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Re: Transposing instrument best practice

From: Lukas-Fabian Moser
Subject: Re: Transposing instrument best practice
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2019 00:40:31 +0200
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Given the highly confusing nature of the subject, wouldn’t it be better if the NR took a clear stance toward one of the ways as ‘best practice’?

Which way would that be? What experiences did you make?

(I still dispute the description of the subject as highly confusing, but this may be an instance of "déformation professionnelle" since I am often in the position of having to convince students that there is no need to fear transposing instruments ;-).)

For what it's worth, I can describe my practice - for me it may well be "best" practice:

GENERAL RULE: I like to have the contents of a music variable in concert pitch at all times. This means, I want to make sure that if I just combine

  \new Staff \clarinetI
  \new Staff \clarinetII
  \new Staff \violinI

in conjunction with \midi, everything should fit.

This implipes:

ENTERING: Whether I actually enter the \clarinetI notes in written or in sounding pitch depends on the source. In most cases, the source will be transposing (not in sounding pitch), and since I'm too lazy to transpose on-the-fly, I enter written pitch and wrap everything in a \transpose command:

clarinetI = \transpose c' a {
  % music copied directly from a part written for Clarinet in a.
} % the variable now contains the music in concert pitch

(Actually, this means that while entering the Clarinet music, I "hear" the piece in the wrong key since, having perfect pitch, I tend to hear the note of the name I'm typing. That's not ideal, but less of an inconvenience than transposing everything while typing.)

Of course, one can also omit the \transpose command and instead perform an actual transposition of the written note names using the neat tools that Frescobaldi offers. This way one actually "sees" concert pitch in the source code.

SCORE/PART DESIGN: Since all my music variables are in sounding pitch, I have to re-transpose them when creating the actual score and parts (I almost never create concert pitch scores):

\new Staff \with { instrumentName = \markup{ Clarinetto in \italic la } } { \transposition a \transpose a c' \clarinetI }

Here, the \transposition command makes sure that a midi file that might be generated from the score uses the right transposition.

Of course, this way of handling things leads to a redundant bunch of transpositions and re-transpositions (if I enter a written clarinet part in written pitch, \transpose it to make sure the music variable contains sounding pitches, and \transpose it back in order to recreate the clarinet part for the player). But I like the conceptual idea of my general rule that a music variable should _always_ contain music in actual concert pitch.

A drawback of this method seems to be that it's quite hard to implement mid-piece changes of transposition. I somehow never seem to need this; but if I ever had the need to typeset an old-style French Horn part that changes transposition every few bars, I would probably abandon my "general rule", enter written pitch and define a music function \changeTransposition that i) issues the proper \transposition command and ii) generates a text markup like "in fa".


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