Dots

Dots

I was looking at some dots for "Scarborough Fair" (please don’t hate me) noted in G. There is an accidental C#, the only C. Wouldn’t the same result be had in noting the tune in D?

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No.

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It may be notated in E minor (not G major). Both have the one sharp. But the C# would indicate E Dorian. It is a bit of a convention to use accidentals in modal music. A bit like (e.g.) D mixolydian written in D major (2 sharps) with every C naturalised.

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I’m not much on modes, but SF in G does not contain a C#. In D, it does. There are no accidentals in the tune.

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I would say E dorian. The key signature would be D.

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In the scale of G, C is the fourth note. (GAB C DEFG)
In the scale of D, G is the fourth note (DEF G ABCD)

As your tune in G has a C#, when you transpose to D, you get a G#

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It’s a tune that, because it is well known, is often used as an example when discussing chords for what some people call ‘modal folk tunes’. Consensus seems to be that that when played to ends (and start) on an E it is in E Dorian and in versions that have a C then it is sharp.

In most places, including the default behaviour of programs that output dots from ABC code, E Dorian is written with two sharps in the key signature. But also expect what Yhaal House said, especially if written for ‘classically trained’ dot readers - they like to have the ‘odd-sounding’ (to them) notes flagged up.

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Sorry, Michael the Whistler, I should have read your post more carefully; it’s a query about notation, not transposition.
So, in direct contradiction to Ailin, I say ‘Yes’.

I’ve probably got an anti-modal bee in my bonnet because standard notation (a horribly inefficient system with which, for historical reasons, we’ve been lumbered) doesn’t handle modes naturally.

If I have a tune that starts and ends on E, and has an F# and a C#, I would give it a key signature of D (2 #’s) which would avoid any accidentals in the notation. I could, as in the OP’s tune, put in it G (1 #) and mark C’s with a # accidental. I could also put it in A (3 #’s) and naturalise all G’s; or in C and mark all F’s and C’s as F# and C#.

The point is, that in each case the tune would sound the same. The sensible thing to do is use a key signature that avoids the need for accidentals in the notation - regardless of the mode.

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@Muircheartaigh . If you don’t call a key signature with C# and F# "a key signature of D" then standard notation handles modes just fine.

I started with Robin Williamson’s "The Penny Whistle Book", which has Dorian mode tunes from the start so never saw a problem.

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To a certain extent, I agree with you, David. Let’s not call it D; call it 2#’s -
"What key are you in?"
"We’re playing in two sharps"

The trouble is, two sharps can indicate any one of the following:
D Major
B minor
D Ionian (D major)
E Dorian
F# Phrygian
G Lydian
A Mixolydian
B Aeolian (B minor)
C# Locrian

And you can’t tell which one it is until you’ve played the tune. Usually, but not always, the tune finishes on the root of the mode. That’s why I say our notation system is inefficient. Any system that doesn’t let you know what you’re doing until you’ve done it has to be inefficient.

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If you are playing the straight melody alone, it doesn’t really make much difference as long as you can tell the difference between sharps, flats, and naturals.
However, it is more important for players who provide accompaniment in one way or another… e.g. guitar or left hand on piano, harp, accordion or whatever.

Incidentally, I have just purchased a nice new book

http://scottishculture.org/resources/collections/the-aberdeen-collection/

where the editors deliberately made some "formatting changes" as regards key signatures and accidentals which they ensure us was not "a mean spirited revenge on fiddle players " but to "slightly redress the balance in favour of accompanists and chord players"… :-)

They go into this in much more technical detail on the next page. I’m sure that the idea of changing key signatures to suit either accompanists or melody players will cause a bit of controversy in some area but if it does assist accompanists to play the right chords then that’s all to the good.

I’m looking forward to trying out a few of the tunes in the book. There are some well known tunes in there already and contributions by many highly respected musicians.

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‘If you are playing the straight melody alone, it doesn’t really make much difference as long as you can tell the difference between sharps, flats, and naturals.’
Agreed. Which is why I find academic modal analysis so boring - if you know a tune, play it. Knowing the mode is irrelevant. There was a time, not so long ago, when if you asked an Irish traditional musician what mode he was using, he wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

But I also agree that accompaniment is a different matter. Guitarists and pianists etc. need to know more about the chordal structure of a melody than do whistlers or fiddlers.

The editors’ ‘formatting changes’ in ‘The Aberdeen Collection’ sound very interesting. But I don’t want to buy yet another collection just to read the editors’ comments. I would appreciate it if you could you let us know more about those formatting changes.

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Total agreement:

"I find academic modal analysis so boring - if you know a tune, play it. Knowing the mode is irrelevant. There was a time, not so long ago, when if you asked an Irish traditional musician what mode he was using, he wouldn’t know what you were talking about."

There are still plenty of Irish musicians (me, for one, and probably most of those I play with) who haven’t a clue about technical analysis of the music. In any case, as has been said before, the written notation is just an approximation of what a tune is all about.

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"Knowing the mode is irrelevant." But it is useful when seeking to give a helpful answer to the OP.

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I don’t see how it would help to know the mode. That’s my answer to the OP. We assume that the Michael has listened to the tune. I think we pretty much agree that tunes are best learned on their own, without referring to the dots. The dots can assist in learning the tune but are not a substitute for learning and remembering. If Michael has listened, and learned the tune by ear, then why would he need to identify the mode? How would it help - aside from an academic exercise that some people find interesting?
Mike Rafferty once said, "Don’t talk to me about C or C sharp because I don’t know what you’re talking about." I.e., you have to use your ears.

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I find this studied indifference/ ignorance to formal musical terminology/ conventions that some trad players adopt seems to be a bit of an affectation to appear ‘rootsier’ or ‘pure drop cooler’!
Niavity in art can be charming, of course, but limiting, faux niavity is just a pose.
In my experience most trad players know more theory than it is fashionable to admit to!!!

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Muircheartaigh said:
"The point is, that in each case the tune would sound the same. The sensible thing to do is use a key signature that avoids the need for accidentals in the notation - regardless of the mode."

I came to think of this when looking at two recent additions of Wexford Carol - a melody in major with Mixolydian traits in the first part, and some minor things in the second part - but both settings say Dorian and have added accidentals to make it work - the worst of both worlds.

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David Levine wrote:
"I don’t see how it would help to know the mode."

I’d say that any information can be helpful - key, mode, number of accidentals, written music, ABC, recording, living person… If I were to play Scarborough Fair it with someone and asked the singer about the key - I’d prefer hearing "Em" although it really is Dorian (in the one and only place where it IS Dorian). I know the melody, and just need to know where the home base is. Suggesting "D" would make me wonder whether we were speaking about the same song. If I saw written music, two sharps would be fine (but I don’t have to learn it). ABC - Edor is enough.

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@David Levine. How would you answer the question in the OP? Other than "Yes" or "No".

That both of those have been given suggests ambiguity or confusion somewhere. You don’t need to use a pre-existing structure to explain, but some people find it useful to do so.

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What key is she singing in AB ? What notes should I use? What whistle should I pick up? Why?

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Which tune is she using is another question to ask? There are a number of different ones to Scarborough Fair, and different sets of words too, some going nowhere near North Yorkshire. Folk Process!

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Pitch: Ebm

The fingerings are easiest in Edor or Ador (both the minor third and the Dorian 6th are accessible), but that means Db whistle or Gb whistle.

You can play it in pitch Ebm on an Eb whistle, but then you have to half-hole the minor third, and there no minor 7th below the root note either.

Good luck. ;-)

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Maybe Ms Primrose (& musicians) did it in either the more conventional Ddor or Edor but it was sped up or slowed down (or pitch changed) during the mastering process.

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‘I find this studied indifference/ ignorance to formal musical terminology/ conventions that some trad players adopt seems to be a bit of an affectation to appear ‘rootsier’ or ‘pure drop cooler’!
Niavity in art can be charming, of course, but limiting, faux niavity is just a pose.’

No, it’s not that, Yaal. I’m reasonably au fait with western modes but I just don’t find any of that helpful when playing a melody. All that matters is that I get all the right notes in the right order at the right tempo and then add ornamentation, expression and feeling. Technique and interpretation are infinitely more important than identifying the mode.

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Yeah! I know!!!!
But…(!)

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Muircheartaigh hit the question spot on. I was trying to understand how notation with one # in the signature and a C# accidental in the tune would be different from noting the key signature with two #s, one of course being C#. All the talk of modes bewilders me. It seems to make playing music, which should be enjoyable, too cumbersome and academic.

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Michael, from the OP it sounds like you knew what to play from the written notation but did not get why it was written the way it was.
Is that correct or am I missing your purpose?

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I think you’re right, AB, which explains why I answered the way I did. In G, there would be no C#. I had to play the tune in both keys to even understand what he really wanted to know.

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There is a C# in ‘G’ if it’s G Lydian!!

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Anyway, one has to instinctively know (or maybe ‘feel’) what mode one is in, perhaps without not being able to define it, in order to interpret the untempered environment, to variate and ornament, to play the tunes fresh and energetic and different every time.

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Knowing the key and mode is useful to pipers with two-key chanters so we can know when we’re being messed with by the fiddlers and can use the opportunity to use the restroom while they have their little A-major fest.

Other than that, those who back on guitar or zouk really must be able to identify both the root key and mode and adapt their backing accordingly, even as it changes between the parts of a tune or even within a tune.

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Just a few observations about those who dive into this stuff, vs. those who don’t.

Knowing at least a little about modes helps when you need to transpose a tune that’s out of range for your instrument. Fiddlers don’t have to deal with that, but us flute and whistle players do. I don’t mean "folding" and keeping the tonic center, I mean a complete transposition and knowing how to preserve the mode. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, with tunes played on things like Bb flutes that I want to play on a D flute.

It goes without saying that accompanists like guitars and zouks need some understanding of modes. But for polyphonic melody instrument players like mandolin and box players who are able to throw in a bit of harmony along with the melody line, knowing something about modes can help with figuring out where to throw in those double stops or partial chords.

As a general observation, it’s the linear melody players like flute, whistle, and to a certain extent fiddlers, who poo-poo the idea of understanding any theory, and say "just play the tune!". Which is fine as far as it goes. But then you also get fiddlers who will try to help the accompanists in a session by yelling out chords, and they’re the wrong chords because the tune is in an entirely different tonal center or mode, and the fiddler doesn’t grok the theory. I’ve seen that more than once.

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AB — Spot on. Yes, I understood what to play form the notation. My question is to understand if there a musical reason or advantage in using the one sharp in the signature rather than two sharps. One sharp and an accidental C# seems to be the same as a two sharp signature. And am I correct that between these two signatures, # or ##, the only difference is the C#, the other notes are the same… yes?* Am I setting this out in an understandable way?

It is also immediately noticeable that to leave out the C# and play a C natural is jarring and wrong.

*I’m thinking of these signatures being played on a D whistle.

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The standard for writing the key signatures of modes other than Ionian/Aeolian (Major/Minor) is to use the key signature of the key with the same tonal center and the same quality of the 3rd degree of the scale: the major key for mixo and lydian and the minor key for every other mode. One adds accidentals each time a note occurs that "makes the mode", e.g. the C# in the case of e dorian. That way one can see the tonal center and the mode in one view - one only has to decide if it´s major or minor. Taking the e dorian example again, it could also be in G lydian instead. That depends on the melody and on the creativity/malice of accompanists.

That being said, I´ve not seen this notation very often, neither in trad nor in early music.

Another word re SF: There are versions in minor and in dorian.

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Michael the Whistler:
"My question is to understand if there a musical reason or advantage in using the one sharp in the signature rather than two sharps. One sharp and an accidental C# seems to be the same as a two sharp signature. And am I correct that between these two signatures, # or ##, the only difference is the C#, the other notes are the same… yes?* Am I setting this out in an understandable way? "

For this particular melody, it doesn’t matter whether you write it from the beginning or when it appears - there’s only one c sharp. This may be the reason why it’s written as if in Em (or G). (It also helps backers since the starts off in Em-land.)

Writing two sharps from the beginning isn’t wrong (as a whistler you’ll even find it helpful - two sharps will always work on a D whistle).

Some tunes have a little of everything and then it’s probably just a matter of taste (or mathemathics). Is it more major than minor? More Dorian than Mixolydian?

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There you are you see, these terms are useful at times.

To me Yhaal House’s point about variation and ornamentation is important. Most of these tunes get their character from staying within certain bounds and going outside those bounds changes the character.

It often bugs me when people do things that fill in the gaps in gapped scales.

If one takes a version of Scarborough Fair without any Cs and does a variation that puts one in does it feel to you (anyone that is) as if it should be natural or sharp?

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@Jeff — Should we all rile against Pythagoras?

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@David50— I might noddle around for a version of Scarborough Fair without the C#. I played the tune with a C natural and it definitely stood out as wrong. Of course this is so because the tune is very well known and a change like that is very jarring.

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Start the tune with A as the first note and you are home free.

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