wchymeus wrote:Understood the logic, but is it really common to use a flat sign to get a natural note? like bF#=F is really weird thinking.
What's the motivation to compare to the relative major this way? ....
I, too, resist this this usage. It can be useful as a mental tool to think this way, I suppose- as "Jack Dawkins" says in his post above, it is simply a comparison to what position those scale degrees would be in, in the parallel
(NOT the "relative") major scale. But as such, it is only
a mental "tool" to think this way, and it needs to be understood that it is a tool with limited application that leads to a lot of confusion when misused. Saliently, it does not
mean that some action has been performed upon those notes to put them in their minor scale position. The minor scale simply is what it is; the "flat" observation is a comparison only, and, it is a comparison to a model that has been adopted arbitrarily
because, also as Jack points out, it is familiar.
The confusion arises from the use of the chromaticism (i.e., the flat) simultaneously in two different senses, one suggesting that something has been done, the other reflecting an absolute state. You've already alluded to this in your query as to the rationality of the "bF#" construction, i.e., calling a note that is natural, a flat. It can get worse; consider the minor keys of G#, D# and A#. In the natural minor scale manifestation by which the key signatures are determined, and in the descending melodic minor, the seventh degrees in all of these, and the sixth degree in A# minor, are sharps. Yet the "comparative model" tool suggests that they are to be understood as flats. What are they, sharp flats, or flat sharps?
This sort of confusion-by-comparison can be a pervasive one, and I have found it hard to get students free of it when they have internalized it as an axiom. For instance, it crops up in their understanding of triads. They persist in thinking of a minor triad as one in which the third has "been lowered", or so too the fifth in a diminished triad, which affects their comprehension that these triads simply occur, without any alteration, in any diatonic system.
If a comparison has to be made, I find it much more useful, and resulting in less confusion, to describe and have students keep in mind where parallel majors and minors are the same
, instead of where they are different. This would be in the positions of the first, second, fourth, and fifth degrees of the scales. These are the Tonal degrees, and can be considered to be fixed in position most of the time. They stand there like pillars (this over-arching construction, BTW, is not merely another arbitrariness removed to a higher level, it can be justified as a cultural development in response to the actual physics of sound). There are some exceptions, for instance, usages in which the second degree appears at a half-step above the tonic, which are not so common and used in circumscribed situations, and also those in which the fourth degree is a half step below the dominant, which actually is quite frequent, but has a connotation of disrupting
the tonality. For most purposes, these four degrees can be taken as points of stability, the structural posts which are the foundation of an un
The other degrees, the third, sixth and seventh, are the Modal degrees. These are the changeable ones, they are transitional, or they are melodic inflections that have coloristic effect in the expression of the tonality. Between major and minor, each of these degrees can be in either of two positions, to serve purposes that are local to where they occur in a composition. If one understanding of a scale, then, is to serve not as a construction for linear expression but simply as a lexicon
of notes that may most freely be used in association with each other in suggestion of a tonality centered on any one note as a key tonic, then, the result, as seen in actual use in the common-practice era of music on which our theory is based, which practice includes the freedom to move back and forth between parallel major and minor, is more like a ten-note scale, or, all but a chromatic scale, but with two notes left out. This would be, the first degree, the second degree, two
alternate third degrees, the fourth and fifth degrees, and two
alternates each of the sixth and seventh degrees, before attaining to the octave. This can be conceived of as a stable set out of which are taken either the major or
the minor as required, with out one being forced into view as a deformation of the other.