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Thread: Key signature in several instruments

  1. #1
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    Key signature in several instruments

    Hello my friends

    Is it usual to have different key signatures for different instruments?
    Does it follows any rule?

    Thank you

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    Hello my friends

    Is it usual to have different key signatures for different instruments?
    Does it follows any rule?

    Thank you
    Short answer: no. Unless you're Stravinsky, working in polytonality...
    Normally any one piece of music is in one key at any one moment. Same key sig for every instrument.

    The one case where you would use different key sigs for different instruments is if you are writing for horns.
    Eg, if you have a tenor sax player, and you want him to play a C, you have to write a D on his music. And you have to add 2 sharps (or remove 2 flats) from your key sig for his part.
    IOW, if your tune is in the key of G major, his part has to be written in A major. He plays what he calls A major, but it comes out as what we call G major.

    If this is making your head explode, you have three options: (a) don't write for horn players; or (b) write their parts in concert (same key as everything else), and get a copyist (who knows about transposition) to write their parts for them; (c) give the horn players concert parts and get them to transpose themselves (they will hate you for this, and regard you as an ignorant moron - or as they might put it "typical guitar player"... ).
    Option (b) is how arrangers used to work in the old days (before computer software). Now, computer notation programs will automatically tranpose a concert part to any horn key with a few key clicks.
    In fact, if you are writing MIDI music, to be played by a computer or sequencer (not real horn players, who needs em...), you don't need to worry. Write everything in the same key sig, and just choose horn sounds for whatever part you want.
    Last edited by JonR; 01-26-2011 at 12:21 PM.

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    I was thinking that, since, for example, the melody should follow the scale of the "main" instrument, whichever it is, the same key is applied. I guess this is the same as your answer.

    About the horns....well, I think I have an idea about what you said, altought I can't explain it by words yet. But, for now, let's skip the horns.

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    I was thinking that, since, for example, the melody should follow the scale of the "main" instrument, whichever it is, the same key is applied. I guess this is the same as your answer.D
    I think so. Every instrument (and/or voice) uses the same scale, that's basically it.

    You may be limited by range, that's all. (Eg, don't write notes too low for bass, or too high for singers, etc...) This kind of thing can affect your choice of key, but it doesn't need to be decided to begin with. (Unless you know, eg, you are writing for a singer who has a limited range.)

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