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Re:Key signatures in modes other than Ionian & Aeolian

From: Flaming Hakama by Elaine
Subject: Re:Key signatures in modes other than Ionian & Aeolian
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2018 16:30:17 -0700

-------- Original message --------
From: Peter Crighton <address@hidden>
Date: 4/16/18 2:36 PM (GMT-08:00)
To: LilyPond User Mailing List <address@hidden>
Subject: Key signatures in modes other than Ionian & Aeolian

Hello all,

my question is not exclusive to LilyPond, but I hope you can enlighten me anyway.

I am transcribing a song in D Mixolydian and am wondering which key signature to notate it in – d \mixolydian (because that is the mode it is in) or d \major (because a D major chord clearly is the tonic of the song). I’d rather notate it in d \mixolydian, which seems correct to me, but might it be easier to read (especially for non-professional musicians) in d \major just with a natural sign before every c?
What is everyone doing in such a case? Any experiences which is easier to read? Also, could the style of music matter? In Early Music I’d be even more inclined to notate in d \mixolydian, but in this case it is a pop song where people might only expect to see major or minor keys.

Curious to hear what you all think.


Peter Crighton | Musician & Music Engraver based in Mainz, Germany

I'd suggest using d major.

The more classical training the musicians have, the more likely they are to look at the signature and expect it to be either Ionian or Aeolian, determine the root based on that, then determine the scale based on the root. 

Which is to say, they are not looking at the key signature for individual accidentals, but for the root and major/minor, and from there they don't look at the signature any more.

Absent the full score, it is difficult to determine a specific mode, so trying to use a key signature alone to identify a mode be difficult.  Using key signatures to indicate modes means that you expand the possible meaning of a signature from 2 to 7 possible meanings.

Since musicians are also used to hearing things in Ionian/Aeolian, to the extent that they are relying on their ears and not reading the signature closely, they may expect the natural 7 and play a C# anyway.  Putting it in a major signature will ensure that these "unusual" notes have a natural sign in front of the seventh degree, and reduce these kind of "listening" mistakes.

I think what others have suggested, which is using the actual signature, but write the name of the mode above it, could be a good compromise, if using the "wrong" key signature seems unappetizing.


David Elaine Alt
415 . 341 .4954                                           "Confusion is highly underrated"
skype: flaming_hakama
Producer ~ Composer ~ Instrumentalist


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