Music Notation and Terminology


Musical Instruments

1. Broadly speaking, musical instruments may be divided into two classes, viz.: (1) those that have a keyboard and are therefore capable of sounding several tones simultaneously; (2) those that (as a rule) sound only one tone at a time, as the violin and trumpet. The piano is of course the most familiar example of the first class, and a brief description is therefore given.

The piano was invented about two hundred years ago by Cristofori (1651-1731), an Italian. It was an enormous improvement over the types of keyboard instrument that were in use at that time (clavichord, harpsichord, spinet, virginal) and has resulted in an entirely different style of composition. See note on embellishments, .

2. The most characteristic things about the piano as contrasted with its immediate predecessors are: (1) that on it the loudness and softness of the tone can be regulated by the force with which the keys are struck (hence the name pianoforte meaning literally the soft-loud); (2) the fact that the piano is capable of sustaining tone to a much greater extent than its predecessors. In other words the tone continues sounding for some little time after the key is struck, while on the earlier instruments it stopped almost instantly after being sounded.

The essentials of the piano mechanism are:

1. Felt hammers controlled by keys, each hammer striking two or three strings (which are tuned in unison) and immediately rebounding from these strings, allowing them to vibrate as long as the key is held down. The mechanism that allows the hammers to rebound from the strings and fall into position for another blow is called the escapement.

2. A damper (made of softer felt) pressing against each string and preventing it from vibrating until it is wanted.

3. A keyboard action that controls both hammers and dampers, causing the damper to leave the string at the same instant that the hammer strikes it.

4. A pedal (damper pedal) controlling all of the dampers, so that at any moment all the strings may be released so as to be free to vibrate.

Other interesting details are:

1. The strings are stretched over a thin sheet of wood called the sound-board. This aids greatly in intensifying the tone.

2. The soft pedal (the one at the left) in an upright piano causes the hammers to move up nearer the strings, and the shorter swing thus afforded causes a less violent blow and consequently a softer tone. In the grand piano this same pedal shifts the mechanism to one side so that the hammers strike only one or two of the strings, this resulting in a softer tone of somewhat modified quality.

These details regarding the mechanism of the piano can easily be verified by removing the front of any ordinary upright piano and observing what takes place when the keys are struck or the pedals depressed.

3. There are two familiar types of organ in use at the present time, (1) the reed organ, (2) the pipe-organ.

The reed organ is very simple in construction, the tone being produced by the vibration of metal reeds (fixed in little cells), through which air is forced (or sucked) from the bellows, the latter being usually worked by the feet of the player. More power may be secured either by drawing additional stops, thus throwing on more sets of reeds, or by opening the knee swells which either throw on more reeds (sometimes octave couplers) or else open a swell box in which some of the reeds are enclosed, the tone being louder when the box is open than when closed. More tone may also be secured by pumping harder.

4. The essential characteristic of the pipe-organ is a number of sets or registers of pipes called stops, each set being capable (usually) of sounding the entire chromatic scale through a range of five or six octaves. Thus for example when the stop melodia is drawn (by pulling out a stop-knob or tilting a tablet), one set of pipes only, sounds when the keyboard is played on: but if the stop flute is drawn with melodia, two pipes speak every time a key is depressed. Thus if an organ has forty speaking stops, all running through the entire keyboard, then each time one key is depressed forty pipes will speak, and if a chord of five tones is played, two hundred pipes will speak. The object of having so many pipes is not merely to make possible a very powerful tone, but, rather, to give greater variety of tone-color.

The pipe-organ usually has a pedal keyboard on which the feet of the performer play a bass part, this part often sounding an octave (or more) lower than the notes indicate.

An eight-foot stop on the organ produces tones of the same pitches as the piano when corresponding keys are struck: A four-foot stop sounds tones an octave higher and a two-foot stop tones two octaves higher. A sixteen-foot stop sounds tones an octave lower than the piano, and a thirty-two foot stop, tones two octaves lower, while some organs have also a sixty-four foot stop which sounds three octaves lower. This gives the organ an exceedingly wide range, its compass being greater than that of any other single instrument, and comparable in both range of pitches and variety of color only with the modern orchestra.

Modern pipe-organs always have a number of combination pedals or pistons (usually both), by means of which the organist is enabled to throw on a number of stops with one movement. The selection and use of suitable stops, couplers, combinations, etc., is called registration.

5. The instruments mentioned at the beginning of this appendix as belonging to the second class are more familiar in connection with ensemble playing, being commonly associated with either band or orchestra.

6. A band is a company of musicians all of whom play upon either wind or percussion instruments, the main body of tone being produced by the brass and wood-wind divisions.

Sousa's band is usually made up in somewhat the following manner: 4 flutes and piccolos, 12 B clarinets, 1 E clarinet, 1 alto clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 sarrusophones, 4 saxophones, 4 cornets, 2 trumpets, 1 soprano saxhorn (fluegelhorn), 4 French horns, 4 trombones, 2 contra-bass tubas, 4 tubas, 1 snare drum, 1 bass drum, 2 kettle drums, cymbals, triangle, bells, castanets, xylophone, etc.

7. An orchestra is a company of musicians performing upon stringed instruments as well as upon wind and percussion. It is differentiated from the band by the fact that the main body of tone is produced by the strings.

There are four classes of instruments in the orchestra, viz., strings, wood-wind, brass (wind) and percussion. In addition to these four classes, there is the harp, which although a stringed instrument, does not belong in the same group as the other strings because the manner of producing the tone is altogether different.

8. In the first group (the strings) are found the first and second violins, viola, violoncello (usually spelled cello), and double-bass. The first and second violins are identical in every way (but play different parts), while the other members of the family merely represent larger examples of the same type of instrument.

9. In the second group (the wood-wind) are found the flute, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, English horn, double-bassoon, clarinet, and bass clarinet. The English horn, double-bassoon, bass clarinet, and piccolo are not called for in the older compositions, hence are not always present in the orchestra.

10. In the third group (the brass choir) are found the French horn, (usually referred to as the horn), trumpet (sometimes replaced by the cornet) trombone, and tuba.

11. The fourth group (percussion) consists of kettle drums, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, bells, etc.

12. In an orchestra of about 100 players the proportion of instruments is as about as follows, although it varies somewhat according to the taste of the conductor, the style of composition to be performed, etc.:

18 first violins, 16 second violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos, 10 basses, 1 harp, 3 flutes, 1 piccolo, 3 oboes, 1 English horn, 3 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 1 contra (or double) bassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, 3 kettle drums, 1 bass drum, 1 snare drum, 1 each of triangle, cymbals, bells, and other instruments of percussion, several of which are often manipulated by one performer.

13. The cuts and brief descriptions here added will give at least a rudimentary idea of the appearance and possibilities of the instruments most commonly used in bands and orchestras. For fuller descriptions and particulars regarding range, quality, etc., the student is referred to Mason's "The Orchestral Instruments and What They Do," Lavignac's "Music and Musicians," and to the various articles which describe each instrument under its own name in Grove's Dictionary or in any good encyclopaedia. For still fuller details some work on orchestration will have to be consulted.

14. The violin has four strings, tuned thus , these making available a range of about three and one-half octaves (g—c''''). This range[41] may be extended upward somewhat further by means of harmonics, these being produced by lightly touching the string at certain points (while the bow is moving across it) instead of holding it down against the finger-board. The highest string of the violin (viola and cello also) is often called the chanterelle because it is most often used for playing the melody. The violin ordinarily produces but one tone at a time, but by stopping two strings simultaneously and so drawing the bow as to set both in vibration, two tones may be produced at the same time, while three and four tones can be sounded almost simultaneously.

The mute (or sordino) is a small clamp made of metal, wood, or ivory, which when clipped to the top of the bridge causes the vibrations to be transmitted less freely to the body of the violin, giving rise to a tone modified in quality, and decreased in power.

For certain special effects the player is directed to pluck the string (pizzicato), this method of playing giving rise to a dry, detached tone instead of the smooth, flowing one that is so characteristic of the violin as commonly played.

Violins in the orchestra are divided into firsts and seconds, the first violins being always seated at the left of the audience and the seconds at the right.

15. The viola has four strings, also tuned in fifths, thus . The viola looks exactly like the violin at a little distance, and is really only a larger sized violin, having a range a fifth lower. Its tone is not so incisive as that of the violin, being rather heavier—"more gloomy," as it is often described. The viola is not so useful as the violin as a solo instrument because it is not capable of producing so many varieties of color, nevertheless it is invaluable for certain effects. In orchestral music it is of course one of the most valuable instruments for filling in the harmony. The viola players are usually seated behind the second violin players in the orchestra.

16. The violoncello or cello (sometimes called bass viol) has four strings, tuned thus: . Its range is about three and one-half octaves (from C to e'' or f''), but in solo work this range is sometimes extended much higher. The cello is much more universally used as a solo instrument than the viola and its tone is capable of a much greater degree of variation. In the orchestra it plays the bass of the string quartet (reinforced by the double-bass), but is also often used for solo passages. Con sordino and pizzicato passages occur as often for the cello as for the violin.

17. The double bass differs from the other members of the string family in that it is tuned in fourths instead of in fifths. Its four strings are tuned as follows the entire range of the instrument being from EE to a. In music written for double-bass the notes are always printed an octave higher than the tones are to sound: that is, when the bass-player sees the note he plays this being done to avoid leger lines. The tone of the bass is much heavier and the instrument itself is much more clumsy to handle than the other members of the group, hence it is almost never used as a solo instrument but it is invaluable for reinforcing the bass part in orchestral music. The mute is rarely used on the double-bass, but the pizzicato effect is very common and the bass pizzicato tone is much fuller and richer than that of any other stringed instrument.

18. The flute has a range of three octaves. It is used in both solo and orchestral playing as well as in bands. The flute was formerly always made of wood, but is at present often made of metal.

19. The piccolo is a flute playing an octave higher than the one described above. The notes are printed as for the flute, but the player understands that the tone is to sound an octave higher. The piccolo is used widely in band music and quite often in orchestral music also, but since the tone is so brilliant and penetrating and is incapable of any great variation, it is not suitable for solo performance.

20. The next four instruments to be described (oboe, bassoon, English horn, and contra bassoon) are often referred to as the oboe family since the principle of tone production and general manipulation is the same in all four. The tone in these instruments is produced by the vibration of two very thin pieces of cane, which are called together a double-reed.

The oboe is especially valuable in the orchestra as a solo instrument, and its thin, nasal tones are suggestive of rustic, pastoral simplicity, both oboe and English horn being often used by orchestral composers in passages intended to express the idea of rural out-of-door life. The English horn is also often used in passages where the idea of melancholy and suffering is to be conveyed to the audience. In a military band the oboe corresponds to the first violin of the orchestra.

The bassoon and contra-bassoon are used mostly to provide a bass part for the harmony of the wood-wind group, but they are also sometimes employed (especially the bassoon) to depict comic or grotesque effects.

21. The next two types of instruments to be described (clarinet and saxophone) are alike in that the tone is produced by the vibration of a single strip of cane (called single reed) which is held against the lower lip of the player. The clarinet and bass clarinet are made of wood and are used in both bands and orchestras, but the saxophone is usually made of metal, and, the tone being more strident and penetrating, the instrument is ordinarily used only in combination with other wind instruments, i.e., in bands.

Since the fingering of the clarinet is excessively difficult the performer can play in only certain keys on the same instrument, hence to play in different keys clarinets in several keys must be provided, there being usually three in all. The music is written as though it were to be played in the key of C, but the tones produced are actually in other keys. For this reason the clarinet is called a transposing instrument. The range of the clarinet is the greatest possessed by any of the wind instruments, that of the clarinet in C being from to .

The sarrusophone is an instrument with a double-reed. It is made of brass and exists in several sizes, the only one ever used in the orchestra being the double-bass sarrusophone, which has approximately the same range as the double-bassoon and is sometimes (but rarely) made use of in the orchestra instead of the latter instrument. The tone of the sarrusophone is something like that of the bassoon.

22. The French horn (often called valve horn or simply horn) really consists of a long tube (about 16 feet) which is bent into circular form for convenience in handling. Its range is from to . In the orchestra French horns are used in pairs, two of the players taking the higher tones, and two the lower. The tone is intensely mellow but incapable of any extensive variation, but in spite of this lack of variety the tone itself is so wonderfully beautiful that the instrument is one of the most useful in the orchestra both in solo passages and to fill in the harmony. The horn (as well as the trumpet and trombone) differs from most of the wood-wind instruments in that its mouthpiece contains no reed, the lips of the player constituting the vibrating body as they are stretched across the mouthpiece and air is forced against them. The horn is used in bands as well as in orchestras.

23. The range of the trumpet is , the typical tone being brilliant and ringing. It is used in both band and orchestra, playing the highest parts assigned to the brass choir. The trumpet is often replaced in both band and orchestra by its less refined cousin the cornet because of the ease with which the latter can be played as compared with the trumpet, and the larger number of players that are available in consequence of this ease of execution.

24. The cornet looks something like the trumpet, but is not so slim and graceful in appearance. Its tube is only four and one-half feet long, as compared with a length of about eight feet in the trumpet, and sixteen feet in the French horn.

The range of the cornet in B is from to . The tone is somewhat commonplace as compared with the trumpet, but because of its great agility in the rendition of trills, repeated tones, etc., it is universally used in all sorts of combinations, even (as noted above) taking the place of the trumpet in many small orchestras.

25. The pitch sounded by the trombone is altered by lengthening or shortening the tube of which the instrument is constructed, this being possible because the lower part slides into the upper and can be pulled out to increase the total length of the tube through which the air passes. There are usually three trombones in the orchestra, each playing a separate part, and the combination of this trio (with the tuba reinforcing the bass part) is majestic and thrilling, being powerful enough to dominate the entire orchestra in Fortissimo passages. But the trombones are useful in soft passages also, and their tone when playing pianissimo is rich, serene, and sonorous.

26. The bass tuba is a member of the saxhorn family[42] and supplies the lowest part of the brass choir, as the double-bass does in the string choir. It is used in both orchestra and band, being often supported in the larger bands by a still lower-toned member of the same family—the contra-bass tuba. The range of the tuba is from to .

27. The kettle-drum is the most important member of the percussion family and is always used either in pairs or in threes. The size of these instruments varies somewhat with the make, but when two drums are used the diameter is approximately that given under the illustration. The range of a pair of drums is one octave and when but two drums are used the larger one takes the tones from F to about C of this range, and the smaller takes those from about B to F. The most common usage is to tune one drum to the tonic, and the other to the dominant of the key in which the composition is written. The pitch of the kettle-drum can be varied by increasing or lessening the tension of the head by means of thumb-screws which act on a metal ring.

The other important members of the percussion family are shown on this and the following page, their use being so obvious as to require no detailed explanation.

28. The harp is one of the oldest of instruments (dating back over 6000 years), but it is only in comparatively recent years that it has been used in the symphony orchestra. Its range is from to .

The modern double-action harp has forty-six strings, which are tuned in half-steps and whole-steps so as to sound the scale of C major. It has a series of seven pedals around its base, each pedal having two notches below it, into either of which the pedal may be lowered and held fast. The first pedal shortens the F string so that it now sounds F, (giving the key of G); the second one shortens the C string so that it sounds C (giving the key of D); the third pedal shortens the G string so that it sounds G (giving the key of A); the fourth changes D to D (giving the key of E), and so on until, when all the pedals are fixed in their first notches, the scale of C is sounded instead of C as was the case before any of the pedals were depressed. But if the first pedal is now pushed down into the second notch the original F string is still further shortened and now sounds the pitch F (giving us the key of G), and if all the other pedals are likewise successively lowered to the second notch we get in turn all the sharp keys—D, A, E, B, F and C, the last-named key being obtained as the result of having all the pedals fixed in their second notches, thus making all the tones of the original C scale a whole-step higher so that they now sound the C scale.

Chords of not more than four tones for each hand may be played simultaneously on the harp, but arpeggio and scale passages are the rule, and are more successful than simultaneous chords. The notation of harp music is essentially like that of piano music.

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