Accidental Signs

Clairnote has its own accidental signs that indicate:

  • That a note is an accidental (i.e. not in the current key).
  • The note’s name, whether it is a sharp, flat, natural, double sharp, double flat, etc.

Clairnote’s accidental signs do not indicate that the following note should be played higher or lower like traditional accidental signs do. They clarify the names of accidental notes but do not affect their pitch. A musician can simply ignore the accidental signs and still play the correct notes.[1]

In other words, while conventional accidental signs convey essential instructions (“sharpen/flatten the following note”), Clairnote’s accidental signs convey supplementary information (effectively, “the following note has (already) been sharpened/flattened”). Here is an illustration of accidental signs in both systems:

Accidentals in Clairnote music notation

Since Clairnote’s alternative accidental signs carry a different meaning than traditional sharp and flat signs, new symbols are used — simple “matchstick-style” symbols pointing up for sharp or down for flat. These symbols are more visually subtle and take up less horizontal space than traditional accidental symbols.

Enharmonic accidentals in Clairnote music notation

Above is an illustration of two pairs of enharmonically equivalent notes — notes like the black keys on a piano that have different names but have the same pitch (in 12-tone equal temperament[1]). In Clairnote it is much clearer that they have the same pitch. The alternative accidental signs simply indicate their different names and do not affect their pitch. (Differentiating between enharmonic equivalents using Clairnote’s accidental signs and Key Signatures makes it possible to use the standard Names of Notes and Intervals.[2])

Clairnote’s accidental signs remain in effect until the end of the measure in which they appear, just like traditional accidental signs. Fewer accidental signs are needed than in traditional notation because there are twelve staff positions per octave instead of seven. Accidental signs that cancel a previous accidental sign in the same measure would be very rare. The following measure containing the notes G, G-sharp, and A illustrates this point.

Melody showing fewer accidental signs in Clairnote

Here is another illustration showing alternating E-minor and E-major chords (triads in second inversion). Notice how Clairnote uses less horizontal space because it requires fewer accidental signs.

Chords showing fewer accidental signs in Clairnote

As in traditional notation, natural signs can be used to indicate natural notes that are outside of the current key. For example, a B natural note in the key of B flat.[3] Double sharps and double flats are indicated by simply doubling the alternative sharp and flat symbols:

Double sharps and double flats in Clairnote music notation

To give a better sense of accidentals appearing in actual music, here is an illustration of an ascending chromatic scale:

Ascending chromatic scale in Clairnote with accidentals

And here is an illustration of a descending chromatic scale. All of these illustrations were created using LilyPond.

Descending chromatic scale in Clairnote with accidentals

Next: Names of Notes and Intervals

  1. This assumes the standard tuning system of 12-tone equal temperament. Of course, in other tuning systems the pitch of “enharmonically equivalent” notes may differ slightly. In that case Clairnote’s accidental signs and key signatures indicate these subtle shifts in pitch/intonation, as well as the different names of the notes. See the Enharmonic Equivalents tutorial on the Music Notation Project’s site. Return
  2. Even if someone has no use for enharmonic equivalents and uses an alternative note naming system that does not differentiate between them, Clairnote’s accidental signs are still useful since they indicate which notes are outside of the current key. This reassures musicians that they are playing the correct note, even if it may sound out of place. However, musicians can always just ignore them or even omit them, for example if they are creating sheet music with LilyPond. Omitting them may be especially appropriate for use with atonal or non-diatonic music. Return
  3. A different approach would be to use the same “matchstick” accidental symbols for natural notes.  For example, indicating that a note was raised from B-flat (in the key signature) to a B-natural (as an accidental outside the key) by using an upwards-pointing matchstick accidental sign rather than a traditional natural sign.  This would more directly indicate that such accidental notes have been lowered or raised.  However, it makes it harder to determine the names of accidental notes since there would no longer be a one-to-one correspondence between the name of a note and its accidental sign.  For this reason Clairnote uses traditional natural signs for natural notes. That means the note’s name (sharp, flat, natural) is always directly indicated by the accidental sign (sharp, flat, natural). Return