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Thread: Notation questions - treble clef vocal score

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    Notation questions - treble clef vocal score

    I'm not much of a singer at all, but I was looking at a song in the "Beatles Complete Scores" and it occurs to me that the vocal part notated on the treble clef (John, FWIW) is written an octave above the actual sounded pitches (as guitar music typically is).

    Am I correct, and if so is this standard practice for notated vocals?

    Does it depend on the range of the singer, for example notation for a Bass vs. a Soprano? Should this not be notated with the "8va" symbol?

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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton
    I'm not much of a singer at all, but I was looking at a song in the "Beatles Complete Scores" and it occurs to me that the vocal part notated on the treble clef (John, FWIW) is written an octave above the actual sounded pitches (as guitar music typically is).

    Am I correct, and if so is this standard practice for notated vocals?
    It's standard practice for guitar to be written an octave higher than concert. (IOW the staff is lowered by an octave, so piano middle C appears on the 3rd space up. That's the note on 2nd string 1st fret on guitar.)

    Vocals would (AFAIK) be written in whatever octave fitted the staff best. Typically, male vocals are written in the same octave transposition as guitar; female vocals would be written in concert. [see links below]
    I guess the Beatles had high enough voices to be notated in concert? (at least in that book. In the books I have, the vocals are written in guitar register.)

    The treble clef is designed for high register instruments: piano right hand, violin, flute, oboe, female vocal, etc. (Middle C appears on the 1st ledger line beneath.)
    Middle range instruments (like guitar, male vocal, viola, cello, trombone) have traditionally used other clefs (like the now rare tenor and alto clefs); but now guitar and male vocal, at least, use a treble clef assigned to a lower octave.

    The downward octave transposition of guitar and male vocal means the so-called "treble clef" (aka "G clef") becomes a "tenor clef", because it covers a tenor register, no longer the treble register. (I mean the clef and stave are moved down, relative to pitch, so the written notes appear higher than normal.)
    It's not often called a "tenor clef" because that risks confusion with the old tenor clef, which looks quite different, and marks the 4th line up as middle C.
    Sometimes you see a small "8" attached to the bottom of the G clef to indicate this transposition. (scroll down to "octave clefs" in this link http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory14.htm)
    - as you can see, the old alto or tenor clefs would be ideal for guitar, as they would cover its middle range (which is the purpose of all clefs). But who wants to play music written with one of those???

    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton
    Should this not be notated with the "8va" symbol?
    "8va" (as I expect you know ) means "play this passage an octave higher than written".
    If you see that on guitar music, it means "play as if in concert" - an octave higher than written.
    In vocals (at least in pop/rock music), it's rarely necessary. I guess long passages in falsetto might require it. But even falsetto (male) vocals rarely go high enough to warrant an 8va, even in the octave-down G clef.
    The highest note in soprano range is an A, nearly 2 octaves above middle C. (Some can reach the "high C" above that.)
    http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory29.htm (scroll way down to "voices")
    - note how tenor range (typical pop/rock male vocal range) is shown in treble clef, but "sounds one octave lower than written pitch". Same as guitar, IOW. (That top G in the range shown is the 3rd fret on top E.)
    I'd be surprised if Beatles vocals were written any other way, even tho McCartney (sorry, Sir Paul ), at least, was capable of several notes above that top G.
    Last edited by JonR; 09-08-2009 at 08:49 AM.

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    Thanks for the reply and explanations. I did mean that the vocal melody is transposed in the same manner as guitar, I hadn't known this is typical for (male) vocals.

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    As usual good job jon

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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton
    Does it depend on the range of the singer, for example notation for a Bass vs. a Soprano? Should this not be notated with the "8va" symbol?
    "8va" means play an octave higher than written. "8vb" means play an octave lower than written. To be perfectly explicit, guitar music should have the "8vb" marking.

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    Quote Originally Posted by acsenray
    To be perfectly explicit, guitar music should have the "8vb" marking.
    Well, that's taken care of - sometimes - by the "8" attached to the bottom of the clef.
    But whether the clef has that "8" or not, guitarists who read notation know where to play the notes. They may not know or care about the standard octave transposition involved, but they won't play in the wrong octave. (If they see a C on the ledger line below the staff, they won't play middle C, they'll play a note which sounds an octave lower: 3rd fret 5th string, or 8th fret 6th string.)

    If they saw an "8vb" indication they would (if it was physically possible) play another octave lower, IWO, 2 octaves lower than concert!

    BTW, this reminds me: bass guitar (like double bass) is also written an octave higher than it sounds. Using bass (F) clef of course.
    (The other way of looking at it, which I prefer, is that the staff is lowered by an octave, so it fits the most common range of the instrument.)

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    That's why I said "perfectly explicit." I should have added "... to a musician used to reading concert notation."

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    Quote Originally Posted by acsenray
    That's why I said "perfectly explicit." I should have added "... to a musician used to reading concert notation."
    OK, I see what you mean - apologies.

    An extra point is that guitar is rarely an orchestral instrument in any case, where the octave of the music matters. Guitar music - normally - is only played in the written octave for practical reasons. A violinist or pianist (say) wanting to play a guitar piece would not have to play it in guitar octave, it would almost certainly sound fine in concert - or wherever the player felt it comfortable to play it.
    Likewise, guitarists can read concert pieces and play it in their octave if that's more comfortable/practical (sounding lower) - as long as, of course, it's not part of an ensemble arrangement.
    However, it's worth it for guitarists to remember the octave issue when reading piano music. Eg, piano reductions of rock songs (originally played on guitar), where the right hand part may be more effective in concert (octave higher than guitar notation).
    Last edited by JonR; 09-09-2009 at 08:00 AM.

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