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  1. Okay, so I've scoured the internet, but I still don't get it... In the simplest language you can muster, what are the rules for writing accidentals? When a note you need for a chord is not included in your current key, how do you decide whether to write it as an A# and when as a B flat? When a C flat vs. a B natural? And when is it appropriate to use double flats and sharps? Here's my best guess at some rules. If someone could tell me where I'm correct, where I'm wrong, and what I'm missing, I'd appreciate the help. I never took theory, so please click your tongue at my ignorance and take pity on me. 1. Take a look at your piece. Pick the key signature that will produce the fewest accidentals for your piece. 2. If you have an entire stylistically distinct section of the piece that is full of accidentals, change the key signature for that section to reduce them as much as possible. 3. If you just have some modulations for flavor here and there within a section, that's where accidentals are appropriate rather than a new key signature. 4. If those accidentals fit nicely into another key, use the sharps or flats appropriate to that key when writing the chord in which they appear. For example, if I'm in C major, and then need an occasional F# instead of an F natural, I could think of it as swinging into the key of G major for a moment. Since G major has F#, I would write that note I need as F#. There is no key that has G flats, but no other flats, so it wouldn't usually make sense for me to write that note as a G flat. Unless... 5. Would an exception to rule four being something that's modal? Then it makes sense to express those fun notes in the way that suggests the mode. So if my key signature is C minor (B flat, E flat, A flat), but with a locrian feel to the section, so that I have diminished fifths... G flats/F#s. It would be most appropriate to write them as G flats to suggest the locrian mode? 6. Would another exception be when you have some modulations, say where the whole chord shifts down a half step, and then down a half step, and then down a half step..., and that pattern becomes apparent at a glance if you get into double flats and such, instead of reducing the number of accidentals as much as possible? I'm looking at "When Mary thro' the garden went" by Stanford, edited by Rutter, and thinking to myself, why, John Rutter! Why!? It would be so much easier for the average choral singer to read if you would just consistently reduce to the fewest accidentals. But is it meant for the eye of the superior musician, who can manage to keep track of all four parts at once, while sight-reading at tempo, and think to themselves, ah ha! I am now the 4th in the diminished globbublub chord. Of course!? I admit, I don't know theory. But the scholar writing the paper on Stanford can clearly take the time to figure out the enharmonic transpositions, and discuss the interesting structural things going on with the harmony. I, the musician just need to be able to sight-read at speed. Somebody explain the value of writing this way. Why not just reduce to the fewest accidentals? I know this only came about with the common practice period. Why? And what are the rules? I'm writing a piece with lots of exciting chords, and I know someone is going to look at me like I'm nuts, and sweetly point out that something I've written as a natural, because... you know... fewer sharps and flats... easiest to read that way, should actually be a triple sharped something else. Or that, although my key is full of sharps, that one particular note should really be expressed as the flat enharmonic equivalent. Point me to a good book? Anyone? (: -Maggie
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