In your February 2017 issue Matt Chambers asks, apropos the Mixolydian mode in A, which has (b7th), F# and C# but G natural “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the key signature of D Major, as A Mixolydian is the fifth scale degree of D Major?” Jason Sidwell replies, “…Guitar Techniques… decided to universally conform to traditional music conventions (founded in classical music) in that all key signatures would be Major or (Natural) Minor keys.”
Whereas that decision adopted by Guitar Techniques is a perfectly reasonable strategy and entirely defensible, it is by no means universal in classical music. At least two pieces in my current repertoire use key signatures that reflect the modal nature of the music.
A ‘classical’ (Spanish Nationalist School) piece in my repertoire is Madroños by Frederico Moreno Torroba. This has a tonal centre that is clearly E. The key signature having no sharps or flats is of C Major. This indicates to me that I should expect Phrygian (flamenco like) sounds. Of course, things are rarely quite that simple. Madroños can be thought of as in the Phrygian Dominant mode (fifth mode of, in this case, A Harmonic Minor, and even more flamenco) given that it opens and closes with an E Major chord. This might suggest a key signature of G#, but that would be too easily confused with F# and is best avoided, as with tunes using the Harmonic Minor. Madroños, in fact, shifts through a variety of keys and modes, thus making lots of accidentals necessary. Flamenco often does likewise.
I have also learned an arrangement of The Blarney Pilgrim by Clive Carroll. Its tonal centre is D (transposed by capo) but although it uses F#, all the Cs are natural. Clive uses the G Major key signature of a single sharp, F#. This indicates that we can expect to hear Mixolydian sounds. Duck Baker in his arrangement does the same.
Two caveats: Blues is often a delicious mix of Major, Mixolydian, Minor and Pentatonic sounds. It is arguably best to use the magazine’s convention with Blues, accidentals indicating ‘blue notes’ to the ear. Secondly, it is best to stick to the regular 15 key signatures, one natural and seven each of sharp and flat, building forwards or backwards around the cycle of 5ths. As previously mentioned, a key signature of a random sharp (eg G#) or flat could be confusing.
To conclude, although there is nothing wrong with GT’s policy on this issue, it is not a universally adopted convention in music. So, if Mr Chambers prefers to use key signatures that reflect the modality of a piece, he is in good company. Brian Arthur, Northumberland Good point, Brian. Music, while being a very precise art on the one hand, can be multiplicitous and confusing on the other. After years of refining how GT does things, we have arrived at a set of standards that seem to work well across all the various styles we cover – as you point out, from blues to classical. One size won’t always fit perfectly 100% of the time, but in a single publication it’s necessary (and probably best) to come up with a stance on all these potentially conflicting issues and stick to it. We realise that certain scenarios might be well served by other approaches, but overall (and notwithstanding the vagaries of music), we are happy with things the way they are. We would, of course, never dictate how others do things, and understand that we are likely to encounter different approaches here and there.
Depuytren’s, where fingers can contract into a claw - it’s not good for guitarists!
Jason Sidwell: GT’s music editor and a fine guitarist in a host of styles