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Author Topic: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?  (Read 6939 times)

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Pete Dunk

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #20 on: November 24, 2009, 04:47:39 PM »

I found this lesson on staffs and cleffs elightening. Scroll through the lesson until you reach the bit about the theoretical 'Grand Staff' which gives an explanation for the naming of middle C. Placing middle C at the centre of a keyboard is simply a logical progression ...
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old geezer

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #21 on: November 25, 2009, 09:13:39 AM »

on another tangent...

the Italians use these - do re mi fa so la si - to name the key of melodeon reed sets

we are able to transpose these to our English alphabet and key of a row on a keyboard

so, why do the Italians start their run with 'do' and not 'la' ?

or can we attribute the scale to start with the lady whom sung that song in the movie.. wot was it now....?

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mikesamwild

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #22 on: November 25, 2009, 08:37:12 PM »

Originally in church muisic chants  'Do' was the first letters of Dominus (Lord) one of the chants to which the scale was applied
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Mike in Sheffield

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Rob2Hook

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #23 on: November 26, 2009, 01:16:15 PM »

And how do you define the pitch, e.g. A-440?  An orchestra tunes to the oboe playing an A.  There must be something to all these stories form the mists of time!

Rob.
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Simon

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #24 on: November 26, 2009, 01:34:39 PM »

And how do you define the pitch, e.g. A-440? 
See wikipedia for a brief overview. Also tells you how that oboe tunes (or not).
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Steve_freereeder

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #25 on: November 26, 2009, 04:45:19 PM »

And how do you define the pitch, e.g. A-440?  An orchestra tunes to the oboe playing an A.  There must be something to all these stories form the mists of time!
In most orchestras, including my own, the oboist gives the A for tuning at the start of a rehearsal or concert. Usually, the oboist has a tuning fork or electronic tuner to hand and will carefully check their A against it and will try to adjust their reed and embouchure (the way yer stick it in yer gob) to get as close to A=440 as possible.  Once he/she is happy with the A they will sound it as a good, strong, held note for the rest of the orchestra to tune to.

There seem to be two oft-quoted reasons why it is the oboist who does this job - (a) the oboe is the instrument whose A is least able to be adjusted, so everyone else tunes to the oboe; and (b) the sound quality of the oboe ensures that it is audible above the sound of the orchestra.

As the rehearsal/concert progresses, the temperature of the instruments and room usually warm up, which affects the wind and brass instruments the most (makes them go sharp) whilst the strings tend to go flat. So retuning is necessary every so often, usually between pieces. The oboist is unlikely to be able to give exactly the same pitch A as earlier, so the whole orchestra's pitch will gradually change, often going sharp as a performance progresses.  So - all tuning is a compromise anyway. The best orchestras and players will listen to each other and make minute changes of embouchure and finger position to ensure they are playing in relative tune to everyone else. It's something you learn to do as you become a trained orchestral player. The top professional orchestras do it the best, which is why they sound so good. 
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mikesamwild

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #26 on: December 02, 2009, 03:55:11 PM »

Going back to the original post.  I've been ploughing through Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music which has been fascinating if taxing on my old eyes ( what small print!)


Apparently Boethius in the 5th C started listing the notes of the musical scale then used beginning with A

They had fewer notes in  a scale from A to A'  ( what we'd call the octave wasn't seven notes) and no accidentals.


I can't believe that people singing or messing around on flutes, one string fiddles or pipes wouldn't use a lot more notes  but I haven't seen any material on that yet.



It would be interesting to know what that early A was pitched at as the human voice won't have changed too much in its compass.  This was called Ut as it was the first word of a Latin chant to St John. The other names for notes were the first letters of the other phrases hence Ut (later Doh, it was easier to say) Re Mi Fa Soh La Si (Ti ) Doh withits variants in various countries
As time went on they added a lower G or a gamma.  So that gave us gamut  the range from G -A' and repeats


Somewhere in the 10th C The notes of the bass Clef were put on, and between 5 lines,  and we got the 'All Cows Eat Grass' stave .  That ran up through Middle C and on to the Tenor or G clef.  I can't find why they chose to locate the bass clef by the symbol for an F or the tenor by a G sign, even those weren't uniform anyway)


So it looks as though the compass from A to A'' in  a minor mode , relative minor to C major ( all on the white notes) was the range of a decent Tenor ( which comes from Latin 'to hold', same as for tenant) the one who held the tune or melody.  Middle C would be within that and probably became the effective range for a singer.  A lot of people still like to sing in C and it's a populat key for accompanying singers (guitar, C/G Anglo. early melodeons).. A system of learning and memorising  6 note scales or Hexachords was developed and memorised using the joints and tips of the fingers.  The 'Natural Hexachord' was Ut =C through to A.  Other hexachords were selected from the full range for help in singing within that mode and compass of the notes .  The one from G - E was the 'Durum Hexachord' ='hard' so they may have had one row melodeons in G

Gradually accidentals crept into musical notation so A would become a major scale as we know it .

Apparently they had a little bell for the pitching of the chants and later pitch pipes and tuning forks.


A good singer would sing the first word of the chant in the appropriate pitch and they'd work round that.. We do that at our local South Yorkshire carols when there's no organ or piano.  there we seem to get a pitch centred round one of the chords in a three chord trick for that key (I, IV, V, eg. C, F, G in key C)


It's been an interesting voyage of discovery starting from my Grandughter's puzzlement when she took up the recorder at school aged 6 a few months ago  'Why does the scale go CDEFGABc, not CDEFGABc' ?


She was satisfied by her Mum pointing out the first white note on their piano was A and that middle C was near the keyhole so that's why we use it!.  But not her old Grandad, oh no... ???   Now where's that book on the Enigma codes or why DNA is based on nucleotides labelled CGAT and where's the lost chord and what is the score for the music of the spheres, aaagghhh!

Kids eh!?
« Last Edit: December 02, 2009, 04:16:51 PM by mikesamwild »
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Mike in Sheffield

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Theo

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #27 on: December 02, 2009, 06:32:06 PM »

If you go to Scotland then the most common scale for trad music does start on A!

Must be the home of music   >:E  ;D
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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mikesamwild

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #28 on: December 02, 2009, 08:54:08 PM »

As a D/G box player I did notice that for many years Theo!

Do you think that came about when the fiddle  came in .  I don't know what the crowd , the predecessor to the fiddle, was tuned to but the Italian violin seems to allow A quite nicely.

Would Bb pipes be around the A mark before A was 440 Hz?
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Mike in Sheffield

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Theo

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #29 on: December 02, 2009, 11:23:54 PM »

Highland pipe tunes are written in A, the pipes are a bit sharp of A and may even get to Bb.  I guess the fiddlers just followed the pipe tradition and A is such a great key on fiddle.
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Theo Gibb - Gateshead UK

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Pushpull

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #30 on: December 03, 2009, 10:09:20 AM »

Going back to the original post.  I've been ploughing through Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music which has been fascinating if taxing on my old eyes ( what small print!)
Apparently Boethius in the 5th C started listing the notes of the musical scale then used beginning with A
They had fewer notes in  a scale from A to A'  ( what we'd call the octave wasn't seven notes) and no accidentals.
I can't believe that people singing or messing around on flutes, one string fiddles or pipes wouldn't use a lot more notes  but I haven't seen any material on that yet.
Well most earlyish music was fairly diatonic (as is much folk music now). Chromaticism took some time to catch on.
Quote
Somewhere in the 10th C The notes of the bass Clef were put on, and between 5 lines,  and we got the 'All Cows Eat Grass' stave .  That ran up through Middle C and on to the Tenor or G clef.  I can't find why they chose to locate the bass clef by the symbol for an F or the tenor by a G sign, even those weren't uniform anyway)
I can hazard a guess. Our present notation system of treble and bass clefs is based on the "Great Stave" which consisted of 11 lines having C on the middle line. Separating it out into two staves of 5 lines each with C on a ledger line between makes it easier to read. G is a 5th above C and F is a 5th below, so these are "obvious" positions to highlight.

Bear in mind there have historically been many different clef signs to suit various vocal ranges and instruments. A few remain. Viola uses alto and treble clefs, cello and bassoon use bass, tenor and treble clefs.
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Pushpull

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #31 on: December 03, 2009, 10:17:54 AM »

In most orchestras, including my own, the oboist gives the A for tuning at the start of a rehearsal or concert.

There seem to be two oft-quoted reasons why it is the oboist who does this job - (a) the oboe is the instrument whose A is least able to be adjusted,
I think the conductor in our orchestra was genuinely surprised to discover how much pitch variation I could get on my oboe without pulling the reed out (which in my view is a real last ditch effort to get in tune). Hence the need for the electronic tuner on the music stand.
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Steve_freereeder

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #32 on: December 03, 2009, 10:42:20 AM »

I can hazard a guess. Our present notation system of treble and bass clefs is based on the "Great Stave"
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Oh - sorry, I thought you said the "Great Steve"

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Steve
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mikesamwild

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Re: Why is the commonest major scale started on C not A?
« Reply #33 on: December 03, 2009, 11:18:11 AM »

No that was Stove Grate! ;)
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Mike in Sheffield

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