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What does the expression "ocarina in G" mean?; Is it a key? No! A tonic? No! It is... transposition!
Topic Started: 15 Aug 2011, 02:13 AM (23,583 Views)
Krešimir Cindrić


What Does the Expression "Ocarina in G" mean?
Is it a key? No! A tonic? No! It is... transposition!


a short article by Krešimir Cindrić


I've noticed there is a lot of confusion in this community regarding the expression "ocarina in X" where X is some note letter. So here is my attempt, as a music theorist, to explain it to the best of my abilities.

Often times you will notice people say "ocarina in the key of X", or "ocarina in X major". Even ocarina sellers like STL (which are, btw, a music school) use that expression.

However, it is incorrect to say so. Why?

The ocarina is a chromatic instrument. That means it can play 12 different notes in one octave. Starting from C (but we can start from any note), these notes are C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# and B. Of course, notes which are enharmonically the same are not counted twice (Db = C#, Bb = A#, E# = F, etc...). With these 12 notes, it is possible to build any key (a key is a major or a minor tonality). For example, A major is built from the following notes: A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#, and F major is built from F, G, A, Bb, C, D and E (notice, in F major there is Bb not A#, there is a good reason for that, but beyond the scope of this article).

That means that the ocarina can be played in any key (at least in theory, some keys are more difficult than others). So, if you say the ocarina is in a key, or that there is "the key" which belongs to the ocarina, you strongly imply that only one key is playable on the ocarina. The fact is, all keys are playable on the ocarina, the same way as they are on a piano.

There are instruments which are not like that. Such instruments are called diatonic and can be played in only one or a very few closely related keys. Examples are: some types peasant flutes, some types of bagpipes, some accordions, some autoharps... Ocarina is not such an instrument - it is chromatic.

The same reasoning is extended to the inappropriate use of the word "tonic". If the ocarina is in X, you will sometimes (fortunately, rarely) hear that X is the tonic. This is not true. Tonic is the first scale degree of a key, i.e. a major or a minor tonality. In C major, C is the tonic. But, I have already made the argument that the ocarina is not in a specific key, so there is no specific tonic. Any note on the ocarina can be a tonic.

Music pieces are in keys, and keys have their tonics. Ocarinas are not music pieces, but chromatic instruments - they don't have a specific key, or a specific tonic.

So, instead of "ocarina in the key of X" or "ocarina in X major", you should simply say "ocarina in X".


But what does that mean? And why do we have ocarinas in C, in G, in F, in Bb, in Eb...?

The answer is to the first question is: transposition, and to the second: the range and convenience. Here is the explanation...

In western music theory, the centre of the 12-tone tonal system is the tone C. It is a convention, based on history and tradition. Any tone could have been used for that purpose (and in fact was, in different times and places), but somehow, people agreed it will be the tone C.

So, by definition, the instrument in C is the one on which, when you play the note X, you hear the note X. So, on an instrument in C, when you play the note C, you will hear the note C, when you play D, you will hear D, and so on... What you hear is called the "concert pitch", and what you play and think is instrument's pitch.

Now, let's take, for an example, an ocarina in Eb. When you play the note C on it, you will not hear the note C, but Eb. When you play D, you will hear F, when you play G#, you will hear B... The concert pitch of an instrument in Eb is a minor third higher (plus or minus one or more octaves). By convention, this instrument is called "in Eb", because Eb is a minor third higher than C (the centre of tonal system).

An ocarina in G will sound a perfect fifth higher than an ocarina in C (plus or minus one or more octaves, so it can actually be, for example a perfect twelfth higer, or a fourth lower...). When you play C on an ocarina in G, you will hear G. When you play D, you will hear A and when you play F you will hear C, etc... Because G is a perfect fifth higher than C, this ocarina is called "in G".

Why is that useful?

Think about it the same as with soprano, alto and bass ocarinas, which are one octave apart from each other. Take for example a bass C ocarina. The lowest note it can play is C4, or the middle C (or, if it has sub-holes, A3). An alto C ocarina plays exactly the same way as a bass C ocarina, but one octave higher. So, when you use the fingering for the low C, it will be C4 on a bass C and C5 on an alto C.

Bass C and alto C are both ocarinas in C, because the concert pitch is the same as the note you played (or one or more octaves lower and higher).

Ocarinas have very limited range, usually less than two octaves. So it is often useful to have ocarinas whose range less than octave apart, especially in ocarina ensembles.

Also, limited range of the ocarina makes playing some pieces impossible on an ocarina in C, without changing the key of the piece, because some notes are beyond its range. Other times, it is simply easier and more convenient to use a differently pitched ocarina.

When you think about the ocarina in Eb, being the same as the ocarina in C, except sounding a minor third higher, you are taking advantage of the fact the ocarina is a transposing instrument. This allows you to use only one fingering chart for every ocarina, regardless of how it is pitched. When you play the note C on an ocarina in Eb, the fact concert pitch is Eb, not C should be irrelevant to you. Of course, if you play with other instruments you the arranger of music has to make sure you all play in the same key. So, if the concert pitch is C, you will have to play the note A on your ocarina in Eb to get the note C, etc...

That is why the sheet music for transposing instruments is... transposed. For example, if an orchestra plays a Symphony in D major, the parts for clarinets (which are instruments in Bb) are notated in E major. The same thing is for ocarinas. If, for example, an ocarina ensemble plays a piece in F major, ocarinas in C will be notated in F major, of course, but ocarinas in G will be notated in B flat major.


But what about people who always think in concert pitch?

Some people prefer to not think in these terms. They like to use different fingerings for differently pitched ocarinas and always think in terms of concert pitch. While I generally advise against this practice (as it takes too much effort to fully automate the fingerings, effort which is better spent on learning to transpose the music in your head), there are some very specific situations where treating the ocarina as a non-transposing instrument is actualy preferable. Jack Campin wrote a really interesting article on using the ocarina in G for playing Highland bagpipe music. You can read about it here: http://theocarinanetwork.com/topic/7061653.

But it is interesting to note that, technically these people only have ocarinas in C. So for them, the expression "ocarina in G" is meaningless, because alto G is also an ocarina in C (to them, that is, because when they play the note G, the concert pitch is G, so by definition, this is an instrument in C). Confusing? Yes it is, but don't let it bother you. Just note that if you think in concert pitch, every instrument for you is "in C", there are no instruments "in G", "in Eb", there are just different ranges - the only difference between, for example, alto F and alto C is the range, but they are both "in C".

Simply remember the definition - if you play a note on an instrument and the concert pitch is the same note (or one or more octaves apart), the instrument you play is in C. If you decide to think about the concert pitch, every instrument will be in C to you.

This is practical if you, for example, only play the ocarina in G (in a transposing sense) and the sheet music from which you play is not arranged with that in mind. Then you can simply say - I will treat my ocarina as an instrument in C - this will change the fingering chart completely, but I will be able to follow these sheets. But if you play the ocarina in G, and an ocarina in F, and an ocarina in D and... it will soon be very confusing, as every one will have different fingerings and you will have to constantly think about it.

A seemingly more difficult approach, but better in the long run, is to learn to transpose in your head. This removes all trouble with the lack of arrangements and differently pitched instruments. And it is not as difficult as it seems.
Edited by Krešimir Cindrić, 4 Jul 2012, 12:32 PM.
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handoverthetea
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"The one who isn't anywhere."
Thank you so much for posting this! This is a very thorough and helpful article for people who are new to music and people who have a musical background(like me!) alike. :thumbsup:
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Cambell
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That guy

Thanks so much Kres, I really needed this article, I was so confused! -_- This explains the whole subject very well. I appreciate the time you spent writing it :thumbsup:

Can a mod sticky this so it doesn't get lost among everyday threads?
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Poltergeist
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Pink Elephant on Parade

You're just confusing beginners, Krešimir! It is much more simple: an ocarina in G plays the G major scale when played with linear fingering. It can play in all other keys, too, but the fingering for these keys is done by varying the linear fingering used for G major. This is why it is called "in G" by most people, and "in the key of G" by other people. To say that it is called "in G" because of the transposition is simply wrong. It is the exact opposite: an ocarina "in G" is transposing because its basic scale is the G major scale instead of the C major scale. You're confusing cause and effect. Most instruments that are not in C become transposing instruments with the time. Others don't! Like recorders. An alto recorder is still an instrument in F, because its basic scale is F major.
Edited by Poltergeist, 15 Aug 2011, 08:01 AM.
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pajamieez
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:ocarina: Amateur
I thought "ocarina in X" simply meant that the base scale of the ocarina was tuned to that note.

For example.

If an alto ocarina is in C, for example, then closing all holes (minus sub-holes) would play the C4 and then progress up the C Major scale. If it was in G, closing all holes (minus sub-holes) would play G4 and then progress up the G scale. Is this what eveyone's trying to say?
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GermanRSanchez
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The Birdman
My Ocarina is still in the key of B
Spoiler: click to toggle

Your argument is invalid

but jokes aside, a great article, but i do agree with poltergeist about it confusing beginners.
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Krešimir Cindrić


GermanRSanchez
15 Aug 2011, 08:22 AM
My Ocarina is still in the key of B
Spoiler: click to toggle

Your argument is invalid
Bad joke is even worse, when you hear it the second time. :facepalm:
Poltergeist
15 Aug 2011, 07:49 AM
You're just confusing beginners, Krešimir! It is much more simple: an ocarina in G plays the G major scale when played with linear fingering. It can play in all other keys, too, but the fingering for these keys is done by varying the linear fingering used for G major. This is why it is called "in G" by most people, and "in the key of G" by other people. To say that it is called "in G" because of the transposition is simply wrong. It is the exact opposite: an ocarina "in G" is transposing because its basic scale is the G major scale instead of the C major scale. You're confusing cause and effect. Most instruments that are not in C become transposing instruments with the time. Others don't! Like recorders. An alto recorder is still an instrument in F, because its basic scale is F major.
Not true, we already had this discussion. The instrument is in G not because of transposition, but this IS the transposition of the instrument. Being "in G" is not a physical property of an instrument but how you (should) notate and play the music for it. Feeling perverse, you could consider an alto G ocarina to be in F and notate music for it that way, but that wouldn't give you any benefit, as you would still need separate fingerings for it.

All recorders, including F recorders, are instruments in C, by tradition (that is why I recommend calling them F recorders, not recorders in F). And you can see that by looking at any score written for a recorder in F - when a recorder player plays the note F, the concert pitch is F - therefore, the recorder is in C. Recorders are exception in that they are not transposing instruments, for historical reasons (though, it would make sense that they are). To be even more precise, recorders are transposing instruments in octaves, similar to a guitar. But all are in C, except in some rare instances.

The whole purpose of this article is to remove the whole delusion that the expression "in F" has anything to do with any scale. It doesn't. But I apparently some's people ignorance is so deeply rooted it cannot be remedied by such a simple article.

I would appreciate you not posting in this thread any more, as this is the discussion we had several times already.
pajamieez
15 Aug 2011, 08:21 AM
I thought "ocarina in X" simply meant that the base scale of the ocarina was tuned to that note.

For example.

If an alto ocarina is in C, for example, then closing all holes (minus sub-holes) would play the C4 and then progress up the C Major scale. If it was in G, closing all holes (minus sub-holes) would play G4 and then progress up the G scale. Is this what eveyone's trying to say?
No, that is the common delusion I've been trying to root out. Poletergeist is wrong regarding this.

Instrument "in G" and scale of G major, are two completely different things, that is why you shouldn't say "ocarina in G major" or "ocarina in the key of G". G is not a note or a key in this context, it simply means the ocarina plays a perfect fifth higher (C-G) than an ocarina in C (plus or minus one or more octaves, depending on if it is a soprano, alto, bass, contrabass...). Of course, when you play a C major scale on an instrument in G, you will get G major in concert pitch, but that is the consequence of the instrument being in G, not other way around. If you decide to treat the ocarina as a recorder, i.e. an instrument in C, then when you play the scale of G major, you will hear G major. Of course, you will use the same fingering, but your though process will be different.

One other thing, there is no "base scale" on an ocarina - it is a chromatic instrument. The whole term "base scale" is invented by deluded people.
Edited by Krešimir Cindrić, 15 Aug 2011, 08:46 AM.
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Poltergeist
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Pink Elephant on Parade

If you need this to feel less miserable: Fine, I'm out of this thread, playing my alto recorder in C. :facepalm:
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GermanRSanchez
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The Birdman
Krešimir Cindrić
15 Aug 2011, 08:25 AM


GermanRSanchez
15 Aug 2011, 08:22 AM
My Ocarina is still in the key of B
Spoiler: click to toggle

Your argument is invalid
Bad joke is even worse, when you hear it the second time. :facepalm:

Nonsense, there will be at least one person who will find it hilarious :evillaugh:

but just for you, An Ocarina in the Key of C

Spoiler: click to toggle


Remember what i said, language is arbitrary.
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Jhaemes
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wow

Great guide. I managed to read it with no confusion and I am what I and others would call a beginner.

Definitely needs to be stickied.
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Ocarinadiva
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Play what makes you happy. - Achint

@ Kres

I think it would help your article if you organized it a bit better. As it is now, it is very convoluted and its lack of sources/resources makes it something that few will ever read and even fewer retain. If your goal is to provide a usable resource that will work to change the lexicon within the ocarina community, it would stand to be a little more polished.

I hope you continue working on this and eventually develop a bibliography. Some members here would be particularly interested in your sources specific to the ocarina.
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Crystal Clay Ocarinas
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Ocarina designer and crafter (working my way to perfection)
GermanRSanchez
15 Aug 2011, 10:12 AM
Krešimir Cindrić
15 Aug 2011, 08:25 AM


GermanRSanchez
15 Aug 2011, 08:22 AM
My Ocarina is still in the key of B
Spoiler: click to toggle

Your argument is invalid
Bad joke is even worse, when you hear it the second time. :facepalm:

Nonsense, there will be at least one person who will find it hilarious :evillaugh:

but just for you, An Ocarina in the Key of C

Spoiler: click to toggle


Remember what i said, language is arbitrary.
hehe I actually think it's funny, lol

but ther is also that (file attached. key of C = KFC lol) so, ocarina in KFC!!
Attached to this post:
Attachments: ocinkfc.jpg (97.63 KB)
Edited by Crystal Clay Ocarinas, 15 Aug 2011, 06:33 PM.
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Everett Ocarinas
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aka Kalasinar

Thankyou Kres for taking the time to write this guide, this is a very useful resource to the forum - i still consider myself a beginner when it comes to music theory and the like, and i'm glad i was able to fully understand this without confusing myself as i usually do!
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Musigo
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Formerly ocBlue3
This clears up so many questions, thanks so much :D
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bluebell
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Compulsive collector
Thank you for taking the time to step back and do this Kres. However, I struggle endlessly with musical theory. To me, the guide to an ocarina as a non-transposing (by Sig) made the most sense to me. I appreciate your efforts however. While reading this though, all I got was your frustration from the mixups. So I felt lost, thinking to myself "i'm a noob who stuffs this all up".
As Cris suggested, Keep polishing. I have no doubt in time it will become easier for me to understand this. Thanks.
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Krešimir Cindrić


I don't know what is this frustration your speak about, bluebell... Please read it once more, with a clear mind and without feelings, sentence by sentence. When you come to a part that confuses you, send me a PM and I'll explain it in more detail.

Dismissing it because you feel frustrated seems a bit unfair to me.
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bluebell
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My appologies Kres. I misread something.... Big sorry.
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The Rosskonian
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This mostly made sense to me and I'm really happy you wrote this Kresimir. But I am in the middle of reading a beginners guide to music theory at the moment, so that might help(or hurt) with my understanding. What I am having trouble with is the practical application of Ocarinas outside of C. Would you use an Ocarina in G instead any other ocarina when your music is also in the key of G? That doesn't seem to sound right though.

What about to play a piece that is outside of the range of a normal C ocarina, like Taps for example. You could use an ocarina in G to be able to play all the correct notes, granted you would have to mentally (or manually) transpose the sheet music to fit the fingerings. Is that right?
Taps wikipedia page

Any other examples of what you would want an ocarina not in C?
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Jack Campin
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The entire repertoire for the Highland pipes works on an ocarina in G. That's why I have ocarinas in G. You just read the music directly off the sheets used by Highland pipers - no transposition. Your fingers will be doing similar enough things to what a piper's fingers do on the chanter that everything will feel right. I probably read four times as much music in G as in C.

I will shortly post some examples on my blog of Scottish tunes that best fit an ocarina in F - they will be at the same pitch everybody in the Scottish dance music scene plays them at. These would all be playable on a C double, but if you want to play them on a single, F is the only way to go.
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The Rosskonian
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Jack Campin
4 Oct 2011, 08:03 PM
The entire repertoire for the Highland pipes works on an ocarina in G. That's why I have ocarinas in G. You just read the music directly off the sheets used by Highland pipers - no transposition. Your fingers will be doing similar enough things to what a piper's fingers do on the chanter that everything will feel right. I probably read four times as much music in G as in C.

I will shortly post some examples on my blog of Scottish tunes that best fit an ocarina in F - they will be at the same pitch everybody in the Scottish dance music scene plays them at. These would all be playable on a C double, but if you want to play them on a single, F is the only way to go.
I read through your other post regarding this and if my understanding is correct between you and Kresimir's posts, then you would be playing your G ocarina to your Highland pipe music with different fingerings, correct? This being what Kresimir is saying more difficult than transposing in your head?

More specifically, you would be playing the low G on your G ocarina with all your fingers covering all the holes (not counting any subholes, let's say it's a 10 hole for example)?
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Jack Campin
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Yes, you've got that right.

The fingerings of a G ocarina are quite similar to those of a Highland pipe. Disregarding the left little finger and right thumb, which are down all the time, you play the scale in more or less the same way (a pipe uses the C sharp rather than natural). D is all right hand fingers down, low A adds three right hand fingers down.

Recorder players get used to having the same fingerings produce a different pitch depending on what instrument you have. It's not as hard to learn as it seems.

The point is that I never play "ocarina music", as Kresimir does. I play music for other specific instruments, like the pipes, or for any instrument that can cover the required range of the tune. I have between 100,000 and a million pages of it in this room. Trying to find transposed versions of it, or transposing it myself before I play any of it, would be nuts.
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The Rosskonian
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You can call me Ross
Ok, after re-reading this thread and trying to review things I believed I had the concept for, I still think I am missing something. I understand what Jack is saying about never playing "ocarina music" and thus, uses a G ocarina as a G ocarina, as in, when he sees G, he plays G on the ocarina with the proper fingerings for G, in the case of a ten hole, all the holes covered(and so on for the rest of the notes). In a lot of sense, this is what I could see the practical application of getting an ocarina in G for: for the different range. What I think I am missing out is what Kres' recommendation is. So what does he recommend using an ocarina in G for if not for the extended range on a piece that is outside the range of a C ocarina? Just for a different sound? As in, playing a piece with an ocarina in G using the fingerings for an ocarina in C and hearing how it sounds? Is that all? Maybe the main part I am missing is the "transposing in your head" part. What does that mean? That sounds exactly the same as the example above by playing G on your G ocarina as you would play C on your C ocarina.
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Jack Campin
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The main reason for doing it Kres's way is to play the multi-part music written for ocarina groups in the Italian tradition. Each part is written with all-fingers-down-makes-a-C fingerings, though the group contains both C and G ocarinas. The idea came from 19th century wind music for brass and saxophones, though it was first invented in the 18th century for clarinets and brass (brass instruments like the horn can change their basic key by swapping a length of tubing). It seems to have started out because brass instruments were made in "flat" keys before they were brought into the standard orchestra - when they were used on their own in groups like the old "town waits" of Britain or the "harmonie" of central Europe, they could just pretend they were playing in a different pitch standard. When they found themselves in the same band as violinists who said "hey! that's not a C! it's a B flat!" they made the discrepancy systematic.

The ocarina quartet music written for the US military around WW2 works the same way. Most ocarina makers of the last generation have adopted the idea, though with much less reason since hardly anybody plays that sort of consort music any more.

The idea was never applied to stringed instruments of the violin family, or to the recorder.

Mountain Ocarinas sensibly says you can use either approach as appropriate, which makes sense since they promote their ocarinas as folk instruments.
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The Rosskonian
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Very interesting on the history of it.

But I am still confused: So if each part of music for the ocarina group is written with all-fingers-down-makes-a-C fingerings, then the music has been transposed to each individual ocarina, correct?

So when he says, "learn to transpose in your head", does that mean that you see G on the sheet music and you play G on your ocarina in G with all the fingers down? That sounds exactly the same as playing each ocarina with a different fingering chart. Since G on an ocarina in G would be all the fingers down just as C on an ocarina in C would be all the fingers down. This is what is really confusing me.
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Jack Campin
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"Transposing in your head" is different from treating the ocarina as non-transposing. I can do it but don't often need to. Better to carry on thinking of it in your preferred way - "playing each ocarina with a different fingering chart".
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Tootieflutie
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Oh my gosh! I have such a headache after reading all of this! :facepalm:

Is this saying that I can just forget about the key of my ocarina and just play the darn thing if I am playing solo? In other words, read the music pretending my oc is in C? Just use the same fingerings no matter what my oc is labeled as? Just know that C=Do, D= Re, etc and use the lowest note as Do? 8-D
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melodican
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Behold! 'Tis the flute of my people!

It can be kind of frustrating, to be sure, but understanding transposition is one of those tools that should be in any musician's arsenal. For tunes that I like to play, some ocarinas will sound better than others, but the important thing (since they're all chromatic) is that their transposition is accurate. This way, you get a fairly similar sound no matter which ocarina you choose.

I hope that makes sense.
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WindSong
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Here's my 2 cents:
(I'll do it with 6-Hole Asian style Fingering Charts, since they are the simplest, but the same thing applies to 12-Hole Transverse ocarinas.)

Using the ocarina as a transposing instrument


Not using the ocarina as a transposing instrument


Does that help at all?

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RawritsCassie
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That helps so much, for me at least. Pictures/diagrams make this so much more simpler.
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Tootieflutie
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WindSong
28 Nov 2011, 03:28 AM
Here's my 2 cents:
(I'll do it with 6-Hole Asian style Fingering Charts, since they are the simplest, but the same thing applies to 12-Hole Transverse ocarinas.)

Using the ocarina as a transposing instrument


Not using the ocarina as a transposing instrument


Does that help at all?

Yes, that helps! Thanks! That's what I thought.

The second part is still a little confusing but I'll re-read and see if it sinks in.
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Jack Campin
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And if you thought we were alone in having it that bad - pitch terminology for flutes, fifes and recorders, from the US Library of Congress:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dcmhtml/misnomers.html
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Jack Campin
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"Size matters" - an article on transposition by John Everingham at Saunders Recorders:

http://www.saundrecs.co.uk/transpos.htm
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SilentlyFuming
SuperMegaFoxyAwesomeHot newbie
I feel smarter! :3
(I'll probably forget not to say 'in the key of,' but thanks for the info~)
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MrOrangeKitty
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For a good description of transposing instruments, see "Transposing Instrument" on Wikipedia for details. While you are at it, check out "Formant" also.
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fermataheart
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"High and Mighty"
MrOrangeKitty
4 Jul 2012, 01:54 AM
For a good description of transposing instruments, see "Transposing Instrument" on Wikipedia for details. While you are at it, check out "Formant" also.
This *is* a description on transposition, and in easier terms than Wiki.
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Jack Campin
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That Wikipedia article is fundamentally misconceived. For almost every instrument they class as "transposing", there is somebody who plays it at pitch and has good reasons for doing so. It's much more arbitrary than they make out, nothing remotely like a historical inevitability.

In our local klezmer group, we will typically have most players using the same C pitch leadsheets written in the treble clef. That includes Bb bass clarinet, tuba, Eb clarinet, G, F, C or Bb ocarina, cello, string bass, "kontra" viola, hammered dulcimer, English concertina and capoed bouzouki. There are also a few sheets in Bb that some of the Bb soprano clarinet players use - but last meeting we had a couple of violinists playing from those as well because that was all there was to go round.

In practice, there is so little music worth playing that is written specifically for ocarinas using the transposition convention that it's best ignored most of the time.
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fermataheart
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Campin, then didn't the transposing/reading just go on inside their head?

I'm just thinking, as a cellist, if someone handed me a lead sheet entirely in treble clef they either wanted me to play in the stratosphere the entire time, or they wanted me to translate it to bass clef in my head. Probably the latter for the sake of balance. If they gave me a lead sheet in Bb I would not read it as if it were in C, I would attempt to transpose in my head.

I'm assuming the key of the piece was C, and that the trumpet player that had a C lead sheet for example did transpositions in their head on the spot.

How else could an ensemble of such diverse instruments play in tune with each other?

Reading it as if it were "in C" would only work as a solo. Unless I'm missing something.
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Krešimir Cindrić


fermataheart
4 Jul 2012, 02:35 AM
I'm assuming the key of the piece was C, and that the trumpet player that had a C lead sheet for example did transpositions in their head on the spot.

How else could an ensemble of such diverse instruments play in tune with each other?

Reading it as if it were "in C" would only work as a solo. Unless I'm missing something.
Well, if the piece was in the key of C major the trumpet player would get her part written in D major. So when she played that on her trumpet in Bb, it would sound in C major. In the case of orchestral works, it is a duty of the composer or the arranger to worry about transposing instruments. However, sometimes a player of a transposing instrument has to be able to do transposing on the fly - i.e. read the piece in one key and play it in another, e.g. when they are handed sheet music written for some other instrument. Depending on the difficulty of the piece, such a thing could be very simple, or very difficult to do.

I had to goals when writing this article. First: explain the concept of transposing instruments clearly and in simple terms and second: try to push my agenda of semantic purity when it comes to labelling ocarinas, to make it consistent with all other transposing instruments.

Keep in mind that I did NOT say a "trumpet in the key of Bb" or "trumpet in Bb major", but simply a "trumpet in Bb" where that means a transposition, and not a tonality. Chromatic instruments can be played, at least in principle and depending on the skill of the musician, in any key. It may seem like unnecessary pedantry regarding semantics to some... Sometimes, though rarely, even trumpet players will say "trumpet in the key of Bb" - those trumpet players simply lack sensitivity to music theory and would be rightfully scorned by any decent orchestral conductor. :D
Edited by Krešimir Cindrić, 4 Jul 2012, 11:56 AM.
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Jack Campin
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Quote:
 
didn't the transposing/reading just go on inside their head?

For the violinists, yes. Not for the tuba player - klezmer brass players use music written at pitch. (Our tuba player is the most skilled transcriber I know, and has done most of our scores from the original 78s - all transcribed at pitch).

Quote:
 
if the piece was in the key of C major the trumpet player would get her part written in D major.

Not with us. It would be written in C and the trumpeter would play it in C. (I was once in a stage band where most of the music was written by the trumpeter - he wrote it all at concert pitch, and changed between Bb and C trumpets between numbers depending on which was more effective. Probably helped that he is also a very good recorder player).

You can be attracted to an instrument either because of its sound or its repertoire. Nobody in their right mind would go for the ocarina because of its repertoire. And if you want to bring that sound to pre-existing music for other instruments, you'd better learn to cope with the way it's written.

BTW that Wikipedia page gets it wrong about the clarinet in G. The only place it's used much is in Turkish music, and they write for it at the same pitch as "C" instruments. But the usual convention for all instruments and voices in Turkish music is to write the notation a fourth higher than it sounds.
Edited by Jack Campin, 4 Jul 2012, 12:09 PM.
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Sarume
doremifaso

I have to say great article 6/5 thumbs up! Still I keep having troubles to treat ocarinas as an transposing instrument since I've been used to edit and arrange the songs I play on the ocarina right from the start. And also I always play with backtracks und my notation software doesn't allow different keys in one piece ^^;

I think though, that the effort of always thinking in concert pitch isn't that hard if your firm in the musical background and keys. Since I'm always composing a lot, I know it most of the time, but for people not this firm it may be easier to treat it as a transposing instrument.
Edited by Sarume, 4 Jul 2012, 12:33 PM.
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Krešimir Cindrić


Jack Campin
4 Jul 2012, 12:00 PM
Quote:
 
if the piece was in the key of C major the trumpet player would get her part written in D major.

Not with us. It would be written in C and the trumpeter would play it in C. (I was once in a stage band where most of the music was written by the trumpeter - he wrote it all at concert pitch, and changed between Bb and C trumpets between numbers depending on which was more effective. Probably helped that he is also a very good recorder player).
Sure, everyone should do what is best for them. But it should be noted that your band is an exception. Take pretty much any score, for example, for the symphonic orchestra and you will see exactly the thing I'm talking about.

Here is an example: http://imslp.org/images/9/93/PV-Beethoven_Werke_Breitkopf_Serie_1_No_3_Op_55.jpg

This piece, the first movement of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, is in E flat major (and that is the concert pitch). However, there are several transposing instruments, who will be played in other keys: Clarinetti in B (clarinets in B flat) will be played in F major, while Corni in Es (French horns in E flat) and Trombe in Es (trumpets in E flat) will be played in C major. Violins, and other non-transposing instruments, will be played in E flat major, of course.
Edited by Krešimir Cindrić, 4 Jul 2012, 01:15 PM.
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Cambell
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After months of music lessons and rereading this, it all finally clicked into place. It makes perfect sense now c:

Also, I can see Jack's point through my foray into folk music. It is very often more useful to play an ocarina as if it was in a specific key (tunes in G major, for example, on an ocarina in G)
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ratfink446
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The way I understand it, as a harmonica player, is that diatonic harmonicas are available in all twelve keys, while a chromatic harmonica is not given a key (except richter tuning 10holes), And can be played in any key, but they are available in different transpositions. So you can get a chromatic harmonica in D.

This of course does not include the few special people who can play a regular 10 hole diatonic harmonica in all keys. :)
Overblow.com
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Jack Campin
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Chromatic harmonicas are in *two* keys - you select which one to blow with the slide. Usually C/C#, B/C or D/D#. Brendan Power reverses the slide, and sometimes uses harmonicas tuned in G/D or similar (this is kinda like the harmonica player's answer to Pacchioni's "P" system, since it provides many more notes of overlap between the two reed sets).
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MrOrangeKitty
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We are going to have to agree to disagree, because I have always understood that acoustic instruments have natural tonics and natural scales. I have seen these referred to as "formants". Whether diatonic or chromatic, acoustic instruments are built with a specific tonic and key in mind.

1. Musical Instrument Design By Bart Hopkin

When the instrument moves from one note to another

EDIT: Long link, shortened. :) --Elven Spellmaker

"Do musical instruments typically produce the same set of overtone relationships for all their sounding pitches? When the instument moves from one note to another, does the whole family of overtones move toggether, retaining the same relationships? The answer is yes and no. ... But at the same time, the relative prominence of the different overtones tends to change. Each instrument, by its nature, radiates sound particularly effectively within certain general frequency ranges. ... Such regions of heightened response are called formants."

2. This webpage shows the formants of several popular instruments: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/~jmccarty/formant.htm

3. http://acapella.harmony-central.com/archive/index.php/t-1236111.html

See Pilots comment that "instruments are generally pitched in their respective keys because that is the natural key for that type of instrument."

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transposing_instrument

"It was found that sometimes instruments sounded better when built in certain keys. For instance, the C clarinet was not a very pleasant sounding instrument, nor was the D or the E♭ clarinet; it was generally agreed that the B♭ clarinet was the most pleasant sounding, and for this reason was the one that remained in dominant use in the present day."

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_%28music%29

"Besides this though, the timbre of almost any instrument is not exactly the same for all notes played on that instrument."

6. http://artsites.ucsc.edu/ems/music/tech_background/TE-13/teces_13.html

"These response peaks are called FORMANTS, and play a very important part in establishing the timbral identity of an instrument."

7. http://www.flutopedia.com/int4_keys.htm

"The key of an instrument is related to the fundamental note that the instrument plays and also the primary scale for that instrument."

8. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110516164627AAONJ5m

"What is the difference between a C, A, and Bb bass clarinet? ...Any instrument is easiest to play and best in tune in its natural scale. ...
Why not make them all in C? Tone quality and timbre mostly."


9 Mathematics and Music by David Wright

Musical instruments also possess characterizing formants. For example, the clarinet has formants in the ranges 1500-1700 Hz, and the trumpet has a formant in the range 1200-1400 Hz and another centered narrowly around 2500 Hz.
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