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Thread: Treble Clef

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    Treble Clef

    Lately I've been looking over some old sheet music that I have laying around to examine some common elements in melodies. One thing that stuck out to me is that all the melodies are notated in treble clef. Everything from Neil Young to Barry White to Janis Joplin. This struck me as strange because I thought treble clef meant that it's the octave above middle C on the piano, and all of those singers that I just mentioned are definitely in different ranges of voice. How can I know what specific range these people are singing in when the treble clef claims they are in the same same pitch range?

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zedrein View Post
    Lately I've been looking over some old sheet music that I have laying around to examine some common elements in melodies. One thing that stuck out to me is that all the melodies are notated in treble clef. Everything from Neil Young to Barry White to Janis Joplin. This struck me as strange because I thought treble clef meant that it's the octave above middle C on the piano, and all of those singers that I just mentioned are definitely in different ranges of voice. How can I know what specific range these people are singing in when the treble clef claims they are in the same same pitch range?
    Your thinking is just a little off. Excuse the word "stuff" it made this post a little shorter.

    From middle C to the right is/can (be) considered the right hand stuff, and melody (the single note stuff) is normally played on the keyboard/piano with the right hand and the middle C to the left is/can (be) considered the bass clef stuff (chord stuff) and played by the left hand......... Trying to relate that to an octave is where you get off.

    But, you find chord stuff in the treble clef and melody stuff in the bass clef. So you can not bet the farm on your conclusion.

    Now specific range has to do with what key the singer likes and the piece is played in - not that it's shown on the treble clef (although that is where you look to find the key signature). The bass clef will also have specific markings that tell what key it is to be played in also. Course that begs the question how do you tell what key this is.

    Look at the key signature.
    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=...ed=0CCMQ9QEwAg

    Zero flat (b) or sharp (#) marks and you are in C or Am (Am is C's relative minor key - same notes, same chords) one sharp mark and you are in G or F#m, and you tell which by the chords used as primary in the song. if the tonic chord is C that's your key, if the tonic chord is Am, that's your key. Now how you decide what is the tonic chord takes us to something best handled in another post. Look over the graph and then ask specific questions.

    This came in handy for me right at first.
    See God Destroy All Earth By F#irey C#haos is the order of the sharp scales. C has none, G has one, D has two, etc.
    Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds is the order of the sharps - C has none, G has the F#, D keeps the F# and adds the C#, A keeps the F#, C# and adds the G#, etc.
    Farmer Brown Eats Apple Dumplings Greasely Cooked is the order of the flat scales. Figure out how this relates - that fish thing.

    Come back with specific questions.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-21-2010 at 01:41 PM.

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    I asked a similar question a while back here:

    http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/...ad.php?t=17262

    The summary of JonR's reply is that female vocals generally are written on the treble clef in actual ("concert") pitch, and male vocals are generally written on the treble clef an octave higher than the actual sounded pitches (as guitar music is).

    Also see section #14 of the following link provided in his answer:

    http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory29.htm

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Thanks walter.

    Technically for male vocal (and guitar) the treble clef becomes a "tenor clef" - although of course it would be confusing to call it that, as the usual "tenor clef" is in "C clef" form.
    The treble clef is really a "G clef", normally used for "treble" (high) register, but capable of being applied to any register. All it does is indicate which note is G by circling it. Which "G" that is (which octave it's in) is a matter of habit and convention.

  5. #5
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Little more on keys or what range people like. Seems like.....
    Guys like G and D. Bass voices will like E - i.e. Johnny Cash.
    Gals like A and G.
    Congregations sing flat, check out your hymnal, bunch of F's and other flat keys will be used. Some G's and D's but mostly flat keys.

    Can guys sing in A or gals in D. Sure, they may have trouble hitting all the high and or low notes, but with a group they will do OK. Now if they were going to be the soloist for that song they may request another key more to their liking.

    That is where the capo becomes a friend.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-21-2010 at 03:22 PM.

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Little more on keys or what range people like. Seems like.....
    Guys like G and D. Bass voices will like E - i.e. Johnny Cash.
    Gals like A and G.
    Congregations sing flat, check out your hymnal, bunch of F's and other flat keys will be used. Some G's and D's but mostly flat keys.

    Can guys sing in A or gals in D. Sure, they may have trouble hitting all the high and or low notes, but with a group they will do OK. Now if they were going to be the soloist for that song they may request another key more to their liking.

    That is where the capo becomes a friend.
    Range and key are two different things.
    You can have two songs in the same key, but one may be out of range of any particular singer (male or female) and one in.
    Likewise, a song can be in a comfortable range in any key.
    The average human voice can cover around an octave and a half fairly comfortably, and trained voices may go to two octaves or more. Within even one octave, all 12 keys are possible.
    Of course, if the range of a song is the same as one's own comfortable range, then one can only sing it in one key, comfortably.

    Eg, if a man's range is from A up to middle C (octave plus m3), then he can sing any song with a range up to an octave-plus-m3. He just needs to convert it to a key where it fits that range. The key the song is in is irrelevant (could be anything) - the keynote could be anywhere within that range.
    Eg, if the song actually contains the notes A and C - the outer limits of that range, the key could be Bb, C, F or G.

    Take the song "Hey Jude". The original is in the key of F major, and its range is from the E below middle C to the G above. An octave plus m3, as above.
    In order for any singer to sing that, they have to transpose it to a key where that range is comfortable for them: where the lowest note is near the bottom of their range (but not below) and the highest note is near the top of their range (but not above).
    For myself (eg), my voice is bass register, and I can't get comfortably above middle C. So I would be looking for a key where the top note (G or 9th of the key) is middle C or below.
    That means the keys of Bb (range A-C), A (G#-B), G (F#-A), or F (E-D, ie octave lower than Paul sang it). I could maybe go down to E, but I would be at the bottom of my range, and that gets uncomfortable.

    For a different song it would be different, this is the point. I couldn't sing Hey Jude in C or D, it would be too high (or low). But I can sing plenty of other songs in C or D - assuming their range is within mine.
    IOW, the idea of a singer having a "favourite key" is nonsense, because there is no rule that says a keynote has to come in a certain place in the range of a melody. They would certainly have favoured keys for specific songs - but not for any song.

    Take another famous Beatles example, "Let it Be". Key: C major; range G below middle C to A above. A range of a 9th, IOW.
    This time my favoured keys would be D (range A-B); C (G-A, octave down from Paul); Bb (F-C). Or Eb, Db or B, come to that.
    Different song, different set of favourite keys.

    The narrower the range of the melody, the wider the range of keys it could be sung in. (I could sing the average Chuck Berry song in just about any key - even in two different octaves in some keys.)
    The wider the melodic range, the fewer choices of comfortable key there are.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Congregations sing flat, check out your hymnal, bunch of F's and other flat keys will be used. Some G's and D's but mostly flat keys.
    I certainly don't have a hymnal of my own, and can't say I've spent a lot of time in churches, but I don't recall ever seeing a horn section in one - assuming the observation that hymns are more often in "flat keys" is correct, does anyone know why this might be so? Something to do with organ playing???

    (PS I'd associate the term "singing flat" with singing off-key or out-of-tune - which your typical congregation may well do (?) - but not with singing a song in a flat key in general.)
    Last edited by walternewton; 12-22-2010 at 02:08 AM.

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    .....IOW, the idea of a singer having a "favourite key" is nonsense, because there is no rule that says a keynote has to come in a certain place in the range of a melody. They would certainly have favoured keys for specific songs - but not for any song.
    Jon - Every vocalist I play with has a favorite key. Let's take Tom as an example. True not all of his songs are sung in one key. Some of his songs are sung in G some in C and every once in a while one will be sung in A, but most will be in G. Tom's favorite key is G. Why do I say that, well he uses G more than any other key, that is his go to key. That is the key he will try first.

    Loy's favorite key is D. Shirley's is A. Mine is D. The reason is obvious we know we can reach all the high and low notes in those keys. We are comfortable with those keys. A vocalist coming out of the audience will request a song be played in the key they are comfortable with, is that their favorite key, more than likely, true it does depend on the song.

    But to say "...the idea of a singer having a "favourite key" is nonsense" is of course your opinion, however, I find that statement to be incorrect. Vocalists that sing in groups don't seem to have a favorite key and do sing in what ever is put before them. In fact I was amazed that most do not know or care what key they are being asked to sing in. However every vocalist I have seen in a band situation is very aware of their favorite key.

    Also what is a key besides a range of sound? I understand tonal center, but, every tonal center has a high range and a low range. How does range differ from key?
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-22-2010 at 04:26 AM.

  9. #9
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    I certainly don't have a hymnal of my own, and can't say I've spent a lot of time in churches, but I don't recall ever seeing a horn section in one - assuming the observation that hymns are more often in "flat keys" is correct, does anyone know why this might be so? Something to do with organ playing???

    (PS I'd associate the term "singing flat" with singing off-key or out-of-tune - which your typical congregation may well do (?) - but not with singing a song in a flat key in general.)
    I noticed this one day while looking at our hymnal and asked our choir director this question and his answer was that congregations do in fact sing flat. Why not help them out. Same thing with dropping the guitar tuning a half tone on all strings. Why do that? According to FastForward - Altered Guitar Tunings -- It helps the vocalist and makes bends easier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Also what is a key besides a range of sound? I understand tonal center, but, every tonal center has a high range and a low range. How does range differ from key?
    Malcolm, you said your friend Tom sings some songs in G and some in C - two keys seperated by a fourth or fifth, depending on if you're thinking higher or lower.

    Why does he sing some songs in G and some in C? Could he sing the songs he sings in G in C? If not, why not? Could he sing the songs he sings in C in G? If not, why not? Thinking about these questions might help you sort out the concepts of range vs. key.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    I noticed this one day while looking at our hymnal and asked our choir director this question and his answer was that congregations do in fact sing flat. Why not help them out. Same thing with dropping the guitar tuning a half tone on all strings. Why do that? According to FastForward - Altered Guitar Tunings -- It helps the vocalist and makes bends easier.
    Sorry but this doesn't make much sense...if they're having trouble singing in, say, D (a sharp key) going to Db (a flat key) will be easier?? What if they're having trouble in Eb (a flat key), would going to D (a sharp key) help??

    And detuning a guitar is a different matter completely...it certainly can make bends easier, and give a "heavier" sound - but whether or not it "helps the vocalist" depends altogether on the vocalist, and the song...don't you agree going in the opposite direction (up rather than down) with a capo can often help put a song in the singer's range?

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    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    It's not a guestion of can he. He sings a song where it is comfortable. Tom has been known half way into a song to lean over and say; "Going to G". C was not right so he moved to what was comfortable. Should I tell him to stick with C? If he wants to move to G, fine with me.

    People I play with sing in the key they are comfortable with.

    With the congregation thing. I understand you do not think this has merit. May not, makes since to me.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-22-2010 at 05:16 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    He sings a song where it is comfortable. Tom has been known half way into a song to lean over and say; "Going to G". C was not right so he moved to what was comfortable.
    Exactly the point! For *some* songs G is his "favorite key", for others C (a very different key, pitch-wise, for a given song) is is his "favorite" - it's all about matching the range of the song to the (comfortable) range of his voice.
    Last edited by walternewton; 12-22-2010 at 05:27 AM.

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    Yes I agree with that. No problem here. What I did not agree with was having a favorite key being nonsense.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 12-22-2010 at 05:23 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm View Post
    Yes I agree with that. No problem here. What I did not agree with was having a favorite key being nonsense.
    Well, it's nonsense in the sense that one would have one favourite key that would aply to all songs, that's what I meant. (It would be a pretty dumb singer that would claim that.) Of course, singers have favourite keys for particular songs.
    And guitarist/singers will typically choose keys that are easy on guitar, given that most songs can be sung within a range of comfortable keys, esp if the ranges are small. That typically limits one's preferred keys to A, G, D, or E.

    Eg, one's voice might be able to manage a song in the keys of Ab, A, Bb or B. But if one is also playing guitar, one is going to plump for A out of those choices.
    The singer in my band - who also plays acoustic - sings most often in the keys of A, G or E, sometimes D or C - even if he has to sometimes strain his voice to get the high notes. IOW, he is governed by his guitar, not by his natural vocal range (and he won't use capos either). Even if a too-high song in E would have easy enough chords in D, he wont play it in D because his chord shapes are all different and it doesn't feel right! One particular song of his own, with distinctive open string sounds, became too high for him in E (his range is diminishing as he gets older). The only alternatives he considered were lowering it by an octave (!), or by a 5th to A. Luckily he still has a fairly wide range himself, but he struggled at the lower octave (which he preferred because of course he kept his special chord sounds) and ended up singing some lines lower and some lines at the original pitch. You can't rationalise with this guy...

    Similar considerations have applied to a female singer in my other band - a much more professionally skilled singer. We have gravitated towards playing several songs in C minor. She could manage them in a few keys around that, but we also have a sax player in the band, so for that reason we would avoid the keys of Bm or C#m. And for the guitarists and bassists sake, we wouldn't choose Bbm. So the next lower key from Cm would be Am, and the higher would be Dm. IOW - as with the rock band - instrumental considerations limit the range of preferred keys. (She also sings in a duo with a keyboard player, and because he has a transpose button, she is at liberty to sing in her most comfortable keys; it turns out she sings many songs with him in keys like Ab or F#. Of course when she does those songs with us, we raise or lower them by a half-step, which she can easily accommodate.)

    IOW, many quite legitimate considerations might affect how and why a vocalist chooses "favourite" keys. His/her own vocal range is only one of them - although it will govern the choice if a song has a particularly wide range, which may limit the choice to just one or two keys within a half-step.

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