2017 was our 20th year online!

Welcome to the Piano World Piano Forums
Over 2.9 million posts about pianos, digital pianos, and all types of keyboard instruments
Join the World's Largest Community of Piano Lovers (it's free)
It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!

Shop our online store for music lovers
SEARCH
Piano Forums & Piano World
(ad)
Petrof Pianos
Petrof Pianos
(ad)
Pianoteq
PianoTeq Karsten Collection
(ad)
Piano Life Saver - Dampp Chaser
Dampp Chaser Piano Life Saver
Who's Online Now
31 members (EB5AGV, AZNpiano, DSC, David B, gvfarns, Animisha, FrankCox, albydooby, beeboss, 7 invisible), 340 guests, and 384 robots.
Key: Admin, Global Mod, Mod
(ad)
Estonia Pianos
Estonia Pianos
Previous Thread
Next Thread
Print Thread
Hop To
Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
#2897742 10/06/19 09:24 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 27,623
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
OP Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 27,623
is common?

Is it just that most composers use B major instead of C flat or some other reason?

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2897745 10/06/19 09:29 PM
Joined: Oct 2018
Posts: 570
T
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
T
Joined: Oct 2018
Posts: 570
I see six flats most often in band music. When transposing, instruments in Eb or Bb will have just three or four flats.

But, yeah, I can't see any reason to use Cb instead of B.


Decent upright bassist; aspiring decent pianist
Present: Roland DP-603, Roland FP-30, Casio CDP-130
Past: Casio PX-830, Casio PX-160
Etc.: PianoTeq Stage 6 (Bechstein, Bluethner, U4, Vibes, Xylo), Roland KC-80
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2897789 10/07/19 05:33 AM
Joined: Sep 2015
Posts: 4,345
4000 Post Club Member
Offline
4000 Post Club Member
Joined: Sep 2015
Posts: 4,345
It's just conventional to use B major instead. You don't see B#, E#, or Fb major either.

You do see C flat major in harp music, because it makes sense to harpists owing to the way the pedals are used. For example, a piece in C-flat is played the same way as a piece in C, but without using the pedals to alter the strings' pitches.

Last edited by johnstaf; 10/07/19 05:34 AM.
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
TheophilusCarter #2897824 10/07/19 08:56 AM
Joined: Aug 2010
Posts: 2,220
T
2000 Post Club Member
Offline
2000 Post Club Member
T
Joined: Aug 2010
Posts: 2,220
Hi, PL! I would say the main reason is that the notation forces a great many double flats as the piece progresses, and that's very hard to read. If seven sharps would be used (and I can't honestly think of one example of that, unlike seven flats), the same problem would apply with the plethora of double sharps.

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2897839 10/07/19 09:27 AM
Joined: May 2015
Posts: 6,431
Silver Subscriber
6000 Post Club Member
Offline
Silver Subscriber
6000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2015
Posts: 6,431
I have looked for an explanation for why Albeniz wrote the Iberia suite in seven flats, with a million accidents, and I have to find it.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It's ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2897851 10/07/19 10:03 AM
Joined: Oct 2018
Posts: 689
P
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
P
Joined: Oct 2018
Posts: 689
That got me thinking. It's really kind of monotonous to have only all sharps / flats in key signatures. Why not a mix? I suppose, for example, a piece based on say the G harmonic minor scale could have a key signature of 2 flats and one sharp, or one could invent a scale and do a bit of mix and match.
I'm sure there's a logical explanation (and no doubt mentioning it displays ignorance etc.) but the 'child within' is still active, I'm afraid, so I have to ask 'why' every now and then....


regards
Pete
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
Tim Adrianson #2897874 10/07/19 11:00 AM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
S
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
S
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
Originally Posted by Tim Adrianson
If seven sharps would be used (and I can't honestly think of one example of that, unlike seven flats), .


You would find at least the 2 preludes and fugues in C sharp Major by JS Bach.

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2899427 10/12/19 03:51 AM
Joined: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,690
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Joined: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,690
I don't see a reason to say Cb when you can just say B. Enharmonic equivalents have their purpose, but it's usually easier to go with the more straightforward of the two.

Last edited by Opus_Maximus; 10/12/19 04:01 AM.
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2899429 10/12/19 04:39 AM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
S
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
S
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
I doubt there is one single key reason. I would say it is part convenience, easier to use B and another part is historical. Up until 19th century many temperaments used were non circular and designed to optimize essentially the white keys scales. Outside Bach WTC few composers would use a key signature with many flat or sharp, due to issues with some third and fifth intervals. BTW technically speaking an F sharp is not equal to a G flat, as there is 1 coma between them. In non circular temperaments only one of the 2 can be tuned on the keyboard. It is only with circular of which the fully equal temperament that we get complete enharmonie on the keyboard. As late as Beethoven, out of the 32 sonatas only 6 or 7 have 4 or 5 accidentals in the key signature, the most common being E major, A flat major and F minor.

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
Sidokar #2899487 10/12/19 12:18 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Offline
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Originally Posted by Sidokar
[...] As late as Beethoven, out of the 32 sonatas only 6 or 7 have 4 or 5 accidentals in the key signature, the most common being E major, A flat major and F minor.


Don't forget the third movement (Marche funebre) of Op. 26; it has seven - yes seven! - flats = A-flat minor. That is, indeed, a rarity, particularly in Beethoven's time.

Regards,


BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
Sidokar #2899493 10/12/19 12:26 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Offline
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by Tim Adrianson
If seven sharps would be used (and I can't honestly think of one example of that, unlike seven flats), .


You would find at least the 2 preludes and fugues in C sharp Major by JS Bach.


In some editions (Peters, WTC, Bk II) the C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue are published in the enharmonic key of D-flat major. I've even seen an edition (I forget which one) where the Prelude and Fugue are published, one in C-sharp major and the other in D-flat major.

Regards,


BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
BruceD #2899502 10/12/19 12:47 PM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
S
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
S
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by Tim Adrianson
If seven sharps would be used (and I can't honestly think of one example of that, unlike seven flats), .


You would find at least the 2 preludes and fugues in C sharp Major by JS Bach.


In some editions (Peters, WTC, Bk II) the C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue are published in the enharmonic key of D-flat major. I've even seen an edition (I forget which one) where the Prelude and Fugue are published, one in C-sharp major and the other in D-flat major.

Regards,



That would be curious as all the existing autograph copy have C sharp. In addition the preludes anf fugues go by pair with the minor key and C sharp major is followed by the C sharp minor then the D major and D minor. The 2 Peters editions i know, the Kroll and the more recent Keller have both C sharp.

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
Sidokar #2899529 10/12/19 02:02 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Offline
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Sidokar
Originally Posted by Tim Adrianson
If seven sharps would be used (and I can't honestly think of one example of that, unlike seven flats), .


You would find at least the 2 preludes and fugues in C sharp Major by JS Bach.


In some editions (Peters, WTC, Bk II) the C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue are published in the enharmonic key of D-flat major. I've even seen an edition (I forget which one) where the Prelude and Fugue are published, one in C-sharp major and the other in D-flat major.

Regards,



That would be curious as all the existing autograph copy have C sharp. In addition the preludes anf fugues go by pair with the minor key and C sharp major is followed by the C sharp minor then the D major and D minor. The 2 Peters editions i know, the Kroll and the more recent Keller have both C sharp.


That's very interesting. My Peters WTC, Bk II is also Kroll, but there is no question that the Prelude and Fugue III are in D-flat major (pp. 10-13). Mine might be a rather old copy purchased several decades ago, but it is very curious that it is the same editor in both our Peters editions but in different keys! The Peters' volume number is No 1b on the cover, and the plate number (?) on each page is 8401.

To quote Alice: "Curioser and curioser!"

Regards,


BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2899540 10/12/19 02:52 PM
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 28,657
B
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
B
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 28,657
Our copy of the Kroll has C# in the usual order, and Db at the end, like an appendix.

"Zur leichteren Lesbarkeit werde dies Praeluium nebst Fuge vom Herausgeber nach des-dur umgeschrieben und befindet sich am Schluss des Bandes." (For easier readability this Prelude and Fugue is transcribed by the editor to d-flat and placed at the end of this volume.)

Last edited by BDB; 10/12/19 02:58 PM.

Semipro Tech
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2899711 10/13/19 09:43 AM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
S
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
S
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 986
Kroll edited the WTC twice. The first one in 1862. This one has been re-edited by Peters in 1937 and still available to my knowledge. This one has the C sharp in the usual order. They subsequently edited also Kreutz and Keller.

Kroll also edited the WTC a second time for the first official version of the BGA in 1866/67, printed by Breitkopf; this one and the new official current version of the BGA has also C sharp. Peters may have printed some intermediary version and for whatever reason decided to transcribe C sharp into D flat, though it does kind of disturb completely the logic since the next key is C sharp minor, and that would be the only case then where the consecutive major and minor keys are different.

It does not affect obviously the end result but it is a change vs the intended original version of Bach.

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2899760 10/13/19 01:03 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 3,519
S
3000 Post Club Member
Offline
3000 Post Club Member
S
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 3,519
Brahms wrote a lovely fugue for organ in Ab minor, seven flats. I played it a long time ago (college was more than four decades ago), but I would agree in general you'd be more likely to see G# minor. Here's a link that shows the score (inverted stretto from the very beginning). Following along it seems I was correct in remembering the middle section in D major.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN4TB3U5KXc

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2899983 10/14/19 01:47 AM
Joined: Aug 2014
Posts: 2,135
2000 Post Club Member
Offline
2000 Post Club Member
Joined: Aug 2014
Posts: 2,135
There are many members more capable of speaking to this question than me and some of them have already spoken. Furthermore, the whole equal temperament thing makes this question almost meaningless, unless you just have a problem with lots of accidentals in a key signature.

However, we can stipulate that the enharmonic equivalent of the major key with 6 sharps is a major key with 6 flats. Same with their relative minors. But the symmetry is not the same with keys that have 7 sharps/flats. So then we have to ask why did Bach write two of his preludes and fugues in the WTC in C# major as opposed to Db? To me the answer is simple. Bach was thinking in C# not Db. Why does this matter? Because it does. I believe that even someone who doesn't have absolute pitch will have a problem thinking of those preludes and fugues in Db. They are quintessentially C# major, equal temperament be damned.

As to the 7 flat thing, great question. One could cite the slow movement of Beethoven's Op. 26 and some Alkan pieces that are in Ab minor. However, I have never encountered works with a tonic key of Cb major or A# minor. They may exist, but they ain't on my radar. So I can only conclude that equal temperament has some built-in prejudices against those keys. (And let's not get into the nonsense about the infinite circle/line of fifths that would make this whole conversation otiose.)

PS, the members who've talked about editions of WTC that have both versions of the C# preludes and fugues: Have you ever learnt them Db and were you comfortable doing so?


SRF
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
SiFi #2900145 10/14/19 01:38 PM
Joined: Mar 2014
Posts: 270
L
Full Member
Offline
Full Member
L
Joined: Mar 2014
Posts: 270
I first learned the Preludes and Fugues from an old Edwin Ashdown edition of WTC Bk 1, edited by Orlando Morgan, which I still have, rather shopworn.

In that edition, the first footnote to Prelude III states: "Immediately following this Prelude and Fugue will be found a reprint of the same in D flat, which we give for the purpose of simplifying the reading." (Then the real footnotes begin, mainly info on other note readings in manuscripts or other editions of the time. Copyright 1923.)

I think, as a result, that I learned it and the fugue in D flat. The prelude is definitely easy to read in that key. Then I have perfect pitch, so really just go by memory of the pitch sound once I play something a few times.

This edition also has Prelude VIII in six flats (E flat minor), and Fugue VIII in six sharps (D sharp minor). The manuscripts I looked at on IMSLP appear the same. Why did Bach do this change??

BTW, Bach was a violinist. On the whole, violinists do not like playing flats. It somehow seems easier to place a finger higher rather than lower on a string, and E, A and D flat in first position. Beginning players first think of using an open string for the note, but then have to jump to using a finger on the next lower string to get the flat. That is annoying. Maybe Bach was influenced by that?? Or maybe he was just thinking of moving steadily up through each of the keys with these compositions.

I still think of this P and F as being in D flat, not C sharp. I am sure that if you asked me to write it out from memory, I would choose that key.

I do agree that the sound of P and F III is "sharp" in mood and light heartedness somehow!

Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
SiFi #2900148 10/14/19 01:48 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Offline
Gold Subscriber
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 24,135
Originally Posted by SiFi
[...]
PS, the members who've talked about editions of WTC that have both versions of the C# preludes and fugues: Have you ever learnt them Db and were you comfortable doing so?


No, not yet. However the temptation may be to take the "easier" route of D-flat major, I'm enough of a purist to opt for C-sharp major.

In an analogous situation, the comments of Cecil Gray (The Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues of J.S. Bach. London, OUP, 1938/1967) might be of interest or amusing: We don't know, of course, to what editions he had recourse when writing in 1938.

It concerns the Prelude and Fugue No, 8 in D-sharp minor in Book II.

[Note: In my only two editions of Book II. Peters presents this pair in E-flat minor; ABRSM (Tovey) presents it in D-sharp minor. In my three copies of Book I, Henle, Alfred Masterworks and ABRSM present the Fugue in E-flat minor and the Prelude in D-sharp minor.]

Herewith Mr. Gray:

It is exceedingly difficult to discover why Bach should have preferred to write this pair of pieces in the troublesome key of D sharp minor instead of in the synonymous E flat minor, as in the first book; involving as it does the extensive employment of that abomination the double sharp instead of the simple natural which would take its place if the flat key signature were adopted. In the musical illustrations which follow I have consequently taken the liberty, out of kind-heartedness towards the reader [ my emphasis,] of enharmonically transposing them into the equivalent and much easier key of E flat minor.

Regards,


BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190
Re: Why is 7 flats so uncommon a key signature but 6 flats...
pianoloverus #2900175 10/14/19 03:21 PM
Joined: May 2008
Posts: 3,049
3000 Post Club Member
Offline
3000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2008
Posts: 3,049
From a somewhat different angle, I cannot think of being asked to play anything (scales, cadences, chords & inversions, etc.) in C-flat or C-sharp major, or for that matter, F-sharp major, when doing the theory test for my state's version of MTNA auditions (decades ago): judges would call for B, D-flat, and G-flat major. I think judges only referred to G-sharp minor, but I tended to think of it as A-flat minor. As SiFi pointed out, you tend to think in certain keys or relationships.

All of this has changed, and judges can ask for "nastier" keys now. I tend to think "natively" of scales/keys exactly in the manner Hanon presents them in Book 2.


WhoDwaldi
Howard (by Kawai) 5' 10"

Moderated by  Brendan, Kreisler 

Link Copied to Clipboard
What's Hot!!
News from the Piano World
Where Did The Buttons Go?!
----------------------
Our April 2020 Newsletter Available Online Now...
The Piano World During the Pandemic!
----------------------
Posting Pictures on the Forums
-------------------
Forums RULES & HELP
-------------------
ADVERTISE on Piano World
(ad)
Best of Piano Buyer
 Best of Piano Buyer
(ad)
Faust Harrison Pianos
Faust Harrison 100+ Steinway pianos
Download Sheet Music
Virtual Sheet Music - Classical Sheet Music Downloads
New Topics - Multiple Forums
Etude played by computer
by GHN - 08/05/20 01:54 AM
Questions on selling my Baldwin L 6'3" Grand Piano
by ivorytux - 08/04/20 11:18 PM
1980s Baldwin Factory Question
by bensbaldwin - 08/04/20 10:21 PM
Alwin Bar
by Frankni - 08/04/20 10:20 PM
Final decision: Kawai CA78 vs CA58
by shaolin95 - 08/04/20 09:44 PM
Forum Statistics
Forums41
Topics200,721
Posts2,988,287
Members98,024
Most Online15,252
Mar 21st, 2010
Please Support Our Advertisers


Faust Harrison 100+ Steinways

Dampp Chaser Piano Life Saver

 Best of Piano Buyer

PianoTeq Bechstein
Visit our online store for gifts for music lovers

Virtual Sheet Music - Classical Sheet Music Downloads



 
Help keep the forums up and running with a donation, any amount is appreciated!
Or by becoming a Subscribing member! Thank-you.
Donate   Subscribe
 
Our Piano Related Classified Ads
| Dealers | Tuners | Lessons | Movers | Restorations | Pianos For Sale | Sell Your Piano |

Advertise on Piano World
| Subscribe | Piano World | PianoSupplies.com | Advertise on Piano World |
| |Contact | Privacy | Legal | About Us | Site Map | Free Newsletter |


copyright 1997 - 2020 Piano World ® all rights reserved
No part of this site may be reproduced without prior written permission
Powered by UBB.threads™ PHP Forum Software 7.7.4