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cautionary accidentals

There are several approaches to cautionary accidentals. The one with which you feel most comfortable will depend on many factors including your personality, the type of music involved, the way in which your favorite composers use them and common practice in your culture. In any event, it is important to be aware of this issue so that they are used consistently throughout your score. A word in the prelims about how you have used them could also help avoid reading errors.

1.
an accidental remains valid for the entire measure in that octave

This, the traditional, system is largely favored in the US. For tonal or very straight-forward music it is probably most appropriate.

music example : accidentals

In the previous example the Cs in beats 2 and 3 of the first measure are still sharp and the E in beat 4 of the second measure is still flat. Cautionary sharps and flats are not required.

suggested use of cautionary naturals
— when a note is repeated in another octave within the measure or shortly thereafter
— when a note appears in the same octave in the following measure

2.
sharps and flats are valid only for the note they precede;
notes without an accidental are assumed to be natural

This approach—widely used in Europe—requires that cautionary sharps and flats be systematically placed before each altered note.

music example: accidentals

There are three common variations, as follows:

__a
cautionary sharps and flats are omitted before immediately-repeated notes within the measure provided they are not separated by rests

music example: accidentals

music example: accidentals

Some composers extend this reasoning to include repeated figures:

music example: accidentals

required use of cautionary naturals
— cancellation of a sharp or flat within the measure

suggested use of cautionary naturals
when a note is repeated in another octave within the measure or shortly thereafter
— when a note appears in the same octave in the following measure

__b
cautionary sharps and flats are omitted before immediately-repeated notes within the measure even if they are separated by rests

music example: accidentals

Here again, some composers extend this reasoning to include repeated figures

music example: accidentals

required use of cautionary naturals
— cancellation of a sharp or flat within the measure

suggested use of cautionary naturals
when a note is repeated in another octave within the measure or shortly thereafter
— when a note appears in the same octave in the following measure

__c
sharps and flats remain valid for a rhythmic unit (such as a beat, or group of beamed notes)

This system allows for stream-lined notation of figures and chords and is practically risk-free in terms of reading errors. It can, however, be time-consuming to implement.

music example: accidentals

required use of cautionary naturals
— cancellation of a sharp or flat within the measure

suggested use of cautionary naturals
— when a note is repeated in another octave within the measure or shortly thereafter
— when a note appears in the same octave in the following measure

3.
an accidental placed before each and every note

Although not widely used anymore, an entire generation of 20th century French composers including Claude Ballif, Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen favored this system.

music example: accidentals

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