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Playing with Harps/Horns

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bluesbass99, Apr 13, 2009.


  1. bluesbass99

    bluesbass99

    Jun 14, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    I know this is a fairly basic question, but can someone explain to me why the harps/horns play in a different key than that of the band? I understand their key is 4 semi-tones higher (e.g., if I am playing in the key of A, they will play in D). Does that really mean when I strike the root note of A, they would be playing a note of D? Thanks.
     
  2. I'm interested in this as well. Subscribed.
     
  3. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    It depends. Some horns are called transposing instruments- goes back to before there were valves, etc. Anyway, a Bb instrument plays what they call C to get a concert Bb. If I'm playing bass in Bb, that's like the key of C to them.

    With harmonica's, it's a much different thing. Sometimes the harp player will play "straight harp" where they're playing a G harp for a song in the key of G. Bob Dylan and Neil Young kind of stuff. But lots of blues harp is cross harp. For a blues in G (what the rest of the band is playing), they'll use a harp in a different key so they can get the blues notes out of it.

    jte
     
  4. mambo4

    mambo4

    Jun 9, 2006
    Dallas
    The short answer is no, they would not play a D to your A. Horn music is not played as written, it is transposed when played. Bass is transposed too, actually, but it's an octave below what is written, so the pitch names remain the same.

    I am unsure of the actual reason for transposed horn notation is, tho.
     
  5. JayM

    JayM

    Apr 4, 2007
    Virginia, USA
    Brake's link sums it up pretty well.

    Horns are transposing instruments. Horns come in specific keys because of the physics involved in producing notes in air driven tubes - it's hard to get all the notes to play in tune in arbitrary keys, so over the years horns have standardized to specific keys in which most of the notes will be more or less in tune.

    For example, most trumpets are in the key of Bb, which means that the pitch you hear is a whole step lower than what is written. Bb trumpets have good intonation, with only a few notes being slightly off (e.g., notes played with the 1st and 3rd valves tend to be a bit sharp, which is why most trumpets have a 3rd valve slide that you can slide out a bit to lower the pitch). You can get trumpets in other keys, but they all have more severe intonation problems. The sound of the instrument is also different in different keys, and some sound better than others.

    Music for most transposing instruments is written in the relative key of the instrument (1 step higher for Bb instruments). Why don't they just call the trumpet's "C" (which sounds as a concert Bb) a "Bb"? Because transposing to the appropriate key is a convention that makes playing horns in the same family easier. For example, a "C" on the Eb alto sax is fingered the same way as a "C" on the Bb tenor sax, so a player can read the appriopriately transposed music and play either instrument with the same fingering. Of course, the alto "C" will sound like an Eb and the tenor "C" will sound like a Bb. Trumpet, baritone, french horn, tuba, and other valved horns all use the same fingerings for a "C" even though the note that comes out is different.

    Some transposing horns don't used transposed music. For example, the trombone is actually keyed in Bb, but trombone music is not transposed, i.e., when the trombone plays the note it calls a C a concert C comes out, as opposed to the Bb trumpet, where the trumpet C actually sounds a concert Bb. Why is trombone different? Who knows?
     
  6. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    Historical, related to the original instrument's lengths and some arbitrary idea of keeping most of the written sheets for them on one ledger line probably. Not that different from the use of tenor and alto clefs, really.
     
  7. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    That's not true at all. Most families of wind instruments have "C" instruments as well as Eb and Bb ones, and the C instruments are no more or less "in tune" than the others.

    Again, you need to look at the original lengths of the instruments, and the historical attempts to more or less standardize the fingerings/valvings/slide positions for given note names.
     
  8. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    Really didn't read the thread in depth, but realize that unless you are transcribing sheets for them, you don't have to know about this. Any decent horn player should be able to deal with any key and do that without any effort from rhythm section players. And any harp player should have the right selection of harps to play in a variety of favored keys and know which ones work for what.
     
  9. tobie

    tobie

    Nov 26, 2008
    Correct - that's why I carry a set of 22 diatonic harps (yes, really!) with me... :meh:
     
  10. Transposition for saxophones aids in maintaining a consistent fingering across saxes.
    If each saxophone 'sounded' the correct note they would have to learn different fingerings.

    Most multi-transposing players are comfortable reading a chart in concert pitch though...
     
  11. A common use for the harp is blues. In blues, you use the dominant 7 instead of the major 7. So, for example, if the band is playing blues in G, they will be playing the dominant 7 (F) instead of the major 7 (F#). Thus, the harp player needs a harp that plays F instead of F# -- so, instead of a G major harp, he would use a harp in the key of C.

    Similarly, if the band plays blues in A, the harp player needs a D harp.

    By the way, the harp key is 7 semitones below the band key or 5 above; not 4.
     
  12. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    Got the vest too, or a rollout? That's very equipped. You should be able to hang in a lot of different styles very well. Spent any time on chromatics? I like the different vibe they can provide as well as the fact that they can deal with the kind of material you'd hear say Toots Thielemans doing. He was pretty cool with Jaco too.
     
  13. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    Other wind families had similar fingering systems that evolved into Boehm Systems, were very similar and adopted by Adolphe Sax in simpler form - though as you go "across the break" with clarinets the same fingering then produces notes a fifth apart due to the cylindrical instead of a conical bore.

    The Yamaha and Akai wind synth drivers are jiggy with this too.
     
  14. JayM

    JayM

    Apr 4, 2007
    Virginia, USA
    Maybe I overstated the problems with intonation, but my experience with trumpets has been that the Bb trumpet naturally intonates somewhat better than the others, and this experience is not atypical. For example, third space C tends sharp on the C trumpet where it is generally accurate on a Bb trumpet. Similarly, the 4th space E and Eb run flatter on the C trumpet than the Bb trumpet. The low G (below the treble clef) is very sharp on Eb trumpets, but is much closer on the Bb trumpet. These problems are usually addressed through alternate fingerings, slide actions, or embrochure changes.

    Also, the C melody saxophones are notorious for having bad intonation and are frequently considered unusable.
     
  15. Oric

    Oric

    Feb 19, 2008
    Georgetown, Kentucky
    It's the same way for the tuba. Tuba commonly comes in four different keys- C and Bb (contrabass tuba) and F and Eb (bass tuba), and a tubist has to learn a different set of fingerings for each horn, as opposed to say a clarinetist, who reads a piece of music written specifically for that key, and plays the same fingerings for the same written note, a different note just comes out.
     
  16. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    It's got nothing to do with the key the instrument is named, it's got to do with the implementation - the holes need to be placed correctly just as frets do on any fretted instrument. Plenty of wind players playing instruments in C that can deal. Just as there are plenty of players of Bb and Eb instruments who can't get their embrochures and ears together and sound especially out of pitch on certain notes.

    But once a certain key of voice within a certain family establishes precedence in a majority of scores, has mindshare among players, less instrument building and perfecting takes place for the less-used ones. How often do you see A clarinets or C melody saxes these days, ones of newer manufacture and with R&D into them? Evolution ; }

    EDIT: Way back when, soprano saxes were by many considered unplayable because of intonation issues. Amazing how at some point this was no longer true and soprano saxes were very popular.
     
  17. tobie

    tobie

    Nov 26, 2008
    Nope - my wife customized a thin briefcase for me with slots for the harps so they don't slide around. An added benefit of that is two A4 sized slots for paperwork, enough space for my SM57 & mic cable, a set of shakers etc.

    I've got a Hohner chromatic in C but hardly ever use it. It's just too bulky and waaaay too expensive to buy in each needed key. I love the diatonics' blues-y sound much more anyway - and the fact that I can easily cup them with my hands for nicer dynamics!
     
  18. Are you saying you have harps in something besides the 12 regular keys?
    ...or are you saying you have various harps for various kinds of music but still within the 12 keys?
     
  19. tobie

    tobie

    Nov 26, 2008
    Yep - I've got a High G, Low F, Low D, Am and Fm (although I find the minor harps quite odd to play)

    Yep again, albeit not for various kinds of music, but for various playing effects. Sometimes I want to play the song in a lower octave which facilitates extensive note bending, so I've customized a few to the Country tuning (see http://www.hunterharp.com/shrp5tun.html) and a few to the full cross harp tuning (see http://www.ezfolk.com/harp/intro/intro.html).
     

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