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When is a A not an A?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by paparoof, Jul 18, 2012.

  1. paparoof


    Apr 27, 2011
    fEARful koolaid drinker
    Okay this is making me crazy and I can't figure out what to type into the google-machine to find an explanation. I'm hoping some of you smarty-pantsers here can explain this.

    I play bass (duh). If I play an A on my bass or on a guitar or on my keyboard, it's the same note/pitch.

    My daughter (11) plays clarinet, my son (13) plays trumpet. If I ask them to play an A, the note that comes out is a G (in my universe). WTH???

    Is their school teaching them wrong or are their instruments tuned in a world where A does not equal 440hz?

    I do know that A has not always been at 440 and it's been creeping up over the last couple centuries, are they maybe just tuned to a very old standard?

    I just asked my daughter "how do you tune a clarinet?" and she said "I have no idea."
  2. Bollenator

    Bollenator The Ersatz Haderach

    Jun 2, 2010
    Western Washington
  3. I find it confusing, but I don't have much experience with transposing instruments. Here is a link that might help.


    ***Bollenator beat me to it, with a better link***
  4. ^^ yyep

    I remember going through this same issue back in HS band. I played trombone which is tuned to concert C. I think clarinets are Bb which would make their A a G in normal concert tuning. Everything they play is a whole step lower then Concert pitch.
  5. Just to sum up the Wiki link that is posted above:
    A Clarinet and Trumpet are both Bb instruments, meaning when they play a "C" on the staff it will sound as a "Bb". To write and play with a stringed instrument, (or trombone, flute, or tuba,) you need to transpose up. So to play a concert "A", your kids need to play a "B" on their instruments, two semitones up.
    It really takes quite a while to get used to this.
  6. 73jbass

    73jbass Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2004
    Concert pitch.
  7. paparoof


    Apr 27, 2011
    fEARful koolaid drinker
    "Concert pitch" doesn't explain it at all - except to say that you and me bass players and our gui****s are in concert pitch.

    There ya go. I got it now.

    It's about being able to finger notes the same way on different sizes of a similar instrument. I knew there had to be a reason for this cause otherwise it just seems stupid.

    When I buy reeds for her clarinet, I have to buy "B-flat Clarinet" reeds, so I knew that was a clue, but the boy has never referred to his trumpet as a "B-flat trumpet". Perhaps all trumpets are in B-flat, so it's not worth mentioning.

    Seems like an awful lotta work for the composer though, not just writing different parts for each instrument but also having to know who to transpose for too.

    Oh holy crap. Dems got teh skillz.

    Okay, new question:

    If I stood in front of the London Philharmonic and said "HEY EVERYBODY! Play a C now!"

    How many different notes would I hear?
  8. paparoof


    Apr 27, 2011
    fEARful koolaid drinker
    Man you ain't kidding.

    You shoulda seen the hell I went through just trying to get them to play the melody part on "Low Rider". Especially since I know nothing about how to finger the different notes on their instruments.
  9. BawanaRik


    Mar 6, 2012
    New Jersey
    That is cool. A chance to learn something everyday.
  10. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    My guess is they'd assume you meant "concert C" and you'd hear one note. If you said "HEY EVERYBODY! Play your C now!", you'd hear at least four different notes (maybe more...those philharmonic folk play some obscure instruments).
  11. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    You don't so much "tune" a clarinet (by this I mean change the relative pitch of all the notes by as much as a half step (which is equivalent to one fret on bass/guitar)), but you can fine-tune the pitch of all notes by making the body of the instrument longer or shorter.

    Generally, this is done with just the mouthpiece. Jam it in tight if you are a bit flat or back it off a hair if you're a bit sharp. The instruments themselves (woodwinds, I mean)are designed to be assembled normally to proper pitch, but fine tuning can be done if need be.

    As for your other question about how many notes you'd hear if you told the London Philharmonic to play C, I'd have to do a bit of research. It would depend on what pieces are being played that evening - not every clarinetist, for example, would bring all variants of their axe every night if it's not needed. And of course, a clarinetist can't play three clarinets at once (unless they are Rahsaan Roland Kirk reincarnate),so the number of notes you'd hear would also depend on how long certain instrumentalists played their various axes that are tuned to different pitches.
  12. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    Brilliant, nothing like over-complicating an already quite complicated science.
  13. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    All trumpets are not Bb however 99% of the trumpets you will find in schools are Bb. However watch out, bass clarinets are also normally in Bb.
  14. paparoof


    Apr 27, 2011
    fEARful koolaid drinker
    Yeah, that's actually her main axe, she just keeps a "regular" clarinet over the summer cause it's easier to look after.

    BTW - she switched to bass clarinet cause her Pa is a bass player and she thinks bass is way cool.... :cool::cool::cool:

    Hey thanks to all the responders, I knew y'all would know what I needed to know.

    TB rulez yo.
  15. paparoof


    Apr 27, 2011
    fEARful koolaid drinker
    This is exactly what we did tonight out on the deck while waiting for the coals on the BBQ to get hot. I was surprised at how much you had to move a section in or out to get an audible change in pitch. But it did work.
  16. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    This is bringing back memories of junior high before we moved into an air conditioned building on hot days the band director had us pulling out sections from the mouthpiece to the bell trying to get the student clarinets intonation set. The next with a constant temp it was just the mouthpiece we had to move to tune up.
  17. paparoof


    Apr 27, 2011
    fEARful koolaid drinker
    Normally I tune my bass once at the beginning of the evening, immediately after pulling it from the gig bag. And it stays perfectly in tune the rest of the night.

    Played three outdoor gigs this last weekend - hot as hell, humid as hell, had to re-tune like three times during each set.
  18. Technically even the bass is a transposing instrument - the notes sound an octave lower than written on the staff.
  19. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Yep - and same for guitar, too.

    This transposing instruments stuff isn't such a hard idea when you get used to it. It actually makes an arranger's job easier in some ways.
  20. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    You would hear only C, but different pitches of it.
    For example when I tune a semitone flat and someone asks me for a C, I would in fact play/fret a C# position on the bass because that is the true pitch of the note C, not whatever I retune to.
    So a C is always a C in pitch, but not always in fingerings and not always the same position in the staff dependant on clef.
    So regardless of an individual instruments own tunings, it relation to the clef it is written in, will help relate it to an arrangement that uses other clefs.
    Again it is about keeping music in the staff lines for clarity, the same as 8va means the same notes an octave lower or higher than written when indicated by the composer rather than it being written outside the staff lines. This is usually a players first introduction to transposing what they read in their heads rather than seeing it on the page.

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