Author Topic: Courtesy accidentals ... again  (Read 123 times)

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Patrick O'Keefe

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Courtesy accidentals ... again
« on: June 05, 2017, 02:25:42 PM »
I know this general topic has been addressed in the past, but I'm addressing it again.  Is there any "best practices" approach to handling courtesy accidentals (in a score with key signatures)?

I've found that individual performers have their own in individual preferences.  One pianist I talked with insisted there be courtesy accidentals to undo a previous accidental in the current or previous measure in either hand, in any octave.  Another pianist thought almost all courtesy accidentals were an insult to the performer's intelligence, and if one was really needed it had to be in parentheses so not to imply there was a key change that the performer had missed.  And a clarinetist I recently spoke with thought all accidentals in parentheses were an anathema.  (I don't know if he meant there should be no courtesy accidentals or that no courtesy accidentals should have parentheses.)

Now, individual scores can be produced to match those individual preferences in solo works, but what about for larger ensembles or works to be published rather than just handed to a performer?  Is there a general rule? 

Michel.R.E

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2017, 06:53:33 PM »
courtesy accidentals should not be in parentheses. it's a way of writing that is no longer used.

I think the use of courtesy accidentals depends a lot on the music.
My music is (despite it sounding very straightforward and triadic) quite chromatic. So I tend to use courtesy accidentals relatively frequently.

Any musician who tells you he doesn't need the accidentals and that it's an insult to his intelligence, is probably not all that intelligent to start with. They're there for a reason.

however, I won't use a courtesy accidental if the chromatic shift is over a longer period than one measure. With the exception of a motif that repeats, but with a modified note. (for example, a recurring motif might be in a major mode most of the time, but suddenly appear in minor... use a courtesy there to reinforce that it is not a typo).

I like courtesy accidentals in my piano parts when the notes are octaves apart. If they aren't there, I will add them in by hand when I'm performing.

While there has always been the "rule" that an accidental only affects the same-octave note, I find that if you simply assume that the same pitch in a different octave is no longer altered you will run into more trouble than it's worth. Prepare your score and parts in such a manner as to cause the least amount of confusion and avoid any musicians wasting precious rehearsal time on "is this note flat? is this note sharp?"

I make liberal use of courtesy accidentals. I see no reason to avoid them.
The only thing I avoid is parentheses, mostly because they add clutter to a score, and affect spacing. they also simply don't add any real extra information to the score.
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Ron

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2017, 07:18:47 PM »
My attitude towards parentheses is this: if there is an accidental before a note it's because the composer wanted it for that note, regardless of what went before. The parentheses add nothing to that straight-forward meaning except useless clutter. :)
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2017, 09:48:46 PM »
Thank you Michel and Ron.

I guess I'm afraid of provoking the reaction, "Why do I need this accidental?  What did I miss?" if I don't put the courtesy accidental in parentheses.  If I read you correctly, I should not worry about that.  If there is any danger of the performer playing the wrong note, the note should have the accidental ... even if redundant according to the "rules".
« Last Edit: June 06, 2017, 09:09:12 PM by Patrick O'Keefe »

Ron

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2017, 04:15:19 AM »
If there is any danger of the performer playing the wrong note, the note should have the accidental ... even if redundant according to the "rules".

That's what I do, but then I have always had trouble following rules. :)
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tbmartin

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2017, 05:23:42 AM »
... "Why do I need this accidental?  What did I miss?" if I don't put the courtesy accidental in parentheses.  ...

I am very much in Patrick's camp. To me, a cautionary accidental means something quite different from a "regular" accidental, and the difference should be communicated. The actual pitch to be played is identical, of course, but the mindset is very different:

A "regular" accidental on an E means "This E is to be played flatted, which is an exception to the key signature."
A courtesy accidental on an E means "This E is to be played flatted, just like always, but I'm reminding you because it was E-natural just a second ago."

When encountering a courtesy Eb without a parenthesis, I have misplayed the next E as a natural because I'm thinking "But you just told me that Eb was the exception!"  When I get a piece that does not put the courtesy accidentals in parentheses, I add them in myself. EVERY STINKING TIME. Throughout the WHOLE piece. Needless to say, I always put mine in parentheses. (Please! Don't hold back! Tell us how you REALLY feel!  ;))

One exception: We recently played a piece with no key signature, and I found my mindset to be different: Once I got my head into "no-key-signature-mode," the absence of the parentheses didn't bother me. However, it took several weeks of rehearsal for me to reach that mindset for that piece.

As for how much distance needs to pass: I typically use a courtesy only in the next bar after the accidental. If a full measure has passed, I usually won't put one.
« Last Edit: June 06, 2017, 07:30:26 AM by tbmartin »
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gogreen

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2017, 05:49:31 AM »
My music has many courtesy accidentals because I write mainly for students at various levels of proficiency. Generally, if a measure has a flat, sharp or natural note that is changed from the previous measure, it gets a courtesy accidental. That is, say I'm in Eb major. A note has an A natural, and the next measure it's back to Ab. That Ab gets a courtesy accidental. I'd use this rule for any music--Grade 1 to professional. Most skilled players wouldn't need a courtesy accidental, but they may think it odd if it's missing.
« Last Edit: June 06, 2017, 05:51:03 AM by gogreen »

Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2017, 09:18:42 AM »
Ah.  It's all clear now.  I should include courtesy accidentals liberally, and the should never include parentheses except, well, usually.   :)

A solution to my dilemma, of course, would be to drop both key signatures and parentheses.  But much of my music is modal and often fits well within a key signature ... for at least a few measures. 

This was helpful even if it hasn't been conclusive.  Thank you, all.

RJB54

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Re: Courtesy accidentals ... again
« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2017, 12:02:03 PM »
First, one should keep in mind that a lot of the rules regarding accidentals came about for the convenience of music copyists/publishers from back in the day when this was all done manually and it was desirable to minimize the copyist's work.

For myself, since I never use key signatures and my basic material is comprised of non-diatonic pitch collections, I always use accidentals on all affected pitches (regardless of octave) and I also tend to put natural accidentals on pitches which had a flat or sharp in the prior measure to emphasize that the pitch is now natural since my music is so chromatic.