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Missing key signature from Star Wars scores

Discussion in 'Notation' started by Eric Nething, Nov 20, 2022.

  1. It appears that the Hal Leonard scores for Star Wars are missing the key signature. The Indiana Jones Raider's March theme has the key signature. I looked online to find if this was a mistake, and only found answers like the following (from the Steinberg message board):

    I just checked all of the scores on my shelf, most of which are facsimiles from original printings over 100 years ago, and all of them use key signatures, including Bach, Wagner, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Handel, Holst, Stravinsky, and Chopin, to name a few. Most of these scores even have the key signature in the name of the song itself!

    Omitting the key signature from a score is like publishing a book without chapters or page numbers. Apart from the self-important explanation of people whose egos are large enough to fill a swimming pool, why would the key signature ever be excluded from a score, unless it is by accident, or for 12-tone noise?
  2. One thing that I've heard (and I'm not sure how true this is because I don't work in the film music business) is that for film scores in particular the key signatures are left out since the musicians don't have a lot of time to go over the sheet music to practice. The idea would be that instead of trying to keep up with the key signatures changing they would just mark the notes sharp or flat to try and make sure everyone is on the same page and don't miss the fact that the key signature changed.

    For a concert score like Bach, Wagner, Mozart however, they would probably have a lot more rehersal session and be able to take the scores home with them to practice etc so they have more time to familiarize themselves with the piece and know where the changes are.

    Again, not sure how true this is, but I think it makes sense. I'd imagine most of the time when they are recording film scores, the players are seeing the music for the very first time when they are at the recording studio and since they have a limited amount of time it would be a bit annoying if someone missed the fact there was a key change at some point and plays the wrong notes so I guess excluding them and using sharps or flats the whole way kind of makes sense.

    So far, every film score I've looked at doesn't have a key signature with the exception of Hal Leonards stuff or any other publisher that's designed for the film score to be played in a concert where there will be rehersals. Even the handwritten scores by John Williams that I have seen don't have the key signature included.
    Ivan Milinkovic likes this.
  3. I've heard the same as Duncan, Hollywood orchestras want to just read the notes and not hold a key signature in their head. Lots of scores don't stay in a single key throughout and it's easier/faster to read the exact note you're playing than having to nudge up/down a semi-tone for the key signature.
    Ivan Milinkovic likes this.
  4. I had not considered the bean counter explanation. It is not at all a reasonable explanation, but considering it is Hollywood, every aspect of the process is a commodity and every cost is to be reduced in order to maximize investor profits and to release the propaganda without delay. The musician (like almost everyone else in that industry) is merely a prostitute whose body is rented for a nominal fee. He is not required to think, nor is he allowed to think, but must only obey. This lends a new perspective to Mike's comments that all of his musician friends in that industry are miserable. If I consider the possibility that the musicians prefer to avoid thinking... well, that's a new level of despair.

    That took a dark turn, so I'll finish on a positive note. Thanks for the helpful responses. It's nice to see more activity on this forum.
    David Healey likes this.
  5. If I may add something as a non-pro: read some book on harmony, and, if I remember correctly, when it got to contemporary harmony (20th century) a lot of the score examples did not have key signatures. My understanding is there's way more chromaticism and dissonance and adding a key signature would just be an additional cognitive load. So, as others have already pointed out, it's simpler to just not have it.

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