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Re: Music Glossary - 1.64 Concert Pitch (2.12.2)

From: Paul Scott
Subject: Re: Music Glossary - 1.64 Concert Pitch (2.12.2)
Date: Fri, 03 Apr 2009 15:09:10 -0700
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Anthony W. Youngman wrote:

Sorry, reading this was painful (I play the trombone, as many of you know :-)

1.64 concert pitch

The pitch at which the piano and other non-transposing instruments play, such music is said to be 'in C'. Officially, it is defined as "A = 440", meaning that the note A in the treble clef indicates a sound that has a frequency of 440Hz. There are other standard frequencies, but they have mostly fallen into disuse.

This convention is used for (almost?) all instruments with multiple sounding parts, eg tuned percussion and strings.

Instruments with a single sounding part (woodwind, brass) follow a different convention and are generally known as transposing instruments, although for some instruments (eg flute, oboe), the two conventions lead to the same result. The trombone is unusual in that music for it can be written using either or both conventions.

1.311 transposing instrument

Instruments whose notated pitch is different from concert pitch. Most of these instruments are identified in their name by their fundamental pitch - this being the note whose wavelength is equal to length of the instrument. For example Concert A is 440Hz, the speed of sound in air is 343m/s, therefore an A clarinet (or any other A wind instrument) will have a length of 343/440 = 78cm. (Or be a power of 2 longer or shorter.)

We could probably get to the truth from here but this is not correct as stated. My A clarinet is not 78cm long. It is significantly shorter. I don't know if this is more accurate for a brass instrument. It could be. I guess you would be talking about a trombone in 1st position or a valved instrument with the valves not depressed. For an A clarinet a low C (sounding concert A 220Hz) you would be fingering a note which only used about 1/2 the length of the instrument. For a C above that (sounding A 440Hz.) you would be using most of the length of the instrument but this is the 2nd harmonic of a cylindrical bore which is probably not a reasonable place to apply your description.

This note is always written as middle C in the treble clef, and is usually referred to as "being in 'X'" where X is the fundamental of the instrument it's written for.

As mentioned above this not the fundamental for a woodwind even if it is for a brass instrument. The most common fingering for a woodwind is the six finger note which is D (in the upper register for clarinets or G for a bassoon). From there we get to a C by either adding one finger or by removing most of the fingers. Neither using either the tube with no fingers down or all fingers down is really equivalent to a brass instrument for the purposes of this discussion. From one point of view you would call a bassoon an F instrument, a normal clarinet (Bf) an Eb instrument (equivalent to an F recorder).

Paul Scott

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