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Bass Guitar Music Notation

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lunchmeat
(@lunchmeat)
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I haven't been here in a little while, but I've been expanding my skills in music notation. I haven't been practicing bass as much as I should, but that will hopefully change soon when I have more time to devote to it.

I noticed that, in the Wiki article here ( https://www.guitarnoise.com/wiki/doku.php?id=reading_bass_tabs_and_notes ) that the standard notation, while correct, is in the wrong octave. Bass notes are actually an octave lower than written here, and in some notation this is shown with an "8vb" symbol.

I'd like to edit the wiki to reflect this, but it seems that the user logon for the forums isn't the same as the wiki. Is there a specific logon to use, or are general members restricted from this area of the forum?

-lunchmeat


   
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NoteBoat
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That actually is the "standard" notation that's shown.

Although the bass does sound an octave lower than written, so does the guitar - that's just the way it's done, because it results in all the notes being on a single staff without excessive ledger lines. And since it's the way it's done, it's "standard".

We're not the only instruments that do this.... music for the piccolo is written an octave lower than actual pitch. Contrabassoons are written an octave higher, and bass clarinets are transposed up a ninth in written notation - so they'll use the treble clef like the other clarinets.

Instrument-specific quirks like this happen frequently. The goal of "standard" notation isn't writing everything in relation to a specific pitch, it's to make the music most legible for that specific instrument. That's why some instruments, like trumpet or the saxophones, transpose at intervals other than an octave, and why other instruments have completely different notation rules... for example, a sharp or flat within a measure is 'reset' by a bar line for most instruments, but not for the harp!

We simply leave it up to arrangers, orchestrators, and copyists to know the rules for each instrument. Writing "8ve basso" below a bass part would put it in "standard pitch", but not in "standard notation" - so in higher passages a bassist might be led to play it an octave lower than you intended.

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lunchmeat
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Noteboat, I appreciate your reply. I remember that you were quite the source of knowledge around here, so I'll definitely try to soak up what I can.

I currently own a six-string bass, and I'd like to start notating some exercises....but the effective range of this bass is over three octaves (I think it's one note over four octaves, actually?) and I know that music for piano uses grand staff notation. Do you think that this would be appropriate for exercise applications that extensively use the extended range of the bass? (I ask because I could effectively cover four octaves with grand staff notation.) Or would you recommend using a regular bass clef for something like this?

I understand that, because this would be for practice purposes, I could more or less do whatever I wanted to (and I'll probably use the grand staff notation) but if I wanted to give someone else the exercise, would they understand it? I suppose I'm trying to figure out "best practice" here, even if I'll need to skirt it to fit my personal needs. It'd be helpful to know what the general rules are so that I can adhere to them when writing and understand them when reading.

-lunchmeat


   
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NoteBoat
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I'd probably just use the "standard" bass notation. I'm assuming you tune your 6 string BEADGC, so the lowest note would be under the 2nd ledger line below the bass clef - reading two ledger lines is a piece of cake. Even if you used some non-standard tuning that went much lower, like GBEADC, you'd be able to write the lowest note using just three ledger lines.

The reason I'd go with that is it's easy for any bassist to interpret. You should probably also make a little note on the tuning at the beginning of the score - that's customary for any part that's not in the standard range for an instrument.

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lunchmeat
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What about the higher ranges? Anything between frets 12 to 24 above the A string would result in a lot of ledger lines. I don't plan on retuning the bass (I don't think that many amplifiers could even handle a low G :P ) but I do plan to practice using the entirety of the fretboard.

I'm really more concerned about the upper ranges than the lower ranges - the lower, as you said, is simple - just a ledger-line B. The upper ranges, though, are what will really cause the problems, as the 24th fret on my C string is an octave above middle C (which would make the notation one octave above that if I follow bass convention).

I'm using this picture for reference:

-lunchmeat


   
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NoteBoat
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Sorry, I misunderstood. It's typical for most instruments to use the ottava (8va or 8ve) for notes that would require more than 3 or 4 ledger lines. The fourth ledger line over the staff will be B - the 11th fret of your thinnest string. So using the ottava, you could write the whole range with no more than 4 lines.

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Dan Lasley
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But it could get messy if you do slap/pop with opens and 12th fretted notes... :roll:


   
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lunchmeat
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Hmm. Seems like more work, but if it's the right way to do it....I'll definitely do it that way and save the grand staff for any compositions that have simultaneous treble and bass notes. Since I'm really note good enough to use my bass in that way yet, it'll be a while! I appreciate your input, Noteboat. Thank you.

-lunchmeat


   
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lunchmeat
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But it could get messy if you do slap/pop with opens and 12th fretted notes... :roll:

Good point, Laz...man, I did not think about open strings. Additionally, I've got six strings, and I want to practice using extended intervals... Rats. Uh...

Noteboat (or anyone who knows), the ottava usually is used for a measure, right? Not for individual phrases? Or....well, I think it uses a bracket for certain notes, but I don't really know if that's true or not.

-lunchmeat


   
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NoteBoat
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The ottava sign is combined with a horizontal line over all the notes affected, with a vertical "tail" to signify the end. All the notes under the line are played up an octave.

As far as noting your exercises in concert pitch goes, you could do it that way if you wanted to... but you'd probably limit its use. I've seen guitar parts noted in concert pitch, which requires alternating between bass and treble clefs. I even practice them sometimes, but not often - but they're not standard, so you'll only run into them a handful of times in a whole career of reading. Only a few instruments (bassoon, trombone, and piano, off the top of my head) change clefs with any regularity, so most people won't be used to reading them. And when I see a score where the parts are written for the convenience of the composer instead of the performers, my gut reaction is that an amateur wrote it.

That's not always the case - I met a professional orchestral composer a few months back who writes everything in concert pitch, and he's had a great deal of success and gets regular commissions. But I had a hard time following his scores, and I'll bet most amateur and semi-pro conductors would too - we're used to seeing things the way we're used to seeing things.

But maybe that's just me. I'm kinda old school in notation - one of the things I did to pay my way through college was writing out charts for jazz bands (by hand - this was pre-Finale days), so I put a lot of effort into learning the differences in notation for various instruments. In my view, music is meant to be performed, so it's worth a little extra effort on the composer/arranger's part to make it as "standard" as possible for the musicians. Make it easy to read, and they're more likely to play it :)

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michellejane
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There are only 12 notes in the western musical scale: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#. Note that these notes can have different names depending on which key you are playing in. For example, A# can also be called B flat, and F can be called E# and so on. Every time the notes repeat themselves, it is said that you are in a different octave.
In the rudimentary note chart below, only the first ten frets of the bass are labeled. For the beginning player, the first ten frets are going to be played the majority of the time. In addition, students typically master the lower two strings (E and A) before they advance to the higher D and G strings.


   
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NoteBoat
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Michelle -

Since that's your first post, I'm guessing you haven't looked around much. GN is a bit different from the majority of discussion boards out there - it's well moderated, and a lot of people who post answers to questions here have a fair amount of experience. It might help if you'd read the posts above yours before jumping in... and it would definitely help if you'd read the original post completely.

The original post was a question about standard notation applied to the fretboard, not about note names. And the original post has a link to a fretboard chart from this site, so the one you meant to post probably won't add much to the discussion.

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