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Question about transposing instruments


bollemanneke
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Hello everyone,

 

I'd like to ask a question about tranpsosing music. Please note that I don't know anything at all about sheet music, I only have perfect pitch.

 

I just downloaded a number of John Williams MIDI files. Their quality is exquisite, but some instruments consistently play the wrong notes. So far, I know that the problem occurs with the contrabssoons and at least one set of violins. The brass section doesn't have this problem at all. In short, it comes down to this: When there's supposed to be a G, I hear an F, D's become C's etc.

 

Could anyone tell me what this is? Is this 'concert pitch' and what instruments does this approach apply to?

 

Thanks in advance.

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MIDI files are created by at least two processes. One is to use a MIDI keyboard (or other MIDI instrument I'm not familiar with) to play and record the sheet music. The other method is to hand place every note on the staffs using software like Finale, Sibelius, or Cakewalk. Both methods are prone to human input errors. 

 

I used to tinker with Cakewalk a lot in high school and college. The good news is that the MIDI files are very fixable. 

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I think what you are asking is why do some instruments transpose while others (even in the same family do not).  For example, oboes are written in concert C so when they read a C, you hear a C.  Unlike the English horn which is in the same family of instruments but transposes to F.  So if it reads a C, it will sound a G (a perfect fifth above the C.  All strings are in concert pitch except the double bass sounds an octave below written.  Generally a score will incidate if it is in "C" or "concert pitch" as apposed to "transposed".  Reasons why there are transposed scores include having the conductor see the same musical information that the performer sees if there is an error or performance issue, you are at least looking at the same source and can fix it faster.  Hundreds of years ago our instruments weren't as versatile as they are now.  In fact they are still evolving quite a bit. 

 

Take a look at these natural horns: stanford_natural_horn.jpg

 

Notice they have no values so each crook would only be capable of playing specific notes on a harmonic series.  This means the horn was written for a scale or a key.  If you were playing Beethoven's Eroica Symhony in E flat major, you would need the instrument that had that scale.  This would be the E flat horn.  Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll has a horn part in nearly every key EXCEPT F (modern horns).  This means that the original performer would have to have switched the crooks while playing where nowadays modern horn players playing on F would have to have good transposition chops or get a modern edition of the part that is in F for the modern double horn.  Nowadays, horns have values and triggers and double horns (two full sizes with extra piping) ultimately resulting in a single horn that can cover the keys of the crooks. 

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To address the original post, this seems rather strange to me - violins should be in concert pitch (sounds as written), and contrabassoon sounding an octave lower. As you say the brass is fine as-is, this does not seem to be a case of someone just typing up a transposing score, or you would have these issues only with horns, trumpets, clarinets, and english horn. A violin part sounding a whole step lower doesn't make any immediate sense...

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