Re: Re: BB-Flat and C...what?!

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Posted by Rick Denney on April 15, 2002 at 13:27:49:

In Reply to: Re: BB-Flat and C...what?! posted by Greg Crider on April 15, 2002 at 07:37:58:

I would go further and suggest that we abandon the use of the word "key" in describing the length of the bugle. That word is used to describe the harmonic structure of music, and it's a confusing term when applied to chromatic instruments. I think it is left over from the days before valves when brass instruments were limited to the harmonic structure imposed by the length of the bugle (more on that below).

Instead, I'd suggest the term "pitch" to describe the length of the instrument. It is shorthand for "fundamental pitch" but at least it's dimensions are the same--Hertz.

So, a tuba pitched in Bb plays using different valve combinations than a tuba pitched in C, but both play music written in the the same key as they sound, like a piano.

The reason for all this is simple: Tubas were invented after valves, and were therefore always chromatic instruments able to play in any key. Likewise trombones, but for different reasons. The remaining brass plays in the treble clef, and those instruments were invented before the valves, and were therefore limited to the notes available in the open bugle. So, a Telemann sonata written for a "trumpet in D" was written for a valveless trumpet that was pitched in D. But the positions of the notes were kept the same, so that the third note in the harmonic series would always be in the same place on the page. This was a convenience for the player who had to change crooks or instruments to play in different keys, but who wanted the music to always look the same.

This convenience was not necessary for tubas or trombones, because they could play most all notes in their range and could therefore play in any key right from the start.

So, when someone says a tuba is in the key of C, they are applying a band-aid to what as originally a band-aid. The original band-aid was the use of transposing to make it easy for brass players to switch from one valveless instrument to another, and the second band-aid was describing the tuba as a particular sort of transposing instrument (that is, non-transposing because it is in the key of C). Better to remove the band-aids, and say that the tuba is a chromatic instrument capable of playing in all keys, but that it comes in various pitches. It is the responsibility of the player to push the right buttons on any given tuba to produce the concert pitch marked in the music.

Rick "hitting a 2-penny nail with a 4-pound sledge hammer" Denney

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