

I'd love to hear what everyone has to say.

Views: 1164

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I have also heard both. When I write atonal or just chromatic music I air on the side of caution and add natural acsedentals but only if I feel that it is not very obvious. For example: if there is an f-sharp in the pervious measure or in the left hand and not the right then I add it. But if there hasn't been and f in a long time and it's the only one then no I would not add an accidental even if there were other sharp notes around it. But that too changes depending on performances.

If accidentals are "contradictory to the idea of atonality" then so is a five line staff. An equivalent of a piano roll would be more appropiate, I'm sure. Well, try giving that to performers instead of a normal score and see how they react. ;)

I generally use naturals after sharps / flats unless the notes are so far apart that the idea of sharpening the new note is unlikely to occur. If you use bars and both notes are in the same one, a natural is pretty much essential. The reasoning behind this approach is that whatever philosophy involved in your piece, the performer is most likely classicaly trained - they're used to accidentals applying to the whole measure. Heck, sometimes you'll be unlucky enough to establish something that sounds like a particular key to them, and then chances are they'll keep the accidental forever. Even if your performer doesn't go as far, an F following an F# is likely to create confusion. At best, he'll ask you to make sure he got the meaning right. At worst, he will play wrong notes and not even notice (because it's all noise anyway, right?). So, bottom line is, better safe than sorry, I guess.

Of course many people go with the "no naturals / accidental applies to the particular note ONLY" approach, and successfully so. If you decide to do this, though, I'd suggest stating explicitly, somewhere on the first page of the piece, that this is what you have in mind. Use big letters and Caps Lock, just in case. Should you succeed in hammering the idea into performers' heads, any confusion will hopefully be resolved very quickly. Otherwise, managing the rehearsal may become a pain in the bottom.

Thanks guys, you were both really helpful. I think for now I will stick to the "standard practice" method of notating unless I feel for some reason it is incredibly necessary for a piece in the future and I'll write it on the music like you said Greg.

The common practice for atonal writing is:

1) Never use key signatures at the staff beginnings;

2) Any accidental sign works measure-wise and should be disabled by a natural in the same measure if the note is used as natural in the same measure. This is consistent with old notation traditions;

3) Repeating the natural sign in the next measure is not required but will not harm, so use it in case of a doubt, possibly in brackets.

I largely agree with Andrew. Best to think in terms of doing whatever will make a sight-reading session successful.

Agree completely Kristofer, thanks.

When writing atonal music, you're generally working without a key signature (there are exceptions, as when atonality appears within a tonal composition). The simple rule is to make the music as logical and easy to read as possible (as has been stated in this thread). You sometimes use naturals, sharps and flats as reminders, especially later on in long phrases, but when doing so, the flat, sharp or natural should appear in brackets.

"air" on the side of caution? Unless that was intended as humour (it does create a funny picture), it's "err".

Tyler Hughes said:

I have also heard both. When I write atonal or just chromatic music I air on the side of caution and add natural acsedentals but only if I feel that it is not very obvious. For example: if there is an f-sharp in the pervious measure or in the left hand and not the right then I add it. But if there hasn't been and f in a long time and it's the only one then no I would not add an accidental even if there were other sharp notes around it. But that too changes depending on performances.

they told me that I should not use them when composing atonal music because it is presumed that the notes are naturals when not shown with a sharp or flat. I have also heard people say the you shouldn't do it because it bring around the idea that they are "accidentals" which is contradictory to the idea of atonality in which all notes are given equal precedence.

We can't have different rules for atonal music and tonal music. Simple as that. Or should we just write our music following this kind of peculiar "rules" and leave it for the interpreter to find out what kind of music this is? Or label the sheet with something like "atonal notation convention used in this sheet"?

The notation convention is based on tonal diatonic music in a major key. It works quite well in minor keys, too. And not too bad in modal tonality or free tonality. As some pointed out, the performer might have a classical education and he knows his staves, clefs, key signatures and accidentals. One can argue that the conventional notation doesn't suit atonal music very well, but I'd say it's more important to make it work than to find new notation conventions for atonal music.

It's a good point that the conventional notation shouldn't lead the performer to believe that there's something tonal in the music, when there isn't. I'd be ready to put a humorous note like "any resemblance with tonal music in the notation is purely coincidental". But I'd still chose the accidentals as if the music were tonal, just to ease reading. If F# occurs twice in a bar, I'd write them as F#, not as F# and Gb. Or F#, G# and A# instead of say Gb, G# and Bb.

3) Repeating the natural sign in the next measure is not required but will not harm, so use it in case of a doubt, possibly in brackets.

I haven't seen this in conventional music either. I mean, if there was already a natural sign in the previous bar, I don't know for whom this repeating natural is. For someone who didn't see it, nor heard it in the previous bar?

Hello Chris.

That was a quick response. I was just correcting the final version of this post, when you came in and replied already.

My final version was this:

[Just some very small corrections].

"One can argue that the conventional notation doesn't suit atonal music very well, but I'd say it's more important to make it work than to find new notation conventions for atonal music."

Given what is being said in the discussion entitled, "Posting Scores," we can posit the fact that conventional notation is dying or nearly dead. For composers who spend most of their time using computer software to compose, that is fast becoming the case.

The fact that many of us (including myself) were taught conventional notation before the advent of composing software should not make much difference. The new generations coming up will look upon the rules of conventional notation as something of merely historical interest.

I always thought, even while learning it, that conventional notation was cumbersome and illogical, carrying little valuable information. But it was all we had for preserving music, except for the long playing record and the tape, until the CD and computer came along.

Now i am thoroughly convinced that the computerized "piano roll" window provides much more useful information, about pitch, velocity (loudness), tonal bends, modulations and many other parameters that are handled through "automation" controls.

There is really no reason even to use "scores" any more, Performers (insofar as they are still needed to produce sounds), should probably be trained to read the piano rolls and event lists and other tools that give much more specific and useful information. Many performers will be put out of the job as the internet's ability to produce music allows the “Kunstwerk der Zukunft” to move directly from the composer’s mind to the listener's ear. For those who remain more dedicated to performing than to composing, performance will not die out, of course. But it will eventually become more and more of an adjunct to the more creative task of actually composing (Just as "acting" must always be subordinate to the guidelines of the playwright, the director or the producer of the play). I know some will fear that, and try to forestall that, but people on a “composers forum” such as this should begin to seen the inevitability of the demise of the conventional score. Perhaps it will remain as a pleasant relic in our databases.

The debate about "when to put a natural sign on the staff" will soon be about as arcane and antiquated as any discussion about how to conjugate subjunctive Latin verb tenses. We will essentially be talking about a "dead language."

I will reply to what you said, Chris, below.

There are more reasons to die for conventionally written English than for conventional notation. Take it as a joke, I'm very fond of English and I have no problem with how the written text is miles from the phonetics. But I hope you see the point.

Ain't it funny how even composers using micro intervals have figured out how to adapt conventional notation to micro intervals.

“I think making piano roll the standard is a terrible idea. Notation includes room for humanity, interpretation and not precision.”

“Humanity” is not in danger from new and advanced methods of preserving the intentions of the composer. You use the word “notation as if it were something different from the computer piano roll. It’s simply one kind of “notation,” one that is more precise, and which gives much more information. It does not, in and of itself, prevent actual living musicians from interpreting music. I would be the first to admit that a conductor looking at any composer’s representation of his music might be able to interpret and perform it better than the composer himself. There have been countless examples in the history of modern recording and live performance which numerous people have witnessed personally and studied. My argument is simply that the “conventional notation” system has outlived its usefulness, because it conveys too little information, and is not very logical. It is counter-intuitive compared with the computerized piano roll display, which shows everything that a “conventional score” can show, in addition to much more.

When people here compose, while using their computers, which window do they actually use more? The “score window” or the “piano roll window?”

“I guarantee you any of the great conductors did their (own) pieces very differently over time, as it should be. Music is not some kind of anal reproduction of control freaks, but an interpretation of the human condition by loving and empathetic souls :-)”

I agree with that last statement. You put it very well. Even so the method of notation which is old fashioned (or becoming outmoded) does not make the music itself more “loving,” nor does writing with old-fashioned tools necessarily make the composer, the musician or the listener more empathetic. Perhaps less so. Poetry does not become more less expressive and less loving if it is written with modern Roman type (as opposed to ancient runes). Plays do not become less human and less loving if the playwright introduces specific stage directions. The intentions of the composer (the playwright, or the poet) are paramount, and should be. Later interpreters or readers or performers are free to re-perform, restage, or read with new accents and different emphases in future times as they see fit.

Abandoning “conventional notation” will make it easier for more people to learn more about how to conceptualize, read and understand music in a shorter period of time. Holding on to the old system is analogous to saying we should all still be using scrolls instead of books, and handwriting instead of printing and typing. Copying out old scores (or their own new scores) is nowadays is a waste of time for people who want to compose; we may as well say novelists should copy out the whole of Dickens’ works, and playwrights should copy the works of Shakespeare out, in longhand, letter by letter, in order to learn to write fiction or drama. It’s ludicrous.

As far as so-called “atonal” music is concerned (Schoenberg, many know, preferred the term “pantonal”) even that system of thinking has become outmoded, in light of its rejection by the leading luminaries and successors who first tried to turn serialism into a dogma, and then ended up rejecting it. Berg and Webern were not directly responsible for this, but composers like Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez and many others realized that dodecaphonic music, according to a strict serialist set of rules was more restrictive than the system they were rebelling against in the beginning.

Now we know that quarter tones, eighth tones, alternative scales (a la Harry Partch), non-Western tonalities (especially Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Japanese), pitch-bending and frequent long glides, music concrete, synthetic instrumentation, electronic means, “sound sculpture,” and many other techniques negate the very concept of traditional sharps, flats and “naturals,” used with either a “diatonic” system or a supposedly “atonal” one.

All these of sounds can easily be recorded and reproduced via computerized “piano roll” notation with a fair degree of ease. The conventional notation system will prove to be too limited in conception to represent both traditional Western music and all the alternatives mentioned above. You cannot put all the new flavors of wine into the busted and broken bottles of the ages gone by.

Someone, please listen to the first three minutes of this opera (written in quarter tones as early as 1929), and tell me how you would represent it today on a piece of paper, and why computerized means would not be superior.

It’s brilliant!

It makes Schoenberg’s Aaron and Moses sound almost like child’s play.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=127K6DGpbhc

Or for a more difficult challenge, how would you notate this work by Stockhausen today?

Consider perhaps this short passage
25:00-27:00

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePBB-NO8vKg

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2017   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service