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Question that's been on my mind

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by LiquidMidnight, Jun 13, 2002.

  1. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Hey talkbassers and bassettes ;)

    There's been a musical question that's been bugging me for some time and that is, how can different instruments play in different keys and still sound harmonic.

    For example, how can a guitar or a bass be playing in one key, and a Saxophone or a Trumpet can be playing in entirley different key and it sounds good. I mean, I don't understand it, I always thougt a "c" was "c" and a "f#" was an "f#". This is befuddleing me and I can't stand it. :D
  2. Not a master at theory, but, I'll take a shot at it. Bass, like piano is a C instrument, so C on a bass is C on a piano. Now, Tenor saxes are a B flat instrument. As far as I know, it's the same musical tone as C, but, refered to as B flat on that instrument. Why? I don't know. If I am wrong, someone please correct me.

    Also, does a contrapuntal melody have to be in the same key as the point melody? I say no. It can be written in a third or fifth, can it not?

    Years since I studied theory. Don't take this to the bank.

    Mike J.
  3. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    You're sort of right FAMILY JEWELS.


    A "C" is a "C" is a "C". There is no difference in the pitch, only what someone is calling it, and there's a reason for that.

    The natural pitch of a trumpet is Bb. In fact, remove the valves from it, and that's the pitch you get, Bb. (Take note of the song "Taps" played on a bugle, also a Bb instrument. This entire song is Bb, in a way. See, to get the different pitches for "Taps", and there are only 3 pitches for the tune if memory serves, you just change embochoure, or your mouth shape and position. The bugle can only, naturally, produce one pitch. So by changing embochoure you can create intervals of a fourth. That's why you'll see people play taps without using any fingering to manipulate pitch). Anyhoo, a further way to manipulate the pitch of said instrument is by inserting valves. The trumpet has three such valves. (Saxophones have keys, or buttons. Clarinets have holes, etc.). Adding valves changes the flow of air through the instrument, just like the slide on a trombone does, helping to create different pitches. So, for ease, the natural pitch of the trumpet, Bb, is often called C during instruction. It's still a Bb, and if you play a Bb on piano, guitar, or bass, you will be in tune with the trumpet, but the trumpet player is thinking, "C." Only so that they can play the scale easier. This is also why, on occasion, you might hear people refer to keys that horn players "like" to play. This is generally because it's a key with less sharps or flats, like G, A, or Eb, then some others like, Db, E, or Cb.

    Does that help?
  4. Nick Gann

    Nick Gann Talkbass' Tubist in Residence

    Mar 24, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    My music teacher had to explain this to me. I think this is what he said...

    The different instruments are in different keys because they are in different clefs. Most people think there are only two clefs, bass and treble. There is also the alto clef, and the tenor clef.

    Saxophones, for example, are actually written in the alto clef (I think). The music is written to fit the clef. In concert bands, all music is put into two clefs. The saxes are put in the treble clef, but the music is left in the same place. Since it is in a different clef, but in the same place, the notes are different. A note on middle line for a sax is different than a note on middle line for a flute. (refering to frequency). A note on middle line for flute is the same frequency as a note on 2nd line for sax (I think). Different place, same frequency. Same place, different frequency.

    I hope that makes sense... It is really confusing. It is hard for me to write it down. Easier to say.

    Hope I helped.

    BTW jazzbo- the 1st chair trumpet player in my band at school plays many bugle calls at football games etc., including taps for a joke, and they are all played with valves 1&3 pushed down. Concert C, not Bb. A bugle is in a different key than trumpet. Just wanted to clear that up. But in principle, you are right.
  5. Not quite, I think. Actually, saxophone charts AFAIK are generally written in treble clef. Alto sax is *not* typically written in alto clef, at least not in jazz or pop contexts (can't speak for classical, 'cause who knows anything about classical sax, anyway?). The only thing I know of that's routinely written in alto clef is the viola, though I'm sure there are others. I believe the French horn is written in F clef.

    Though you're right in a sense to say that the music is written to fit the clef, because for the saxophones, the lowest written note is generally the one we recognize as middle C, no matter what the actual "concert", or absolute, pitch is. For a tenor sax, this note that looks like a C to us bassists comes out sounding like a Bb. An alto sax plays that same written C, but the pitch that comes out is an Eb. The value of this system is that most of each instrument's range "sits" on the musical staff pretty well, and you don't have to get into using a lot of leger lines above or below the staff.

    Thus, saxes (and trumpets and clarinets) are what are called transposing instruments, which means that they play a note with one name (e.g., C), but the actual pitch that comes out is another (e.g., Bb or Eb). Important: when tenor players reading music play a "concert" Bb--that is, a note that is Bb on your bass--they are not playing a note that is written as Bb on the staff but that they just think of as C for convenience. No, they are playing a note that is actually notated as C but that is "transposed" by the instrument to Bb.

    What happens with different clefs is something different. With different clefs, the lines and spaces on the musical staff actually acquire different names. The first space at the bottom, for example, is no longer an F but something else. A viola is not a transposing instrument: when a viola player reads alto clef, the concert pitch is the saem as the notated pitch,it's just that a different notation convention is used.

    In a way, transposing instruments (like the tenor sax) and the use of different clefs can be thought of as two different answers to the same problem, which is how to notate an instrument's range so that it lies well on the staff, without being mostly hanging off the bottom or flying off the top.
  6. I don't think transposing instruments are that way because it makes the scales easier to play. It couldn't really--the names you call the notes has nothing to do with how you physically produce them. I think it's more to do with making the music easier to *notate*. If each saxophone's written range starts at middle C (which is the case), you don't have to deal so much with them pesky leger lines above and below the staff.

    There are definitely keys horn players prefer to play in. But A concert isn't one of them IME--that would be B for a tenor player and F# for an alto player!
  7. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    Yes! It has mostly to do with making music easier to notate on a score. If every instrument had to read their parts in the actual concert pitch (as we bassists do) some instruments would constantly be reading notes way above and below the staff with a ridiculous amount of accidentals (sharps, naturals and flats).
  8. Actually, to be technical, we bassists *don't*. The actual pitch for a bass is one octave below the notated pitch. So in a way, a bass is a transposing instrument too, but only with respect to register, not the actual note name. If we didn't do this, we'd have to use a lot of leger lines below the bass clef (as pianists do).

    The same is true for guitar. If we notated the actual concert pitches, we'd have to use both treble and bass clef. Some folks have argued for this actually (e.g., jazz guitarist Johnny Smith). But writing the pitches an octave higher than they actually sound allows us to squeeze all the guitar notes on the treble clef--more or less....
  9. Nick Gann

    Nick Gann Talkbass' Tubist in Residence

    Mar 24, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    Like Rich said, the bass is written higher. I play tuba which is in the same register as bass. The music for bass is written in the same place as baritone/euphonium notation. As a tuba player, I am constantly reading in as many as 7 leger lines below the staff. The bass on the other hand is written up an octave so that it is easier to read. On a four string bass, the lowest note is one leger line below the staff (E natural).

    If they were written in the same place, where I think they should be since they have the same frequency range, the bass music would be more confusing to read with all the leger lines.

    For those who don't know, the baritone and euphinoum are one octave above the tuba. They look like mini tubas.

    Am I making this more confusing? I'll stop talking now. Need to go play bass...
  10. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Wow this is a lot of info, but I think it helped clear a lot of things up for me. Thanks :)
  11. Yes, they leave the accidentals to the rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass), while the horns get to play in C, G, Am, Em, D, F ....;)
  12. Nick Gann

    Nick Gann Talkbass' Tubist in Residence

    Mar 24, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    You should have seen the music I played for the school musical. I played the bass part on tuba. One song was in 7 sharps. The next one was 7 flats. I had many with 5 sharps and flats. It was soooooo confusing. I'm used to playing tuba in Bb, C, F, and somethimes Ab or Eb. I never need to play in sharp keys. But of course, it was to make it easier on the singers. I was told that it is easier to sing in those wierd keys, while it was hell to play in them.

    7 sharps!!!!!! so confusing. It is even harder when one valve combination makes like 5 different notes. I felt like my fingers were going to fall off, and my brain would explode.
  13. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    Very true. How silly of me.:p
  14. This has been a most informative thread. I'm going to print this out.

    Mike J.
  15. CamMcIntyre


    Jun 6, 2000
    tuba boy-if you play bass for any choir bands get used to the weird keys for First Edition [show choir] we play in some strange keys but usually they'll use a happy medium key. A key that's great for singer/dancers isn't always the easiest to play the bass parts for e.g. B. I played cello first and that helped me figure out that bass is written an octave lower since cello low C [open] is notated as the first C below the staff while the same C on bass is notated as the space C. that's all
  16. Nick Gann

    Nick Gann Talkbass' Tubist in Residence

    Mar 24, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    I'm never gonna play in any choir bands, but I do play in the pit orchestra for musicals. In the music, there is no happy medium. 7 sharps, or they can get another bass player.

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