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Behind the Notation: Musical Spelling for Composers


How is YOUR musical spelling? Composer and Lucy Moses School faculty member Robinson McClellan and student Zahra Partovi wrestled with a topic that has perplexed musicians for centuries in a recent article on

"Have you ever wondered: 'should this note really be a C-sharp, or would it look better as a D-flat? What’s the difference, anyway, and who’s responsible for the fact that the same pitch has two — or more — names? Can I speak to a manager about getting this mess fixed?'

"If that’s you, then you have grappled with the delightful world of Musical Spelling: which note name to use where and how, and when and whether to apply a sharp, flat, or natural — or not to. Don’t worry, this is not music theory class, and there are no prerequisites. If you don’t know the terminology, just listen to the examples carefully and you’ll understand the important things: good musical spelling A) looks simple on the page and B) reflects how a note sounds within its harmonic and melodic context. That said, musical intervals will come up a lot in this article, so if you want a quick primer or need to refresh your memory, there are good free resources here and here."

Read the whole article.