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Enharmonic Keys and Scales

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Keys and scales can also be enharmonic. Major keys, for example, always follow the same pattern of half steps and whole steps. (See Major Keys and Scales. Minor keys also all follow the same pattern, different from the major scale pattern; see Music in a Minor Key.) So whether you start a major scale on an E flat, or start it on a D sharp, you will be following the same pattern, playing the same piano keys as you go up the scale. But the notes of the two scales will have different names, the scales will look very different when written, and musicians may think of them as being different. For example, most instrumentalists would find it easier to play in E flat than in D sharp. In some cases, an E flat major scale may even sound slightly different from a D sharp major scale.

Figure 1.28 The E flat major and D sharp major scales sound the same on the piano, although they look very different. If this surprises you, look again at the piano keyboard (Figure 1.28) and find the notes that you would play for each scale.

Since the scales are the same, D sharp major and E flat major are also enharmonic keys. Again, their key signatures will look very different, but music in D sharp will not be any higher or lower than music in E flat.

Figure 1.29 Enharmonic Keys
The key signatures for E flat and D sharp look very different, but would sound the same on a keyboard. 

Exercise 1.7:

Give an enharmonic name and key signature for the keys given in the following figure. (If you are not well-versed in key signatures yet, pick the easiest enharmonic spelling for the key name, and the easiest enharmonic spelling for every note in the key signature. Writing out the scales may help, too.)

Figure 1.30 B major and B flat minor