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Topic: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

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  1. #1

    Question Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    I keep thinking the question of how to restrict ranges into the realm of "practical" is going to be solved once and for all - but for me, it just isn't. Every darned time I'm working now, I get tripped up.

    For those who came in late: Up until recently, I've always just let the ranges as programmed in the Garritan Libraries be my guide. If a note plays when I'm way at the bottom or top, then I'll use it! I've always liked to push things out to use all the highs and all the lows possible.

    But now I've been trying to toe the line and properly notate pieces for Concert Band, grades 3-5. One of the first notes I was given was that I was constantly going out of range. OOOoh - so That's what those red notes in Sibelius mean. I thought they were just decoration.

    I'm still dismayed over how much higher the low notes are for baritone sax, bass clarinet, bass trombone - But I'm adapting, and figuring out how best to get back the oomph.

    One thing confusing is the conflicting information on what "practical ranges" really are. Sibelius has a dialogue for each instrument with the suggested practical ranges, and the ones for pros. And some publishers of band music, the genre I'm interested in, will publish their guidelines, with the ranges getting wider as the band grade gets higher. But none of these charts are the same.

    Here's an image file of the chart I typed up today for reference. The source is:

    Range Guidelines

    No octave numbers were indicated, but in the last column for grade 5 you'll see I've typed in the octave numbers for clarity.


    Fine - but many of these are Very different from the default ranges in Sib. Some go to what Sib lists as "pro" - others are far short of Sib's safe zone.

    Opinions on these? --Note that I've left in some instruments here which I know aren't often in CB music and which I'm not scoring for - english horn, Eb clarinet, contrabass clarinet, and string bass.

    Here's one that really confuses me - Euphonium. I was writing far too high for it, because it sounds so nice - but it's not at all practical. Some sites say high F is the limit, others have told me high G is OK, and I've been going with that. But look at the chart - for grade 5 it is has Bb4--??

    And then I know I get confused by octave numbering also. With our MIDI keyboards capable of slipping around in octaves with the push of a button, something I do often to get the most out of my 62 note keyboard, I usually don't know what octave I'm really in. Add to the confusion - for some unknown reason, Sonar has always called Middle C C4, while the rest of the world generally calls that C3. So when I'm looking at notes in the PRV, it's always labeled an octave higher than it really is.

    I'm still working in Sonar and then importing work in Sib. I'm trying to stay in range as I work - but I'm still rudely surprised when I open files in Sib and see that once again I've gone beyond the pale.

    SO - Those with more know how and experience - and that's Many of you here - input please? What I'd really love to see is your version of the grade 5 ranges, no matter if they're totally different than what you see in the chart.

    Randy

  2. #2

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Hello Randy! This is an interesting topic! I'm sure people will be able to give great advice on this one!

    I can tell you a couple quick things about percussion and timpani.

    Younger percussionists rarely see the bass clef in keyboard percussion. Though they know a bit of it from timpani, I have rarely seen marimba (usually the only keyboard percussion instrument written with a bass clef) written with bass clef before grade 4ish.

    Another consideration with Timpani, apart from the number of drums, is the frequency of tuning drums during a piece and the time given to tune each drum. In grades 1 and 2, I would avoid any re-tuning. Grade 3 I feel could handle 1 or 2 retuned drums, as long as the performer was given ample time (10 seconds would probably be playing it safe). Grade 4 I think could retune as often as necessary provided there is enough time. I would expect grade 5 to be able to tune drums in a few seconds - by this point the player should be able to do it by ear (which is one reason I've always considered timpani the most difficult percussion instrument )

    Timpani for grade 6 (territory I've never dared enter) - retuning while playing.

    Just my thoughts!
    Michael Obermeyer, Jr.
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  3. #3

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Quote Originally Posted by sanyarem View Post
    ...I can tell you a couple quick things about percussion and timpani.

    Younger percussionists rarely see the bass clef in keyboard percussion...

    Another consideration with Timpani, apart from the number of drums, is the frequency of tuning drums during a piece and the time given to tune each drum...
    Great, thanks for the percussion notation tips, Michael.

    I've stuck with the standard way of notating percussion, so no bass clefs except for timpani. - Tuning timp--I haven't even gone there. I've been pretty conservative with that instrument, like one score just needs two notes - The most any of these scores need are 4 notes, with no re-tuning needed--well, unless they only have two drums I guess!

    Thanks again - AND sure hope to get some input on these ranges. I'm working on a score today, and I have that above chart open, but it's all still seeming vague to me - really bothers me how very different most of those ranges are compared to the Sibelius defaults. I'm still in Sonar with this project, so don't have the red note warnings to guide me like in Sib.

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    This sounds like the kind of question I am asking all the time. Though my score is intended for professional musicians, so many schools and amateur theater groups do musicals that I am always mindful of keeping the parts in the range that these groups are capable of playing well. I can't imagine even pros complaining that they aren't using the extremes of their instruments enough. I think the that the easier it is to play technically, the more musicians are free to explore the mood of the piece and the subtleties of expression in their playing.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  5. #5

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Hi Randy,

    This is a great topic. I am afraid there also a great deal of interpretations to practical range charts as opposed to professional range charts. And worse, every band director has there own ideas on what will work for their particular ensemble.

    I have looked through your chart and I am assuming that the pitches that you show for each instrument are already in the instruments transposed range. Anyway it looks that way to me.

    I am a little confused on your Grade 1 ranges and in particular the Bb Clarinet. How is F-G an interval of a 17th 9isn't it a 16th)? Or am I misunderstanding something? Which F and which G are you referring too? Let's assume you stick to middle C as C4. But if you prefer C3 just clarify which one is really middle C for a reference point.

    As for Grade 5, the range you indicated is perfectly fine. I would think going one more note to A6 is not out of the question as I have done that numerous times on Grade 5 music.

    Alto seems fine but then I am not sure about your interval designations. They are all off by one step by the method I am counting them so it is probably just semantics. But I see (on the clarinet e.g.) an F to an octave higher F as an 8th (octave) G would be a 9th, A= 10th, B= 11th, C= 12th, D= 13th, E= 14th, F= 15th and G= 16th.

    This is a doable range either way you count it. and so is the Alto Sax

    The other problem I see is the Tenor and Baritone Sax Grade 1 parts. I don't think there are many Baritone Sax players in Grade 1 bands (the horn is really big and takes a more mature (big) player). I suppose there probably are some out there. The ranges confuse me though. If all the other ranges are in the instruments transposed range than these two ranges confuse me. The fingerings for all three saxes (Alto, Tenor and Baritone) are all the same i.e. a C in the Treble Clef Staff (third space) is fingered the same on all of them. Yet you have different notes for the Tenor and Baritone ranges. The written (transposed) ranges are the same for all 3 instruments.

    Anyway, that is my 2 cents worth.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  6. #6

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    ...I am always mindful of keeping the parts in the range that these groups are capable of playing well...
    Thanks for the reply, ejr - Being mindful of what can be played, and what publishers will accept, is exactly what I'm trying to do. Since this is part of your goal also, could you please post the ranges you're using. I'm sure your chart would be useful, since you're being careful in this area.

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    ...I have looked through your chart and I am assuming that the pitches that you show for each instrument are already in the instruments transposed range...
    It's no my chart, Rich. It's from a publisher's site, and I posted the link to the original. But--hmmm, maybe THat's why this is all looking screwy to me. I assumed these were concert pitch, like the chart in Sibelius. --!

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    ...I am a little confused on your Grade 1 ranges and in particular the Bb Clarinet. How is F-G an interval of a 17th 9isn't it a 16th)? Or am I misunderstanding something? Which F and which G are you referring too?
    I'm confused too, Rich, hence this thread. I typed up a copy of the chart on that site because it's the only one I've found - but it's not helping me yet - Confusion over whether its transposed or concert, and with no octaves listed - it's not clear from just looking. I tried to improve it by adding the octave numbers in that last grade 5 column, based on what I was seeing in Sibelius, but I'm not really sure if I have all of those right.

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    ...I am not sure about your interval designations. They are all off by one step by the method I am counting them...
    It's the chart as put together by the music editor at that publishing house - His system. I don't know- I'm not in the habit of referring to notes or chords by numbers, but his numbers do indeed seem one off!

    hmmm- Maybe I should abandon this chart, put together one with all the defaults as they are in Sibelius. I can work more directly with that, since it has the built in warning system of the red notes. But in Sonar - Like today as I work, I dip down with my baritone sax - I'm not at all sure if what I have is OK - is it even in the right octave?--lol!--

    Well - confused as ever!

    Randy

  7. #7

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    It's the chart as put together by the music editor at that publishing house - His system. I don't know- I'm not in the habit of referring to notes or chords by numbers, but his numbers do indeed seem one off!
    Well, if this is what the publisher is putting out, then they are not being helpful to composers at all.

    Question-
    Have you contacting anyone in local colleges that teach music education? They could be helpful in getting you a practical range chart that is consistent. Hmmm, I have old music ed books lying around somewhere, maybe they can shed some light on this. I'll get back to you...
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  8. #8
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Hi Randy,

    Site/PC issues and my Christmas song work have kept me away recently, but this looked too juicy to stay away from! As usual, even when you are the student, we all get to learn right along with you. I've really enjoyed your foray into band music and thanks to your sharing of the journey, and comments from pro band stalwarts like Rich and Art, et al, I've learned a lot too.

    Leaving the chart for a moment, there's also an important practical element when dealing with the extremes on instruments, especially the winds, and that's how the extreme note is reached, and at what intensity/dynamic the note is to be played.

    IOW, it's not just a static, indicated note on a chart. A borderline high/low note becomes much more attainable when it's approached via a step-wise run of notes leading up (or down) to the target note. I.E., the grade 1 trumpet 'hi' of E is easier to hit (maybe even an F), if the player plays A-B-C-D-then E, vs. having to just hit the single note D (well within the acceptable grade 1 range) without any lead-in notes before it.

    As far as volume, the extreme notes are much easier to hit when they are loud! Same principle, easier if the dynamics intensify going into the target note.

    I have some experience on saxes (soprano down thru baritone) and clarinets (Bb, Eb alto, Bb bass), and as far as the low notes go, the clarinets are relatively easy to play (even at softer dynamics) right down to the lowest notes (written E or Eb on bass), but the saxes seem more difficult to navigate those lowest 2-3 notes without 'honking' them. It seems to get more difficult for the lower saxes (harder for me to play Bb-B-C-Db) on tenor and bari, but easier on sop and alto) ... once again, those notes become much easier to "play into" rather than just hitting them to begin a passage.

    Another consideration with the clarinets is writing across 'the break', the point where the instrument overblows (between written B and Bb) ... it's like a gazillion fingers down for the B and only one for the Bb, so hovering passages around the break become difficult for less experienced players (ain't easy for pro's either!).

    There's a related problem for trombonists in their lowest octave, if they have to quickly change the slide from the 6th or 7th position up to the 1st or 2nd position ... looks cool but is not easy!

    A little aside that somewhat illustrates the above: One of the true musical treats for me, a musical theater pit buff, is going down and watching the player's warm-up before a show. These are the creme-de-la-creme of NYC pro musicians, and listening to, say, the reed V player play a 2-1/2 octave scale on the baritone sax (from the low Bb or A), at a whisper, with perfect intonation and evenness of tone, is just a sound to behold. He'll then do the same thing on bassoon, contra alto clarinet, etc ... and each case, the sound is simply perfect! Same for the bass trombonist, 2nd cello, etc, etc ... scales never sounded so good! God, these cats can blow!

    Hopefully a reed player like Rich R. can either substantiate or refute my personal experiences on reeds, and everything else I mentioned really transcends 'band' writing; it's just good arranging/orchestrating technique to always try and use good voice leading for all the parts, which really helps with those extreme notes.

    Once again, Randy, thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

    Frank

    2-cents on the chart: I found the octaves added to the grade 5 player's column of limited value, since the concert location for the notes can be pretty far away (I.E., all the saxes use written low of Bb up to F or F# for their range (w/ some bari's going down to low A), but for a bari sax, the transposition is up an octave and a major 6th, and for a sop sax, it's only up a major 2nd. That column would make more sense to me if it were the octaves for the actual concert pitches.) On what Rich R mentioned, I would think it's the bari that would use D as a safe bottom (as per my experiences as well), not the alto sax. Like I said: 2-cents!



  9. #9

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    Well, if this is what the publisher is putting out, then they are not being helpful to composers at all...
    Here - New improved, simpler chart. These are the default practical (amateur) ranges as Sibelius has them. I've put them in this chart to refer to while working in Sonar, and also made an image file of what the ranges look like on staff paper in a transposing score. - I haven't contacted a school, rather afraid I'll get yet more conflicting info. So, for now, I'll rely on this (until further notice!) - and if a publisher picks up a piece but points out some ranges to change, then I'll have lived and learned!

    BUT - I still invite specific range suggestions from anyone who thinks anything on this chart doesn't seem right.

    Note - These are Concert pitch, and Middle C is C4.




    Randy

  10. #10

    Re: Notation - "Practical Ranges"

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank D View Post
    ...I found the octaves added to the grade 5 player's column of limited value...
    Frank! You were writing your post as I was putting up my new one. Ignore earlier chart--feh--it's worthless.

    The new one is concert pitch, which only makes sense, we know what the octave #s mean. Do let me know if anything seems screwy there to you.

    Meanwhile--great stuff in your post - leading to those extreme notes to make them easier to hit, avoiding writing in the breaks - all the stuff I'm still not as awake about as I need to be.

    Great stuff - let me know if the new chart seems OK.

    Randy

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