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Thread: What's the Difference Between a Scale and a Key Signature?

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    Default What's the Difference Between a Scale and a Key Signature?

    What's the Difference Between a Scale and a Key Signature? Also, what are the 'similarities' and connections between the two things? Watch out, this is a trick question.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    I guess this thread is similar to Difference between scale an key?, except that the key signature is an easier way to notate stuff. Say, if you're writing a piece in the key of E major, you don't want to write # to every notes F, C, G, D. So you write the key signature of E major initially to indicate that all notes F, C, G, D following it are sharped by default. A composer can change the key signature as often as his music requires, but he wouldn't want to change it every time he has to use an accidental for a bar. He would want to use it just so it enhances readability.
    It's much like whenever we see a post with the signature "millionrainbows" (the key information), we know in advance that all the utterances in it will defy all conventional logic and mess with our heads. —like seeing a key signature with a million accidentals in a rainbow-shaped staff.
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Apr-03-2020 at 04:31.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    It's much like whenever we see a post with the signature "millionrainbows" (the key information), we know in advance that all the utterances in it will defy all conventional logic and mess with our heads. —like seeing a key signature with a million accidentals in a rainbow-shaped staff.
    Thank you...I think. Then again...

    So what does a scale do? What does a key signature do? Aren't they both basically the same thing? If not, what are the differences?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-03-2020 at 16:16.

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    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    I think we're all sick of your trick questions, because as hammeredklavier points out you constantly defy conventional logic.

    A key signature is a symbol on a piece of paper or computer screen. Nothing more.

    A scale is an arbitrary collection of pitches. Nothing more.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    A key signature is the thing that tells you what accidentals to play. A scale is a collection of pitches in stepwise order.

    In common practice music the key signature usually tells you that the piece is going to be based on one of two scales, either the major or minor scale corresponding to that key signature.

    Nothing mysterious here, and really no possibility of making a trick question out of it unless you don't understand it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kopachris View Post
    I think we're all sick of your trick questions, because as hammeredklavier points out you constantly defy conventional logic.

    A key signature is a symbol on a piece of paper or computer screen. Nothing more.

    A scale is an arbitrary collection of pitches. Nothing more.
    It sounds like you don't want to engage. That's why your "answers" are so unsatisfying and unimaginative.

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    Quote Originally Posted by isorhythm View Post
    A key signature is the thing that tells you what accidentals to play. A scale is a collection of pitches in stepwise order.

    In common practice music the key signature usually tells you that the piece is going to be based on one of two scales, either the major or minor scale corresponding to that key signature.

    Nothing mysterious here, and really no possibility of making a trick question out of it unless you don't understand it.
    "Nothing mysterious" or "tricky," but this sort of "trick" query is designed to help us uncover hidden principles which underly the obvious; i.e., to make us think about "simple" obvious things in a new way. Not, as Kopachris implied, to "jack" with people.

    isorhythm is zero-ing in on an interesting area. A key signature is an indicator which tells us which notes are flatted or sharped. In the CP major/minor system, the key signature for G major is also the key signature for E minor.
    What does this tell us about the difference between a key signature and a scale?

    Consider "no key signature at all" as in C Major. What does this tell us about the scale notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B? Since a scale's note-order really has no significance (other than the first note being an indicator of the tonic), what does this tell us about those notes of the scale, individually?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-03-2020 at 17:48.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    OK, I'll try this again.

    A key signature is literally just the collection of accidentals you see at the beginning of a section of written music. It is a notational convention.

    Common practice music overwhelmingly uses two modes, major and minor. That means that in common practice music a given key signature tells you that a piece is in either the major or minor key corresponding to that key signature.

    There are of course other diatonic scales. The key signature for G major and E minor is also the key signature for A Dorian, B Phrygian, C Lydian, and D Mixolydian, but common practice music is usually not written in these modes. (If you really want to nitpick you might note that in the early Baroque composers sometimes used a "Dorian" key signature for minor key pieces, but don't let that confuse you - they are still minor.)

    You can also write whatever key signature you want, corresponding to no diatonic scale, and composers beginning in the 20th century have certainly experimented with that.
    Last edited by isorhythm; Apr-03-2020 at 19:42.

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    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Consider "no key signature at all" as in C Major. What does this tell us about the scale notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B? Since a scale's note-order really has no significance (other than the first note being an indicator of the tonic), what does this tell us about those notes of the scale, individually?
    Why don't you just tell us instead of asking rhetorical questions?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by isorhythm View Post
    A key signature is literally just the collection of accidentals you see at the beginning of a section of written music. It is a notational convention.
    Indeed. It doesn't even necessitate that the music that follows it has to be in the key it seems to indicate, or use any particular scale.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kopachris View Post
    I think we're all sick of your trick questions, because as hammeredklavier points out you constantly defy conventional logic.
    A key signature is a symbol on a piece of paper or computer screen. Nothing more.
    A scale is an arbitrary collection of pitches. Nothing more.
    I agree with everything you've said except I'm not exactly sick of millionrainbows' trick questions, or the way he arouses various reactions from other people here. I think the way he thinks of music is just so radical and revolutionary, it makes us question the very fundamentals of its existence. And I think he's also a pro, just in a different way, as a sort of an entertainer concept. O what boring place this forum would have been without his presence.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Consider "no key signature at all" as in C Major. What does this tell us about the scale notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B? Since a scale's note-order really has no significance (other than the first note being an indicator of the tonic), what does this tell us about those notes of the scale, individually?
    What do you mean, MR. MR? C Major doesn't have a key signature? Would it be more conventionally appropriate to say "C major/A minor do have a key signature, it's just that it's a key signature without any accidentals"? Are you saying "Beethoven starts the Credo of his mass Op.86 in C without a key signature, but inserts in one in the middle of the movement, and then removes it towards the end of the movement"?
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Apr-03-2020 at 20:33.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Indeed. It doesn't even necessitate that the music that follows it has to be in the key it seems to indicate, or use any particular scale.
    True, and Woodduck has even stated more succinctly what I am getting at, in a past thread. I agree, a key signature is simply an indicator of which notes are sharp or flat, but it would be misleading to say they have "absolutely no connection to scales whatsoever."

    So, since key signatures do not indicate a key area, or a particular scale, then going by the thread title, it must follow that scales do this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    I agree with everything you've said except I'm not exactly sick of millionrainbows' trick questions, or the way he arouses various reactions from other people here. I think the way he thinks of music is just so radical and revolutionary, it makes us question the very fundamentals of its existence. And I think he's also a pro, just in a different way, as a sort of an entertainer concept. O what boring place this forum would have been without his presence.
    I think of Woodduck in the same way, although I feel he is somewhat...oh, never mind.


    What do you mean, MR. MR? C Major doesn't have a key signature? Would it be more conventionally appropriate to say "C major/A minor do have a key signature, it's just that it's a key signature without any accidentals"? Are you saying "Beethoven starts the Credo of his mass Op.86 in C without a key signature, but inserts in one in the middle of the movement, and then removes it towards the end of the movement"?
    The collection of white notes on the piano notes has no key signature because it's all "white notes;" nothing is sharped or flatted. So the key signature by itself indicates this; that all the notes are white notes.

    But it doesn't indicate what the starting note is. What does the starting note in a scale do, that a key signature ostensibly can't do?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-03-2020 at 21:55.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    But it doesn't indicate what the starting note is. What does the starting note in a scale do, that a key signature ostensibly can't do?
    What do you mean, what does it "do"? It starts the scale.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by isorhythm View Post
    What do you mean, what does it "do"? It starts the scale.
    In normal scales it establishes a tonal center (the "chromatic scale" isn't a normal scale).

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