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"Accidentals"

WaldoW

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I often hear of "The Black Keys" being referred to as "Accidentals". I believe this is an incorrect use of the term. Following is my argument in support of this contention:

MY DEFINITION: An accidental is any tone that lies outside the tone order of the Key Signature in question.

Example 1: In the Key of C, all the black keys are accidentals, as none are found in the Key order.

Example 2: In the Key of F#/Gb, none of the black keys are accidentals (except, perhaps B). They are all present the Key order. Any accidental in F#/Gb will be a white key.

Example 3: Use of an accidental; Accidentals are employed for color, or tension and then resolved by a Key tone.

I offer the following in support of my contention.:

First, if the black keys were properly called “accidentals”, then as one moves around the circle of 5ths (or 4ths), one would progressively lose “accidentals” as a musical option (see Ex 2 above).
Some history I encountered on the I-net suggested the term “accidental” came about when a musician “goofed up” and hit a tone outside the Key. Don’t know if this is true, but makes sense.

Second, I offer two quotes from “Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians”, Volume 1 (A-B), pg. 26, “Accidentals”:

”Accidentals are properly those notes extraneous to the Key Signature in a major Key, or in a minor Key supplementary to it, as is G# in the Key of A minor.”

Also;


“ It should be added, by way of warning, that pianists, thinking of the black keys of their instrument, are apt to think of sharps and flats played on those keys, only as accidentals. This is a mistake. An E# extraneous to a prevailing tonality, though played on a white key, is a accidental, and so is, for example, an F (natural sign) occurring in the Key of D major”

I would add that accidentals would include “natural signs”, which would alter a tone to one outside the Key Signature. I suspect that the notations bb & ## would also fall under the definition of accidentals, but I’m not sure of these.

Lastly, I believe that the proper term for the black keys, as a whole, would be “enharmonics”, due to their (black keys) “double names” (G#/Ab, etc.). The prefix en-: "in", "into" or "on", when added to, -harmonic: from "Harmony" meaning "in agreement or concord" would aptly describe the "black keys". I wouldn’t bet my accordion on this, as there is confliction on the I-net, and my Grove’s describes enharmonics as something completely different, but the term may have evolved.

I'd like to hear feedback on this issue, so.....

Press on,
Waldo
 

NickC

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I mostly agree with your definition about accidentals. A few things that I would add:

In your example above (#3) accidentals can be used as color and resolve chromatically, but there are other uses. For the music that I play, a lot of the times an accidental will be used based on the harmonic progression. For example, on the piece that I attached, the key signature is C, but there is an E Maj in the chord progression, so the G# in measure 6 would be considered an accidental-- but it is a chord tone, not a color tone. The G natural in bar 7 has a natural symbol, but I wouldn't call that an accidental since it is in the key signature. It's more of a cancellation. But, yes, I agree that a natural sign, and double sharps/flats can be accidentals if they fall outside the key signature.

Every note on the piano, white or black, has enharmonics. C can be notated as B# in a certain context, etc.
 

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NickC

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I thought those were called hip chord extensions. You know, because jazz.
 

Jim2010

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My definition of an accidental is " those (frequent ) notes I hit when I meant to hit a different one" 🙄
Very Funny!

Now that humor has been added to the discussion, I think (for the purpose of humor, not musicology) we should talk about the tragicomical names of the notes themselves, and the role they play in confusion about sharps, flats, "black keys," and accidentals. The use of "piano" keyboard instruments as a visual aid also plays a part in the confusion.

In western music using equal temperament there are 12 unique notes per octave. They have various relationships with one another (a family of sorts), but each is independent and equal. Centuries ago, they were given names based on what might be called drunken alphabetical order. Why drunken alphabetical order was chosen over sober alphabetical order or numerical order I do not know.

The following rows show some possible names for the 12 unique and independent notes. As you know, the third row contains the chosen names.

1637774783845.png


The relative level of drunkenness in the authors can be see by the fact that they began their alphabetical sequence on C rather than A.

Imagine if we named children this way. Imagine that a couple decides to have 12 children, whom they will name in alphabetical order. The first three names might be: Ann, Bobby, and Claire (they would hardly start with Claire). What are the chances they would name their second child Ann Sharp? And even if they wanted to, they would have to wait until their third child (Claire) was born to complete their second child's full name of Ann Sharp/Claire Flat.

Using "piano" keyboard instruments as visual aids reinforces the mistaken thinking that the 2nd, 4th, 7th, 9th, and 11th notes of the scale are "different" from the other notes. Each of the 12 notes is equal and independent. There are no "black keys" on other instruments.

If you'd like to discuss this further, I'll be in the bar.
 
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