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Thread: Staff notation woes

  1. #26
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Nevin View Post
    Different keys do have different feels. They have different ranges and except for some electronic instruments the sound of a note changes with the range. So having a system that allows the composer to indicate the exact notes they intend has a definite benefit.
    Well, different keys don't have "different feels" when played in twelve-tone, equal temperament (12TET), because the pitch relationships that take place from note to note (interval to interval) in any given scale are absolutely identical among all the different possible keys. Only the frequency spectrum gets shifted. This property is not just true of "some electronic instruments": it holds for ALL instruments designed to play in equal temperament, and that includes pianos, organs, flutes, guitars, banjos, mandolins -- actually, just about anything that's fretted, in fact (with rare exceptions).

    If you "feel" a different sound for a different key on the mandolin, that's most likely because the different keys tend to use different open and closed notes, and different strings get played, so the different keys have different TIMBREs -- not just pitches! You might also get this sense if you happen to have perfect pitch, but that's something else altogether.

    And let's not forget that the pitch standard (frequency) used to denote concert "A", which is conventionally fixed (since 1936 in the U.S.) at A=440 Hz, has changed quite a bit over history. It used to be A=435 Hz, and was as low as A=415Hz in the Baroque era. It still varies in some places, as low as 415 Hz and as high as 466 Hz. Unless you have perfect pitch, all these A's sound pretty similar.

    Instruments that don't have to use 12TET need to be fretless, like the violin family -- or the human voice. Even then, violin-family instruments have to worry about the tuning of their open strings (or avoid them altogether) for some keys.

    Anyway, you are absolutely correct that a system that specifies actual notes with a frequency reference (like 12TET with A=440 Hz) has certain advantages for composition, particularly for ensemble playing.

  2. #27
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Well, different keys don't have "different feels" when played in twelve-tone, equal temperament (12TET), because the pitch relationships that take place from note to note (interval to interval) in any given scale are absolutely identical among all the different possible keys. .
    Yea you are correct with equal temperament the intervals are the same but that is not the whole story. And all that other stuff does contribute to the feel and flavor of a tune.

    Like you say the timbres can be different. Playing in a different key leaves different strings open, for example, that can ring sympathetically and change the tone characteristics. Moving the melody up or down a fifth changes how many of the strings involved are wound, which affects the tone. Different fingerings entirely can mean the same tune with different string changes, and so there are slight tonal differences in different places.

    Also the phrasing can be different. Different fingerings will give slight advantages and disadvantages to the playing, so that the phrasing and emphasis can be a little different, though perhaps unintended.

    It all contributes. Not, perhaps as dramatically in equal temperament, but enough to give different keys and different fretboard placement different flavors.

    Different enough that one can have preferences. One can like it better in D than in G, or in third position not in first position. And certainly the composer can and often does dictate how a piece is played. Sometimes not just the key but also often enough there are indications of some of the fingerings in standard notation.
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  3. #28
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Not the whole story. I mean, yea you are correct with equal temperament the intervals are the same but that is not the whole story.

    Playing in a different key leaves different strings open, for example, that can ring sympathetically and change the tone characteristics. Moving the melody up or down a fifth changes how many of the strings involved are wound, which affects the tone. Different fingerings entirely can mean the same tune with different string changes, and so there are slight tonal differences in different places. And different fingerings will give slight advantages and disadvantages to the playing, so that the phrasing and emphasis can be a little different, though perhaps unintended.

    It all contributes. Not, perhaps as dramatically in equal temperament, but enough to give different keys and different fretboard placement different flavors.
    Actually, I think we're in agreement! In my earlier post, I was careful to point out that changing the key not only changed the array of closed versus open notes available, but also the strings involved in playing the notes. All that changes the timbre of the notes, as I said -- but not their (relative) frequencies. But maybe you missed where I said that? And you have additionally pointed out that different fingering choices can give rise to slightly different sounds, which is perfectly true. But in 12TET, all keys sound more-or-less the same, apart from such differences.

    Contrast that with other, earlier types of temperament (just, meantone, Pythagorean etc.), where the keys actually DO take on very different sounds (relative pitch changes!) and therefore "feels," because the intervals in the scale change slightly from key to key. In those bad old days, some keys were well-nigh unplayable because they sounded so bad (with "wolf" intervals), and a good musician could often tell what key a composition was in (even on an unfamiliar instrument!) just by listening. Put another way, telling the key and its "feel" was not about the peculiarities of the instrument and the way it produced certain notes (which is what you're talking about), it was about the peculiarities of the KEY ITSELF. And that does not happen with 12TET. In 12TET, all scale intervals become equivalent from key to key, and no key has a "distinctive sound" as a consequence.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    A decent example is Ross's Reel. I have mostly seen it in E. Locally one of our fiddlers wrote out a transposition into D and handed it around. Now locally we play it in D. And I don't like it as much.

    Especially the magic b part, which I admit is easier in D, but when played well in E it is magic.
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosmic Graffiti View Post
    And being new here its such a turn off to see poster argue and debate non sense on these posts. Its a debate about this then that, then a debate about what someone is asking then a debate about how something is answered, then a debate about a word and how it is written, then a debate about a letter in a particular word and how it is used, then a debate about the punctuation...then....well you get the point.
    Oh, boy. If you think that's a pain, wait until the next iteration of the infinitely repeating craziness about what the best starter mandolin is. You ain't seen nothin' yet. The good news is: the people here are really smart, the community's knowledge is amazingly deep, and even at the library you have to pass a few clunker books before you get to the classics. (Or more to the point: For every "Fox on the Run" there are 100 "Tennessee Hound Dogs".) What's more, (nearly) everyone is willing to share their knowledge. It's worth a bit of tzoris.
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  6. #31

    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Though I learned violin years ago w/staff notation, I first learned mandolin with tablature and have a tendency to be lazy and stick to that almost exclusively to the point that I've had to re-learn standard notation to some extent. Incidentally, staff notation also contains a lot of other information that you don't get in tab, like dynamics, which you may want to consider.

    BTW, for some reason (probably because I learned mando from modern beginners' books) I used to think that tablature was a fairly modern invention developed for guitar and mandolin in the 20th century. Apparently this is not so; it goes back quite a few centuries.

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  7. #32

    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Another type of movable do system is Gregorian Chant notation. It is not well adapted to instrumental music, coming from a religious tradition that looked at accompaniment and harmony singing as vanity not in keeping with a humble faith. But some of the conventions of our modern notation arose from there.

  8. #33
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Yes, various forms of tablature (tab) pre-date modern staff notation (SN)! And those who occasionally write in to point out that tab doesn't indicate the note durations are mistaken, and probably thinking about some earlier tab forms that omitted these. Most modern forms of tab, for example the flavor supported by the popular TablEdit software, clearly indicate timing durations (whole/half/quarter/eighth notes, dotted notes, triplets, rests, etc. are ALL indicated). Modern tab also allows dynamics (forte, piano, etc.) to be indicated, as well as l.h. fingering, pick directions, grace notes, special effects like strums, pull-offs, hammer-ons, rasquesdos, and LOTS of other things that can also be shown (but are found only sometimes!) in SN -- often, using the same musical symbols.

    Tab is pretty sophisticated these days. And the tabs out there for many OT (and bluegrass and ITM) fiddle tunes, ironically, tend to show more about how the tune is typically played, including usual ornamentations, melody variations, and timing emphasis/idiosyncrasies, than the SN versions of the same tunes found in large fiddle compilations (Fiddler's Fakebook, Portland Collection, O'Neill's, etc.). The latter tend to contain bare-bones melodies only, and you have to know a lot about the fiddle tradition to play these properly, due to all the missing information.

    In the case of fiddle tunes, you can use either type of notation to lay down something minimal or something complex. There is really nothing intrinsic about either tab or SN that somehow makes it "superior" in showing how to play a tune.

  9. #34
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Tab is pretty sophisticated these days. And the tabs out there for many OT (and bluegrass and ITM) fiddle tunes, ironically, tend to show more about how the tune is typically played, including usual ornamentations, melody variations, and timing emphasis/idiosyncrasies, than the SN versions of the same tunes found in large fiddle compilations (Fiddler's Fakebook, Portland Collection, O'Neill's, etc.). The latter tend to contain bare-bones melodies only, and you have to know a lot about the fiddle tradition to play these properly, due to all the missing information.
    From what I know of the tradition (and I'm far from an expert), I would say that when you see Tab for an Irish traditional tune that includes ornaments, you're probably looking at a beginner-level introduction book. It's just a hint on how to get started, never a formal declaration of "where the ornaments go" because the music just doesn't work like that.

    After that beginner phase, as you say, one learns enough (by ear) to understand where and how to articulate the music yourself. Any intermediate to advanced player of Irish/Scottish traditional music can figure out what to do with the bare skeleton of a tune in sheet music, O'Neill's, etc. And no trad player does it the quite same way, which makes it interesting.

    Anything more "advanced" in either standard notation or Tab is actually an impediment to being able to play the music. It's not like Classical, where the sheet music is intended to be *the* canonical example of how to play the tune.

    With sheet music for fiddle tunes, the map is not the territory (has anyone said that here yet?).

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    Registered User Carl Robin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    This thread is like diving into an ocean of symbols and concepts. Proof that musicians are smart and adaptable. The layers of complexity pile on deeper and deeper. The original post made me think of something that was a revelation to me regarding standard notation. Which has always been a little slow for me to interpret too. Maybe everyone knows this, but no one told me for years. Standard music notation is based on a harp turned on it's side. Every other string is a line. "Middle C" is the dividing line, or string between treble and bass. The harp is tuned to a diatonic scale--the "doe a deer" 8 note scale. The key signature tells you which notes to make sharp or flat to start your diatonic scale (or tune) on a different note. Somehow, knowing this has helped me to make sense of it from the bottom up. And then to read it better--still a work in progress.

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  13. #36
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    From what I know of the tradition (and I'm far from an expert), I would say that when you see Tab for an Irish traditional tune that includes ornaments, you're probably looking at a beginner-level introduction book. It's just a hint on how to get started, never a formal declaration of "where the ornaments go" because the music just doesn't work like that.

    After that beginner phase, as you say, one learns enough (by ear) to understand where and how to articulate the music yourself. Any intermediate to advanced player of Irish/Scottish traditional music can figure out what to do with the bare skeleton of a tune in sheet music, O'Neill's, etc. And no trad player does it the quite same way, which makes it interesting.

    Anything more "advanced" in either standard notation or Tab is actually an impediment to being able to play the music. It's not like Classical, where the sheet music is intended to be *the* canonical example of how to play the tune.

    With sheet music for fiddle tunes, the map is not the territory (has anyone said that here yet?).
    Well, I certainly take your point about ITM. And when you're a beginner (and don't know how to play in the tradition well), it's good to know what -- exactly -- to do, and where. And when you're a bit more advanced (and only know the tradition somewhat), you might like to learn the melodic variations as actually played by some of your favorite players, or some of the regional variations, so transcriptions of solos are very useful. And yes, an advanced player in ITM certainly brings a whole lot to the sheet music that's not shown there. And this is VERY different from classical, where the notation is not merely a musical suggestion. All perfectly true.

    My main point was that there is nothing intrinsic about either standard notation or tab that in some way restricts it from annotating the details of how things can get played. You can leave out those details, or put them in, as you see fit. But neither system is less "sophisticated" than the other, and they each have their virtues. The main virtue of standard notation over tab, I'd say, is that it is portable, in the sense that it is not tied to a particular instrument. And the main virtue of tab over standard notation is that the learning curve is much less steep, and it's easier/faster to pick up.

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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    I can read staff notation but it takes me few seconds to interpret in my brain - so can't play on a tempo.
    Fluidity in reading anything - words, music, kanji, stock market reports - is purely a matter of practice.
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Well, different keys don't have "different feels" when played in twelve-tone, equal temperament (12TET), because the pitch relationships that take place from note to note (interval to interval) in any given scale are absolutely identical among all the different possible keys. Only the frequency spectrum gets shifted. This property is not just true of "some electronic instruments": it holds for ALL instruments designed to play in equal temperament, and that includes pianos, organs, flutes, guitars, banjos, mandolins -- actually, just about anything that's fretted, in fact (with rare exceptions).

    If you "feel" a different sound for a different key on the mandolin, that's most likely because the different keys tend to use different open and closed notes, and different strings get played, so the different keys have different TIMBREs -- not just pitches! You might also get this sense if you happen to have perfect pitch, but that's something else altogether.

    And let's not forget that the pitch standard (frequency) used to denote concert "A", which is conventionally fixed (since 1936 in the U.S.) at A=440 Hz, has changed quite a bit over history. It used to be A=435 Hz, and was as low as A=415Hz in the Baroque era. It still varies in some places, as low as 415 Hz and as high as 466 Hz. Unless you have perfect pitch, all these A's sound pretty similar.

    Instruments that don't have to use 12TET need to be fretless, like the violin family -- or the human voice. Even then, violin-family instruments have to worry about the tuning of their open strings (or avoid them altogether) for some keys.

    Anyway, you are absolutely correct that a system that specifies actual notes with a frequency reference (like 12TET with A=440 Hz) has certain advantages for composition, particularly for ensemble playing.
    I am not talking about the changes you get from perfect temperament. If you play a tune in C and then in D it is going to start at a different pitch. on most instruments, the wave form changes with pitch, not just in frequency but in overtones etc. Thus This gives different keys different feels.

  18. #41
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    From what I know of the tradition (and I'm far from an expert), I would say that when you see Tab for an Irish traditional tune that includes ornaments, you're probably looking at a beginner-level introduction book. It's just a hint on how to get started, never a formal declaration of "where the ornaments go" because the music just doesn't work like that.

    After that beginner phase, as you say, one learns enough (by ear) to understand where and how to articulate the music yourself. Any intermediate to advanced player of Irish/Scottish traditional music can figure out what to do with the bare skeleton of a tune in sheet music, O'Neill's, etc. And no trad player does it the quite same way, which makes it interesting.

    Anything more "advanced" in either standard notation or Tab is actually an impediment to being able to play the music. It's not like Classical, where the sheet music is intended to be *the* canonical example of how to play the tune.

    With sheet music for fiddle tunes, the map is not the territory (has anyone said that here yet?).
    Yes!! Many years ago I remember a fiddle tune book by classical violinist Marion Thede that had some detailed transcriptions of old time fiddlers' playing. I have the book somewhere but I have to dig it out, but I do recall that many of the transcriptions had some complicated ornamentations notated which made it fairly complicated to learn the tunes. I do have tp find it and would love to take another look since I am going by memory now. I do find it much better to have the bare-bones versions notated without ornamentation.

    In reality, I believe that even for baroque music the original versions/editions had ornamentation and dynamics indicated minimally.
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    My main point was that there is nothing intrinsic about either standard notation or tab that in some way restricts it from annotating the details of how things can get played. You can leave out those details, or put them in, as you see fit. But neither system is less "sophisticated" than the other, and they each have their virtues. The main virtue of standard notation over tab, I'd say, is that it is portable, in the sense that it is not tied to a particular instrument. And the main virtue of tab over standard notation is that the learning curve is much less steep, and it's easier/faster to pick up.
    Normally one can perceive the distinct advantages of standard notation and tablature when they are combined, as happens in precise transcriptions of notable performances. Standard notation definitely has an advantage in transcribing timing and duration, while tablature has an advantage in description of technique on the physical instrument itself.

    I occasionally work on the Finnish kantele, but it was only when I decided to develop and add my own tablature to the standard notation, to capture the the things which were problematic to notate in standard, that I was able to then build upon the technique and fingering without having to reinvent the wheel from scratch when coming back to something after a time.

  20. #43
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    One advantage of standard notation is that it is not tied to one instrument. So the worlds music is available to you, not just what someone has decided to tab out for mandolin.

    That is not due to any type of superiority of course, just a happenstance of where we are in time and the minority status of the mandolin.

    I have a whole lot of tune books. Shelves and shelves. And shelves. Its up to six or seven five foot shelves, something like that. Most were/are written for violin or fiddle, some piano, some recorder, and very few, less than 7 inches of space on one shelf, tune books written for the mandolin.
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    >I can read staff notation but it takes me few seconds to interpret in my brain - so can't play on a tempo.
    >However, I find tablature far easier and I can play instantly as I glance on it.

    This sounds like not being familiar enough with sight reading standard notation.
    [The process of learning tab/notation is very similar] For notation, first one should know
    all finger/string/staff relationships in first position. It requires intense memorization
    to know it cold but isn't hard. Then [if primarily reading folk music/fiddle tunes etc]
    learning how to count 1&2&3&4& with 8th notes and learning all the larger note
    durations and equivalent rests. There's more to learn, but this much will take you
    a long way into sight reading folk music.

  22. #45
    Spencer Sorenson Spencer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Yes!! Many years ago I remember a fiddle tune book by classical violinist Marion Thede that had some detailed transcriptions of old time fiddlers' playing. I have the book somewhere but I have to dig it out, but I do recall that many of the transcriptions had some complicated ornamentations notated which made it fairly complicated to learn the tunes.
    "The Fiddle Book" by Marion Thede in 1967, actually has "double" transcriptions of cross-tuned tunes. She lists the tuning, then shows notation for the notes to be played by a player used to reading standard notation as if the fiddle was tuned to standard GDAE, i.e. the correct finger positions. Then she shows notation "sounds as follows" that gives the correct tones when played on a fiddle in standard tuning. The idea is for a classically trained musician to retune the fiddle, but play the first version as if if were tuned in standard notation. She was a classical player who found this a useful way to present these tunes to other classically trained musicians. Not so relevant for mandolins, but mandolins have also been "cross-tuned".


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  23. #46
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosmic Graffiti View Post
    I think a fair question for Mobi is:

    How long have you been practicing reading staff notation?

    Sight reading/reading from staff is a skill that needs to be worked on and honed over time. The more you do it the less complicated it
    Great question!

    The only way you get better at sight reading is doing a lot of sight reading.

  24. #47
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Yes, a great question for the OP, but I wonder if Mobi will actually check this thread and let us know whether any of us actually answered his question.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Actually, I think we're in agreement! In my earlier post, I was careful to point out that changing the key not only changed the array of closed versus open notes available, but also the strings involved in playing the notes. All that changes the timbre of the notes, as I said -- but not their (relative) frequencies. But maybe you missed where I said that? .
    I am not arguing with you. I do agree with you. I said you said that.

    I guess the way to say it is that no key has a distinctive sound as a consequence of any difference in intervals because there isn't any.

    Oh wait, I can see how it looks like I was arguing. A pesky "but" I needn't have included.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Staff notation woes

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    Am I correct in saying most people don't possess perfect pitch and pick up relative pitch more easily?
    Perfect pitch is very rare, and does not help so much in reading and playing music. One effect I have heard some people talk about is that folks with perfect pitch are often less patient with less than perfect tuning.

    Relative pitch can be learned.
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