Can someone please clarify the following.

The C# major scale is:

C#
D#
F
F#
G#
A#
C
C#

Given you start at the root, then whole step, whole step, half step, whole, whole, whole and finally half step.

However I've seen it written as follows:

C#
D#
E#
F#
G#
A#
B#
C#

In the above the E#and B# are confusing me. Why are they there as I thought notes progressed:

A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
....

What have I missed?

I
The way you have it written isn't technically wrong since E#/F and B#/C are enharmonically equivalent (that is E# and F are the same pitch, as are B# and C) but the convention when writing the notes of a scale is that you use each of the 8 letters either one or zero times. Obviously that doesn't apply if you're using scales with more than 8 notes but that's way out of the scope of this thread and also if we're talking about things like the number of sharps or flats in a key they basically don't exist.

This enharmonic thing also applies to other notes: A# and Bb are the same note, C# and Db and so on.

Realistically you need to keep learning more theory to understand this; I don't really get this kind of real nuts and bolts thing but I don't have the time to learn it any more. I think what you need to look in to, in order to get this, is stuff like the circle of fifths (deals with key signatures) and real diatonic theory: a scale is more than just a collection of notes and just saying it contains ABCDEFG or whatever is missing the point quite a lot.
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I believe this come from the standard notation. As mentioned before, you use all the letters either once or not at all, because if you had a scale with C and C# in it, you will need to constantly either sharpen the C whenever you need to play C# or flatten the C# whenever you need to play C and something like a trill between those two notes would be a huge PITA to write down (because every single note would need to have separate marker) and it would be very confusing to read.

However, if you just say you have C# and B# instead, you will just prefix that both C and B are sharp.

Also because of this, if you have a scale with 7 tones (or 8 if you count the octave as well), you might encounter even things like double sharps/flats, e.g. E##, instead of F#, or Dbb instead of C. This is pretty rare though and doesn't occur in diatonic scales.
They are called enharmonic notes. Aurally the same tone but each has a different musical fuction.

The different uses has to tie in with key signatures on staffed music for example. For your first example how would I know to play the F as a natural F or F# without the need for additional accidentals?

When writing out a scale you use one letter (A-G) per scale degree and apply the correct accidental to it. A scale in theory should use either sharps or flats not both and natural notes. The second way the scale is wrote out is the correct way to write it due to the above mentioned "rules".

For example writing out a scale (A major) like this - A-B-Db-D-E-Gb-G#-A. Its funky to look at and not as easy to read through verses A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A. Tonally they are the same but the for the sake of ease and function they are different. Same kinda deal as English words spelled different but pronuced the same I.E. plane/plain.

Do some reading up on enharmonic notes and you will understand why its like that. Its more for the musician playing it than the actual tonal differences between C/B#.

I'm sure others can explain it better though.
The way I think of enharmonic notes can be summed up with this sentence:

"Come hear so I can here you."

If you were to hear somebody say this sentence, aurally it would sound correct and you would understand what the person was trying to get across. Reading it however makes no sense. Enharmonic notes are kind of the same way. Aurally, there is no difference in pitch between B# and C or E# and F, but using the correct spelling of a chord, scale, or whatever needs to be set in place for the music to make sense when read to make things easier on the performer.

Major and minor scales are representations of every diatonic note within a given key and every letter name needs to be represented. If this confuses you, wait until you get into the uses of double sharps and double flats.
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr
The way you have it written isn't technically wrong

Other way around - this is technically completely wrong. Practically, it doesn't matter that much. In strict contexts the only reason it'd be acceptable to use an enharmonic tone would be to avoid something absurdly difficult for a performer to read, and I had a jazz teacher who said it was fine to notate a º7 as a major 6th instead of bb7 (in his class, at least).

What's more important is that the poster here understands why E# and B# are completely appropriate notes, and knows when to use them. It gets confusing in a hurry when someone tries to tell you chords but doesn't know how to name them consistently - "Ok, go from C# to Ab, then F# to Db"
Last edited by cdgraves at Jan 27, 2014,
Thanks for clarification.

All sorted now!
Quote by cdgraves
Other way around - this is technically completely wrong.

Haha, true, bit of dodgy phrasing on my part I guess; it's technically right in that the pitches you would play are the right ones, it's technically wrong according to the strict technicalities of music theory.
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