#1
I was idly reading about music notation today, as I do often, and now I'm a little confused about where on the clef the notes of the bass (and guitar, for that matter) actually lie. What's throwing me off is that everything I've read says that both the guitar and bass actually sound one octave lower than they are typically written.

So, as I understand it right now, "middle c" on a piano is C5, which is the 3rd space on the treble clef, and the first fret, B string, on a guitar (in standard tuning, of course). Is all of that correct? And is that the correct octave for the guitar? That makes the low E on the guitar E3. Is that right?

Assuming that's all correct, that makes the low E on a bass E2, right? Bass is one octave lower than guitar? But if bass is also supposed to sound an octave lower than written, does that mean the low E is actually E1? Which would make the low B on a 5 string B0? Is that even possible?

Someone wanna help me clear this up?
Guitars
Schecter Hellraiser C-1FR, C-1 Classic, Hellraiser Hybrid Solo-II, Special Edition E-1FR-S
Orange Rockerverb 50 212
Basses
Yamaha RBX374 and Washburn MB-6
#2
Middle C is actually C4. This is shown on sheet music as one ledger line below the treble clef. C5 is indeed the third space from the bottom of the treble clef.

The guitar is a transposing instrument. A transposing instrument is one where the actual pitch coming out from the instrument is not note one marked on the sheet music (eg. the pitch C4 would sound from a note marked G on the sheet music). This is a "convenient lie" meant mostly for horn and woodwind instruments so that they can all have roughly similar fingerings. However, a guitar transposes by an octave, meaning that the pitch is different, but the note is the same.

A middle C on guitar is actually on the second string first fret. But the would make most of the guitar below the range of the treble clef. So for convenience, guitarists use 5th string, 3rd fret as middle C, moving the guitar up on paper, putting most of the guitar on the treble clef.

So yes, the low E on guitar is E2, a low E on bass E1 and a low B on a 5-string bass B0. This scheme can go on in either direction, although there's no real point in using it past human hearing range. There's actually a black hole that emits sound waves, but 57 octaves below middle C (Bb-53): http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/09sep_blackholesounds/
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#3
Okay. That makes sense. Thanks a bunch. I'm considering a tattoo including some written music, and I'm not taking any chances with it being inaccurate at all.
Guitars
Schecter Hellraiser C-1FR, C-1 Classic, Hellraiser Hybrid Solo-II, Special Edition E-1FR-S
Orange Rockerverb 50 212
Basses
Yamaha RBX374 and Washburn MB-6
#4
Quote by the_bi99man
Okay. That makes sense. Thanks a bunch. I'm considering a tattoo including some written music, and I'm not taking any chances with it being inaccurate at all.

Maybe include the tab too, just to be on the safe side...
#5
Quote by rockingamer2
A middle C on guitar is actually on the second string first fret. But the would make most of the guitar below the range of the treble clef. So for convenience, guitarists use 5th string, 3rd fret as middle C, moving the guitar up on paper, putting most of the guitar on the treble clef.
Just to be pedantic here . "Middle C" is always 2nd string fret 1.
Guitarists don't "use 5th string, 3rd fret as middle C". That's an octave below middle C. It just happens to appear in the same place on the staff as middle C would on concert treble clef.
IOW, "middle C" is so-called because it's the C nearest the middle of the piano keyboard, and (consequently) in the centre of piano double-stave. (Because the stave ideally shows the most-used middle range of an instrument.)
Middle C is also roughly in the centre of the guitar's range - which is why the clef is transposed so it can sit (roughly) in the middle of the guitar's single staff. (Concert double-stave would be ideal for guitar, but who wants to read that? OK, Johnny Smith did....)

Last (excessively) pedantic point. "Treble clef" is the name for the concert "G" clef, because of the high register it covers. When the staff is lowered by an octave, the G clef becomes a "tenor clef", strictly speaking. Of course, we don't call it that, because the usual choice for a tenor clef is the "C" clef, in which middle C is the centre of the clef (the clef itself can be positioned in different places on the staff).
The "C" clef would be ideal for guitar (no transposition needed), but what guitarist would want to read from C clef?? Dammit, G clef is bad enough...
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 15, 2015,
#7
Quote by Declan87
AFAIK bass guitar is usually written on the bass clef and is not transposed.


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#9
JRF is correct (yet again ).

AFAIK that's why "double bass" is so-called. Would I be way off there?
#10
Probably just has to do with it's low register more than specifically about it being a transposing instrument. I can't say I really know though. It's possible it refers to the fact that it typically doubled the cello an octave down.