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Conversation between Alex and Stephen (prev top next)

2007feb07

#2, use of accidentals in notation

Alex,

Accidentals are a nearly useless historical irrelevancy in the context of non-tonal music.  No argument there.  But accidentals are meaningful in tonal music.  Or, at least, they are related to something that is structurally important, tonality.  It's as much a mistake to say that accidentals are useless in tonal music as to say that they are useful in 12-tone music.  A chromatic pitch space is a simple solution, but an incomplete one.  If somebody's playing in C major and then suddenly there's a G-sharp, you know, aurally, that it's "not in the set."  What is the visual metaphor/equivalent/counterpart to that?  What's the visual m/e/c for the set of pitches that you've recently been hearing?  Our visual memory is not such that vertical position is adequate; even if we could remember seven out of twelve positions (which is at the limit, Miller 1956), there's the problem of octave equivalence; there's no way to remember positions in multiple octaves.  To express pitch relations visually, we will need, in the long run, a better solution.

S.

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