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Notation Part 3

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We saw in the previous chapter that the musical spectrum contains a range of 120 notes, displayed on 10 octaves. Human ear can't hear sounds beyond this range.

There's a note having an essential importance. It's about the central C, named C lock, because it is located in front of the lock of the pianos.

This note is really important because it is the reference for a lot of things.

First of all, all human voices can sing it. For men, it's a note rather acute. For women, it's a note rather low. But at hearing, it's about a medium note neither low nor acute. It is a point of reference in music notation, as it will be seen.

The four octaves around the central C (two above and two below) include the "Expressive Register". It corresponds more or less to the register of singing for human voices, male or female.

Pattern 1

This pattern gives an idea of what should be the aspect of a master keyboard of a synthetiser if you wanted to have access to all the hearable notes without doing some transpositions. You can see very well that the 127 values of the MIDI codes "note on-off" are more than enough to reproduce the totality of the musical notes, because only 120 notes are theoretically hearable by the human ear.

The "Expressive Register" has got the priority to compose music. The 95 % of existent music, maybe more, are written inside this register. It concerns all singed melodies, all accompaniments (except the bass which plays one octave below), and most of the orchestral material.

When you place your hands on a keyboard in order to improvise or to accompany, you use to do so instinctively to the middle of the keyboard, in the area of the central C, and not in the extremities.

However, the range that goes beyond the expressive register is not as much unuseful. Some notes are added around the low in order to give some consistance and some depth to music. Everybody knows how a bass add a virile colour and a particular rythm to the sonority of a song.

About the acutes, it's an other question ; the two upper octaves, from 4.000 Hz, exist naturally in every music as to be harmonic frequencies of most of sounds. These frequencies gives to the sound all its brillance and to the human voice all its comprehension, but rare are the musicians who try to find so higher the material to express themselves.s

The notes located beyond, between the upper limit of the expressive register and the two upper mentionned octaves, are often used either for special effects, or to double to the upper octave some melodies used inside the register, giving so some brilliance to the orchestration.

The staff

Since a long time, musicians are aware of the priority of the expressive register in comparison with the rest of the musical spectrum. And this consciousness appears when elaborating the music notation.

We know already the staves in G clef and F clef, we know too some other clefs like the C clef, and we will see what is the use of all of that through the Expressive register.

Let's start from a superstaff of eleven lines, in which we decide that the middle one corresponds to the central C.

Pattern 2

A fast calculus makes it possible to see that the G and F clefs are located respectively two lines above and two lines below. that is to say five notes (a fifth) upper or lower.

Pattern 3

Otherwise, we can notice that this superstaff makes it possible to us to include at one go almost four staves : the four ones around the central C, they constitute the Expressive register.

Now, the inconvenience is the difficulty to spot, in all these lines, a note with the needed precision and quickness for reading.

You just have to erase the middle line so that all becames clearer and you can find again a familiar scenery.

Pattern 4

This explains why low instruments that play below the central C, like the bass, are written in F clef and why the higher instruments that play above the central C are written in G clef.

When practising keyboard, the two staves are aparted in order to delimitate with more precision the territory of each hand. And they can be completed with some supplementary lines.

This extract...

Pattern 5

Is the same as this one :

Pattern 6

But let's return to our superstaff of eleven lines. If we add two supplementary lines up and down, we have from C to C the four octaves of our expressive register.

Pattern 7

In this last pattern, the central C line has been erased for better clarity.

We can now writing music on two staves, separated by the value of one line.

Some piano composers understood it and they present this double staff (F and G) like this :

Pattern 8

To indicate with this C clef the place where is the central C. Because this C clef represents rightly the central C.

Some instruments that don't have a range needed by the notation on two staves, are written on one single.

The differents clefs (G, F and C on the third line) are only a part of the superstaff made of eleven lines in which have been erased the lines containing less usual notes.

It's the case of the Viola that is written in C on the third line.

Pattern 9

In which you can recognize the previous pattern with its full central C line and without the three lines above and below.

There are many other clefs, C on the first, on the second, on the third (see above) and on the fourth. Indeed, there are a F clef on the third line and a G clef on the first line.

They have all fallen into disuse and don't have any other usefulness than for reading ancient scores.

Anyway, the one who wants to study them can learn them easier by imaging them at their place in a superstaff of which the unuseful lines have been erased.

For the necessities of our lesson and composition or actual orchestration, only the G clef and F clef will be necessary, and the C clef on the third line if you want to write for the Alto.

The future is the in the way of simplification and it can be seen more often with the actual songwriters who don't want to clog their mind and their partners' one.

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Mario LITWIN, on the 20-10-1999

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