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Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 19:21:10 -0500
From: John Howell <>
Subject: Reading clefs

>From: Robert Howe <>

>Jim Katz, wrote:
>..... one thing that does get my goat is the
>> use of the tenor clef. Why write in that clef when most of the notes in the
>> part are well within the practical notation for the bass clef. I, too,
>> often see awkwardly written parts in the tenor clef whose notation would be
>> much clearer in the bass.
>It isn't easier in the bass, that's why composers use tenor.  Until
>Finale came along, it was easier to print music within the stave than to
>use ledger lines--in fact, this is true even with Finale.  Hence, the
>treble, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass clefs were all used for
>instruments of given ranges to simplify notation and keep the notes on
>the staff.

Robert is exactly right, but it goes back way before music printing.
Medieval scribes freely moved the two clefs they used (C and F) to any line
in order to keep the music within the (4-line) staff.  It simply slowed
them down to have to turn their quills sideways to draw ledger lines, and
probably put them in danger of smearing ink on the staff above if it hadn't
dried completely.  In the Renaissance, when the instruments to be used was
determined by the band leader rather than the composer, you could tell the
range of a part simply by looking at the clef that had been used, and 99%
of the time you'd be right.

By the Baroque period there were 9 versions of the basic 3 clefs in use:
French violin (G on bottom line), treble (G on 2nd line), soprano (C on
bottom line--Bach used this for soprano vocal parts and the right hand of
keyboard music), mezzo-soprano (C on 2nd line), alto (C on 3rd line), tenor
(C on 4th line), baritone (F on middle line), bass (F on 4th line) and
sub-bass (F on top line).

Those moveable clefs were used by European composers well into the 20the
century, and the great French teacher Nadia Boulenger was still teaching
them to her students after WWII.  And once you know them, you can use them
for instant transposition by mentally changing the clef and adding sharps
or flats.  But the key fact is that European musicians WERE trained to use
them.  In American music education they are not taught, and female singers
or players of treble clef instruments may never even learn the note names
in bass clef!

One thing I have discovered is that some people read music as note names,
and if you can do that, you can learn ANY new clef rather quickly by still
thinking note names.  But some American students learn music as tablature
instead.  (Tablature is notation, like guitar boxes, that tells you where
to put your fingers but not what notes will sound.)  And someone who thinks
of notes solely in terms of fingerings rather than note names has a very
difficult and frustrating time switching clefs or transposing.

Bottom line:  If you're intimidated by clefs, blame your school music
teachers, not publishers who are following precedents established by people
who assumed that musicians would be EDUCATED!


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411   Fax (540) 231-5034

Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 23:01:01 EDT
Subject: Re: bassoon writing

In a message dated 8/29/1999 12:04:19 AM, writes:

<< The bassoon reminds children of paper, of incomprehensible adult
language, of very hard work, of difficulty, of black-tie parties or
formal dinners. (I mean, it looks like a giant fountain pen. How much
more adult can you get???) In other words it is loathed by the young
because it is difficult. >>

Strange, everyone always told me my bassoon looked like a bong.  Not the most
adult thing. :)

And what the hell does that heckelphone bell look like?
Jon Carreira

From: "Jim Wheeler" <>
Subject: Real Range of a Tuner
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 05:53:16 -0400

Real Tuner Range

A few years back, I purchased a Korg AT-2 tuner.  At that time
I only played a B-flat clarinet and the tuner worked fine for it.
However, as my taste in music got lower, partial thanks to the Contrabass list,
I found the tuner did not register low notes.  When I checked the tuner with a piano,
I found its range to be only about four octaves.  It seems the sensitivity drops off
On both end of the range, as if it is hard of hearing.  At any rate, it doesn't do C1 to B7
As the Owner's manual states.  I checked the WW&BW catalog and found even the
Two for less than $20 say they do seven octaves.

Can someone here on the list give me a recommendation on a tuner that really does
Seven octaves, especially at a normal decibel level.

Please respond directly to me if you feel this topic is not appropriate for this list.

J. W. Wheeler


Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 09:54:06 -0400
From: Gerald Corey <>
Subject: Re: Little people bassoons

This is an interesting thread. Firstly, the bassoon is a great instrument which
does not compete with the bass clarinet in the firmament of wind instruments -
each enhances the bass and tenor range. Secondly, I have played on two
tenoroons owned by William Waterhouse of London. One is a Savary full french
system and the other is a Marzoli Boehm with boehm system keywork, fully
functional after a hundred years of aging, and they both play beautifully. Bill
W. who also is a collector of historical music for bassoonS - had us playing
16th and 17th c. German and french music scored for family of bassoons. The
modern small bassoons by Guntram Wolf, Amati and Guntram Wolf are sadly not up
to the standard of the 19th c. models. A maker could measure the instruments
owned by Waterhouse and could make tenoroons in various tonalities which would
sound like bassoons, which would have even tuning and attractive tone
qualities. Then we could all make tiny basssoon reeds, during which
transitional ones (just smaller than actual bassoon reeds ) would be ideal for
Heckelphone playing (my alter instrument).. Cheers to all, Gerald Corey, Ottawa wrote:

> I know of two bassoons with reduced keywork and a smaller body.  One is the
> "Fagottino" by Moosman, it's retail price is $5,000 and sells for about
> $3,300 at Giardinelli.  The other I know of is the "Quintbassoon" by Amati.
> This is one is in the key of G (fifth higher) and is designed for little
> people.  It's retail price is $2,500 and sells for $1275.00 at Woodwind and
> Brasswind.  I imagine some of the German companies (Adler, etc.) have other
> monstrosities like these.
> Drew Emery



From: Michael Cogswell <>
Subject: RE: [Contra digest]
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 10:29:17 -0400

Another (self fulfilling) factor influencing music at the academic level may
be the tendency of some directors to push lesser skilled clarinetists into
the bass clarinet.

-----Original Message-----
Jon Carreira wrote, in part:

". . .  Other factors also come into play such as that, on cheaper bass
clarinets, the
upper register can be difficult to play, especially for younger players.  So

any composer or arranger looking to sell music to jr. high or high school
bands will serve themself better by keeping out of the bass clainet's upper
register.  . . ."

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 10:51:47 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Re: Low Tuba Notes

>It is essential to open the back of your throat,
>feel like you are yawning when you play.  Even in
>the normal range.

It bears repeating that this advice is good for *all* bass and lower
instruments.  The timbre of your instrument is affected by the resonances
upstream from the embouchure to a greater or lesser extent on all
mouth-blown horns.  Opening the throat helps shift the resonance lower, and
emphasizes the fundamental and first few partials: on tuba, this is
essential to the timbre.


Grant Green  

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 11:05:49 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Re: Then why is it so big?

> What I don't understand is, if they're hardly ever going to use the
>low notes of the instrument they could have shortened the bassoon
>somewhat so thet it isn't such a pain to drag around everywhere. I
>mean, sell bassoons in a set of two for different range pieces. If a
>piece is played with no notes going above high D then that bassoon
>could be used for that, and if a piece has no notes going below Bb on
>the staff, then use that.

Depends on the music you're playing: try playing the second bassoon part in
an orchestra, and you'll have plenty of low register, including lots of low
Bbs, Bs, and Cs.  On tutti passages, the first bassoon may also playing in
that register.

As for dividing up bassoon parts into instruments of lesser range, well,
this ignores the economics.  Why pay for two players, when one "normal"
bassoonist could handle the part (and for that matter, play it as it was
written)?  I can't imagine many bassoonists deciding to limit themselves by
selecting a less-capable instrument.

> By the way, what I've been meaning to say is, the bassoon's this great
>big instrument that the untrained eye would assume playes the low
>parts, and it winds up playing high parts, so you have a couple of feet
>which are useless and could be chopped off to make the instrument
>lighter and smaller.

It *does* play the low parts.  Also a fair amount of the tenor and alto
parts.  Apart from that, those "extra feet" play an important part in the
bassoon's timbre at other parts of the range.  Try playing the wing joint
without the butt, long, and bell joints: doesn't sound the same...  Even
just removing the bell joint makes a difference.

> What I don't understand, though, is why the instruments which are
>literally not as low as the bassoon, such as the bass clarinet, are
>playing parts lower than the bassoon part. It's as if there was a
>bassoon and oboe, with the bassoon playing the high oboe parts and the
>oboe playing low parts, so the ranges are just switched!!

The bassoon, bass clarinet, and bari sax all have essentially the same low
range, and in simple arrangements often play unisons (in marches, they
often double the tuba line, at either unison or octave).  The bass
clarinet's most characteristic timbre is its low register, say from written
D down to its lowest note.  (BTW, the range and tessitura used depend a lot
on the grade of music you're playing.  I've noticed that many of the bass
clarinet parts in the SJWS music treat the BCl as if it was essentially a
5th Bb soprano, sending it into the altissimo frequently.)  The bassoon has
more than one characteristic timbre: one from about F below the bass staff
up to around Bb above, and another from around Eb above middle C to D an
octave higher.  The higher range is often used in solos because it *sings*.
When you're more accomplished on bassoon, you will grow to really enjoy
those solos.


Grant Green  

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 11:12:11 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Re: off topic (new bassoons)

>Well, i do agree with the subcontrabassoon you mentioned, but the bassoon has
>such a wide range that it's not really nessecary to have two bassoons only
>1/2 an octave apart (The Contralto Bassoon you mentioned).  I would make a
>Altoon in C instead, an octave above the normal bassoon that plays in the
>aproximate range of a bass oboe (Only with an ability to go much higher due
>to the fact that it's a bassoon).  This would (IMHO) make a valuable
>contribution to the orchestra.  Just my 2 cents.

The bassoon's ancestor (the curtal or dulcian) came in that kind of
variety, from quint bass to soprano.  I actually have a soprano dulcian - a
tiny thing with a reed slightly larger than an oboe reed.  I suspect that
an altoon wouldn't have as large a range as the bassoon: it is more a
matter of the size of the horn than the fact that its a bassoon.


Grant Green  

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 11:23:32 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Re: bassoon writing

> A serious disadvantage of the bassoon is its inability to be played in
>a consort, as in clarinets or recorders, flutes, oboes or strings
>(which is why it would be wiser to build the bassoons ranging in
>soprano to subcontrabass, although nobody seems to care about it enough
>to try)

Dulcians/curtals came in a variety of sizes, and were sometimes played in
consort.  However, the modern bassoon has a wide enough range that it isn't
really necessary.  Perhaps a tenoroon would help fill out the soprano end,
but bassoon/contra quartets and octets are already pretty wide-ranging.

> At an early age children cannot be taught to play the bassoon, because
>of its intimidating size, daunting keywork and lack of a simplified
>student-level instrument. Often one must wait till high school to start

I started in junior high, in 9th grade.  The bassoon is less awkward than
bari sax, tuba, string bass, cello, harp, and probably a few other
instruments that students take up in elementary school.  The keyword does
*look* intimidating at first, but most of the thumb keys are used just for
the bass extension (from E down): the beginner's first year is likely to
use mainly the RH4 F, the RT Bb, the pianissimo key, and the LT C#.
Really, there are fewer keys to deal with at the beginning than there are
with clarinet.

> Many methods written for the bassoon would probably be difficult for
>young children to understand. Although the Weissenborn methods are
>extremely useful in teaching, they are much too dry for young students.

There's your goal: write a witty but useful bassoon method for beginners :-)

> The bassoon reminds children of paper, of incomprehensible adult
>language, of very hard work, of difficulty, of black-tie parties or
>formal dinners. (I mean, it looks like a giant fountain pen. How much
>more adult can you get???) In other words it is loathed by the young
>because it is difficult.

Funny: my kids (aged 10, 12 & 14) much prefer things that they think are
"adult" to those they consider "kid stuff."  I think I took it up because
(a) it sounded cool, and (b) nobody else played it.

Fountain pen?  I always thought it looked more like a bazooka, or mortar.  ;-)


Grant Green  

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