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Topic: Viola Question

  1. #1

    Viola Question

    New to the forums and GSO. I am currently doing a midi recording of a Haydn String Quartet. All was going well until I hit the viola part. I'm not even sure what to call this clef. Viola Clef?

    Forgive this basic string question (I was raised a percussionist, what can I say), but is there a way I can play this viola part as if it were a normal treble clef and then transpose it somehow in my software program (Sonar) to play back correctly?

    Thanks in advance. I wasn't sure where to post this question, so I'm hoping somebody will see this.

    -- Rob

  2. #2

    Re: Viola Question


    The clef you are referring to is called C-clef and, as the name itself indicates, it gives the position of middle C. When the C-clef is placed on the third line of the staff (middle-C necessarily written in the third line as well), it is also called the alto clef.

    It is used for instruments which have registers somewhat below middle-C and do not have the very-high registers of, say, a violin or a flute. This is the case of the viola, which, having its strings a fifth lower than the violin ones starts to play an octave below middle-C. Well, you can guess the number of supplementary lines needed to write a C an octave below middle-C in treble-clef (also called G-clef).

    So, bottom line, Viola most always uses alto-clef (C-clef) to read its part. If you want, you can do a Wiki search on C-clef or alto clef and find out more about it, for yourself.

    Best regards.

  3. #3

    Re: Viola Question

    Basically if you mean that you cannot work out the notes for the viola part do the following. Enter the notes as if they are on the treble (or G) clef, then when complete move down a seventh (if a note is on the middle line enter as B natural then move everything down to C natural below).This will put the notes in as G clef. If Sonar can change clefs, you can use this at the end to alter the notation. Then learn to read the C clef in your spare time
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  4. #4

    Re: Viola Question

    Khium and Buckshead,
    Thanks very much for the reply. This is exactly what I was looking for. I actually did do some reading before my original post, but your replies helped things "click" for me.

    As an home recording amateur who doesn't play "real" strings, utilizing the ability to transpose MIDI notes is the probably the most time-effective strategy for this situation.

    Take care,

    -- Rob

  5. #5

    Re: Viola Question

    I very highly recommend the chapters focusing on strings in the book "The Study of Orchestration" by Samuel Adler for a very detailed analysis on what the strings can and can't do, as well as the sound of each of the strings on each instrument and putting each instrument in its best register. The book also goes into detail about contemporary techniques. While I still thank the makers of the course on this site for getting me started, Samuel Adler's book is giving me an extra boost, and I plan on reading more books on orchestration. I'd also like to point out that I've attempted to write something using a standard Mozart orchestra (Two Oboes, Two natural horns in the tonic, Two in the dominant (or relative major if in a minor key), and the standard Strings section), and I've got to admit, a lot of the techniques of orchestration I learned were forced upon me through the limited notes that the horns could play in the time of Mozart.

  6. #6

    Re: Viola Question

    Quote Originally Posted by headshrinker2 View Post
    As an home recording amateur who doesn't play "real" strings, utilizing the ability to transpose MIDI notes is the probably the most time-effective strategy for this situation.
    It may seem tempting, but don't do it! You'll never really learn to read the alto clef if you just think of it as treble clef with some weird transposition.

    Instead, learn each clef in its own right. It's not really difficult, and it will mean you don't need to rely on a crutch.
    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer

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