Will this make sense if I do it?

• Apr 5, 2016 - 01:39

So, for an SATB arrangement that I'm writing, I am intending when the staves split for the alto part to be notated on the alto cleff and the tenor part on the tenor cleff. Would that make sense in the sense that Choir directors would use it?


Yes, and no. ;o)

From a historical viewpoint, what you are proposing is quite logical and good practise, but from a practical perspective, it will likely confuse most amateur singers and possibly even the choral director, depending on his level of education.

C-clefs were used almost exclusively in vocal music throughout much of the 15th-18th centuries; their use declined by the end of the 1800s and it is a rare non-professional today who can read the various C-clefs with ease. In general, only viola players and the players of certain bass-clef notated instruments such as bassoon and violincello, can read alto or tenor clef fluently today, although specialists in early music are an exception.

The solution adopted by conscientious music editors today is to show the original C-clefs in what is called an 'incipit', and then change to the treble clef (for the altos) and the treble-8vb clef (for the tenors). Here is an snippet from one of my company's scores, prepared in this way.

Incipit illus.png

You will notice that the incipit shows the original clefs, an ambitus (range indicator), and the original slashed-C time signature (which in those days did not have the same meaning it does today). The 'main' music begins with a change to the modern clefs and a numerical time signature (which is not subject to conjecture as to its meaning).

Setting the alto part in the standard treble clef will often result in going down two or possibly three ledger-lines below the staff for the low parts of the work. Alto choral singers are used to this, and read those low notes as easily as do violinists or clarinettists.

The 8vb treble clef is a G-clef set as usual on the second line, but it has a small '8' below it, indicating that what is written should be sung an octave lower than shown. Tenor choral singers are used to this, and won't even notice if that small 8 is missing...but MuseScore will, so use the proper clef from the clefs palette or your tenor line will play-back an octave too high.

In reply to by Recorder485

What did the c with a line through it mean back then. I know that the whole note with the two lines beside that read 8 counts right? And if the whole note were to have the two lines next to it and the right line being longer, that would be 16 counts right?

In reply to by Elwin

Hi. The "C with the line through" that you refer to is probably the time signature, which lays out the "time grid", how to relate through time.

The "C" (which faces the same way "c" does here) is a musical convention in notation that tells players that the time signature is 4/4 - 4 beats in a "bar", sort of like a grid in time over which you will place your melodies and rhythms.

The "C with the line through" is also a convention referring to the time signature. It stand for "Cut Time" which means that the notation itself is written out as if in 4/4 time, but the actual pulse of the piece is better felt as 2 half-note rather than 4 quarter note.

Afro-cuban music is a great example where, if you try to relate to it on a 4/4 basis, it will just be confusing and hurried (harried?). However if you relate to it as 2 "beats" a bar rather than 4 "beats", it begins to flow.

If you can express yourself a bit more clearly or upload an example of what you are trying to understand, I'm sure you'll receive help here.


In reply to by Elwin

It meant 4 beats to the bar.

In the middle ages they defined two kinds of time - 3 beats to the bar known as Perfect Time and represented by a circle, and Imperfect time (4 beats to the bar) represented by a circle with a line through it.

Over time the circle became a semicircle but retained the line.

This is a gross over-simplification of mediaeval time systems, but you can always research it more thoroughly yourself.

Robert Donington's book - The Interpretation of Early Music may be a good place to start, which is available in paperback from Amazon amongst other booksellers.

In reply to by ChurchOrganist

Sorry, but this is rather misleading information. In the late middle ages in a notation now called mensural notation certain note values (maxima, longa, brevis an semibrevis) could be divied into either 3 (perfectus or maior) or 2 (imperfectus or minor) (!n.b.: not 4) shorter values.

The subivision of the Longa was called 'modus', that of the Brevis was called 'tempus' and that
of the Semibrevis was called 'prolatio'. So, a given piece could make use of any of the 8 possible combinations of those subdivisions.

During the 15th century the possibility to subdive the Longa was hardly ever used (pretty much
no Longas any more ...) and a two-leveled inicator was used: tempus was inicated by a full (perfectus) circle or a half circle for imperfect tempus and prolatio was inicated by the presence (maior) or absence (minor) of a dot in the (half)circle Thanks to the (much debate) introduction of shorter note values (semi-minimal or even fusae) there was a certain need to indicate higher tempo for pieces even so they weren't notated without those small values. The idea was to
indicate a tempo "twice as fast" (or, as they called it, "proportio dupla") and that was done
by drawing a slash (or "cutting") the original tempus/prolatio indicator.

I hope it's clear that this is a rather oversimplified derscription. Actually, the current article on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensural_notation) is quite usable.

In reply to by Elwin

The history of notation is, as Michael (Church Organist) mentioned, complex and fascinating, but he has explained the essential facts about the barred-C time symbol very clearly. The only thing I would add to his explanation is to specify that the 'beat' at that time was the half note, not (as in much of today's music) the quarter note. That is why a numerical rendering of that particular time signature comes out with 2 in the denominator instead of 4. In music of that period, notes of a time value less than a quarter are quite rare; sixteenths are virtually unheard-of.

As to your questions about the breve (double whole note) and the longa (double breve, or half maxima), they contain 4 and 8 beats respectively, but again, remember that each beat is a half note, not a quarter.

In producing new editions of early music written in tempus imperfectum, most editors agree that the actual meter (usually 4:2) should be preserved even if the ¢ symbol itself isn't used. But others argue that students and amateur musicians today react to seeing half notes by slowing down--because that is what they are used to--and react to seeing breves or longas by crossing their eyes and fainting. So there is disagreement as to whether the piece should be transcribed into 4:4 and re-barred to encourage less-experienced singers and choral directors to perform the music, or to preserve the original time signature because it imparts a different feeling, subtle though that difference may be.

I am of the school of thought which retains the original meter because it really isn't that hard to get used to and the slight difference in approach it implies is important. (And I'm not publishing this repertoire for grade-school choirs conducted by a volunteer parent.) OTOH, I do transpose the staff notation into modern clefs because learning C-clef is a much bigger stumbling block, even to older students, and a transposition to treble clef implies no difference in interpretation whatever. (It's worth remembering that the use of all those different clefs was predicated primarily upon avoiding the need for ledger-lines as much as possible.)

In reply to by Recorder485

OK...this thread is a bit old, but I have a kinda dumb question. In your example above (thank you for posting), the part name is given once--only at the incipit--and then not repeated. Great! But I can't seem to get MuseScore to do that. It shows the part name AGAIN after the incipit...and deleting it or changing it removes it from the score altogether. Any advice?


In reply to by EM Cooper

There are two names relevant for a staff - the long and the short name. The long name appears at the beginning, the short after that. You want to leave the long alone, and delete the short.

If that doesn't solve your problem, please attach your score and we can advise further.

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