Attention violists : Alto clef to be outlawed
Alto Clef “Unfit for Purpose” Government Study Concludes
Good riddance! I always transposed anyway.
LOL!! I've recently received veiled threats to the effect that there might be a viola student for me down the line at one of the schools that I teach at. This ban is coming just in time!
I hope no one takes this as a "real" news, especially in this age of Gresham's Law.
The author is an American conductor. Perhaps we should seriously ban conductors first, then the alto clef?
I was talking to a trumpet player the other day about the way the instrument transposes. I argued that if you started learning trumpet and called C major D major then it would be easier for everyone. However, It seems clear that you had or have players that switch between instruments of different sizes who want the fingers to be in the same place when they read a note. If you play alto sax you can pick up a tenor sax and read like you would on the alto as far as fingering is concerned. The viola is like this for violinists and it would have been much easier for a lot of people if it was a transposing instrument as far as the clef is concerned. This would mean that C would look like G etc. Awkward in another way but easier for a reading violinist to pick up a viola. Anyway, sure why not, ban alto clef!!!
Jealousy, pure and simple.
The C-clef was there first, and it can be slid up and down at will.
Whoever it was 500 years ago that decided to use alto clef for the viola made a mistake. The even more rarely seen mezzo-soprano version of the C clef would be better; it puts the middle C on the second line from the bottom. Then the notation-fingering system would be exactly the same as violin. The only real problem of using alto clef for viola is that there are too many ledger lines for the A-string notes. Composers, Arrangers; please use treble clef for viola high notes. On first violin orchestra parts I prefer seeing the 8va notation. Anything with more than 3 ledger lines looks like a forest of pine trees- I can't sight read it. jq
If alto clef is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
And then there was Bach who sometimes used French violin clef on occasion.
That clef makes sense - it is one octave up from the bass clef.
Alto was developed by renaissance intelligentsia to keep air headed violinists out of the club. The parts were then dumbed down to allow time for deep conversation while basses were chastised for intonation, seconds for their counting and firsts for not being together.
What will be the penalty for using alto clef once it is finally outlawed?
Bruce, I think French violin clef makes a lot of sense. It certainly helps with the ledger lines.
Bo, isn't that 2 octaves?
It's one octave plus allowance for bad intonation.
Speaking of the cello - which we were not - I never understood why they sometimes use tenor clef. If the piano only needs bass and treble, with middle C as the perfect transitional note, why not cello? I'm afraid to argue with them because their instruments are much bigger and heavier than mine!
Raphael - it's all about logistics- a pianist sits only 2 feet from his music, can play with one hand while turning a page. A cellist sits 3 or more feet from the music, cannot continue to play while turning a page. Having to read from a full staff would screw up all the fun of reading chamber music.
@Adrian: off course it is two octaves. Just checking if you were awake ;-)
To me it's a bit like the QWERTY keyboard. Not the best setup (originally designed to slow people down so that typewriters did not get jammed) but its too late to change or rather would take a lot to change it. Even if you didn't do a transposing clef as I suggested earlier, you could have the C be two lager lines down and a G clef on the second line down or a C clef on the second line up. So many things make more logical sense but it's not going to change now. Or is it?
I agree with you, Christopher, about shifting the (middle) C clef down a third or the G clef down a "second" to a space for alto instruments, but my understanding is that the QWERTY keyboard was designed to speed up typing by avoiding intersecting letter arms. I do have to say as a viola player (converted violinist) it is nice to no longer have to count 4 and 5 ledger lines on manuscript scores.
Hmm. I decided to learn viola after many years of being only a violinist. The alto clef was more time-consuming to learn than I expected, after decades of reading only treble clef. It would have been a LOT easier to have the viola written as a transposing instrument.
Beware, this is the tip of an iceberg of forthcoming repressive legislation. They start with the alto clef. Give them that, they'll be banning the viola next. THEN how will senior citizens be able to keep warm on a cold winter's day?
Then OSHA will decide that we are all at risk for repetitive motion injury; vibrato and Wagner operas will be outlawed.
I too learned the new clef on the new instrument. But being a lazy so-&-so, I soon learned to read it on the piano, so I could learn the more chromatic bits by ear!
Re - reading ocatves up and down, I once did a reading of the Trout Quintet playing the bass part (since there already was a violinist but no bass)! Maybe it was from some piano lessons in the past but bass clef didn't bother me much and I mostly played a couple of octaves higher. It was much easier than the violin part!
In my cello days I was once asked in rehearsal by a conductor (who should have known better, but he wasn't a string player so there you go) to play in the viola section which was down on numbers and had some important bits to play. That was when I discovered that the alto clef was far too similar to the cello's tenor clef for comfort. Anyway, the nice people in white coats were very kind to me afterwards.
Violinists learn to read ledger lines up into the stratosphere. I don't see why violists can't learn them down to C in treble clef. Long passages can be written 8va or in bass clef.
We should revive the use of all of the clefs, including mezzo soprano and baritone.
As a student at Mannes I had to ultimately solfege in 7 clefs - including mezzo and baritone. I thought it was a waste of time and effort then and I still do.
An oddity of the three cello clefs is that in fact there are four of them in post-Baroque usage, depending on the publisher. The bass and tenor clefs are no problem - one just plays on the next string up for the tenor clef.
Raphael, what violas? Remember, people stopped making them. And violists don't make very good fuel. Neither do violinists.
Actually Trevor, there are many more variants of treble offset by thirds and up to an octave up for piccolos and the like. Then you get into transpositions for winds and brass that often have to transpose on sight if they don't have the correct pitched instrument.
I've never understood why violists don't just use a treble clef and lots of lower ledger lines. After violinists have to read all those high ledger lines. And we don't complain...
more about ledger lines; I find it hard to cold- sight-read more than 3 ledger lines. Maybe it's just a visual/mental snag for me. Or maybe it is more universal? I read somewhere, from an anthropologist, that we only instantly recognize numbers up to three. After that we use a counting system. There is a tribe in brazil whose counting system is "1-2-3-a lot". 4 o'clock on older watches was written IIII, then they switched to IV. There was an experiment in the rennaisance (?) with adding another line to the staff, then they went back to 5 lines. For old tech. music publishing there was less labor time for the copiests and engravers to use the C clefs than write ledger lines.
I propose that we write all notes on the middle line, and move the C-clef up and down (but not more than 3 ledger-lines above and below, needless to say..)
To those who suggested that violas should be tossed into a fireplace, I would respectfully suggest that this is not the right technique. There is possibility, however slight, that such an action could cause damage to the fire surround and/or mantle piece. Some care and attention is needed so this potential damage will not occur. May I suggest the careful placement of the viola in the fire is the best course of action.
Whilst we're on the subject of staves, which cannot of course exist in reality without some form of manuscript paper, may I draw the attention of those who, like me, still prefer to write their music in ink or pencil on real paper, and who would like to print their own mss paper, to this website from which one may download, for free, in PDF format various kinds of stave layouts varying from a whopping big-print 5 staves to a page (for young children) to 24 staves per page for the serious symphonic composer:
Trevor- Thanks for that connection. Yes, I still use pencil and paper for arranging, transcribing. I used to do real music copying with ink and the italic point pen.
Ouch! Don't give the violinists ideas: the might even comfuse "wood-block" with "chopping block"?
We could dispense with all clefs by simply having staves with about 40 lines. Really close together.
A pianist would need 88 lines, and an organist rather more, depending on the organ. An organist already needs to cope with three 5-line staves, and there are complex piano works that sometimes need four staves (Sorabji's "Opus Clavicembalisticum" is an obvious example).
Someone (Alois Haba?) once designed a 2-manual quarter-tone piano, a bit like a harpsichord. The two keyboards would have been a quarter tone apart.
"A pianist would need 88 lines, and an organist rather more, depending on the organ."
I'm with you only if the lines are color coded like a big crayola assortment. Maybe in a rainbow pattern. Although that might freak out people with synesthesia.
Harpists have differently colored strings to help them along. Just as we violinists have colored string windings to help us find the string we're meant to use :)
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.