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If it's a "tenor", then the bottom note is C below middle C, yes?
No, the Bb below that.
Interesting. Located where? And if it still goes up to that high F, then what's missing?
It does go up to the high F but I don't think there's anything missing.

35 buttons is C to F with nothing missing. Adding a low Bb would seem to require removing or replacing something else. Is that Bb maybe not in pattern, but instead replacing the low C#, which would still be there as a Db in the other hand? That would be the equivalent of replacing the low G# with a low F on a treble English, a not uncommon substitution. It would also mean that there would not be a low B between the C and Bb.

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If it's a "tenor", then the bottom note is C below middle C, yes?
No, the Bb below that.
Interesting. Located where? And if it still goes up to that high F, then what's missing?
It does go up to the high F but I don't think there's anything missing.
35 buttons is C to F with nothing missing. Adding a low Bb would seem to require removing or replacing something else. Is that Bb maybe not in pattern, but instead replacing the low C#, which would still be there as a Db in the other hand? That would be the equivalent of replacing the low G# with a low F on a treble English, a not uncommon substitution. It would also mean that there would not be a low B between the C and Bb.
My memory of it is that the Bb is in the low C position - where the "white" keys are, not in the accidentals row. I'll check when I next go into the shop.
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It's hard to be diligent in getting info on boxes especially when the sell doesn't play concertina. And the lesson for us was: If we see a big box with a few buttons - assume it's a band instrument and do everything we can to make sure it's NOT a transposing instrument!

 

I'm a music novice so I apologize if this sounds like a dumb question to some of you. This is an interestng thread about buying a concertina from an uncertain source. But, what is a "transposing instrument." I never heard this term before.

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I went into our shop and our transposing F English box has the low Bb in the accidental position (therefore out of pattern) and there is no low B. Good spot, Jim!

 

Cary - a transposing instrument is one which is set up to play in a key that it is NOT otherwise standardly in. English concertinas are typically "C" boxes (the middle columns of buttons play the key of C with the accidentals on the outside columns). Transposing boxes play in a different key, like this one plays in F when you finger what you think would be the key of C. All the fingering is the same but C tunes come out in the key of F on it.

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I went into our shop and our transposing F English box has the low Bb in the accidental position (therefore out of pattern) and there is no low B. Good spot, Jim!

 

Cary - a transposing instrument is one which is set up to play in a key that it is NOT otherwise standardly in. English concertinas are typically "C" boxes (the middle columns of buttons play the key of C with the accidentals on the outside columns). Transposing boxes play in a different key, like this one plays in F when you finger what you think would be the key of C. All the fingering is the same but C tunes come out in the key of F on it.

 

Why build a box that way, what is the advantage. Why not just play in the key of F, for example, on a box in a standard key? Again, probably a novice question.

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...a transposing instrument is one which is set up to play in a key that it is NOT otherwise standardly in.
Why build a box that way, what is the advantage. Why not just play in the key of F, for example, on a box in a standard key?

Rich's answer is incomplete. The reasons are human and cultural, and almost certainly started with wind instruments (flutes, trumpets, clarinets, etc.).

 

Instruments come in families with different ranges. If you want a flute or trumpet that plays lower notes than the standard, you get a bigger flute or trumpet, a longer tube producing lower notes (or smaller, shorter for a higher range). But then the same fingering will produce different notes. If you want to be able to write down the music for both instruments so that they'll both play a piece in the same key, there are two solutions:

... One is to always write the notes just as they sound, but learn a different fingering for each instrument. E.g., the note D on a D whistle is obtained by covering all 6 holes (3 fingers in each hand), but on a G whistle it's only the top 2 holes (2 fingers of the left hand).

... The other is to write (and read) the music so that the same fingering is always indicated by the same written "note". That results in a different note sounding on each instrument, but it means that the player only needs to learn one pattern of correspondence between what's written and what the fingers do. And that is what is known as a transposing instrument. In the above example, music written specially for use with the G whistle would indicate an A, since the same fingering which produces an A on the D whistle will produce a D on the G whistle.

 

Historically, some families of instruments have tended to use the first system, while others have favored the second.

... The recorder (block flute) family uses the first system, more or less. An alto recorder is pitched in F, i.e., the fingering that would produce a C on a soprano or tenor recorder produces an F on the alto. But the sound C is still written as C for the alto, and one learns that this requires a different fingering than on the soprano. (The "more or less" above is that for the same written note the soprano and tenor sound notes an octave apart. What's written as middle C for the soprano actually sounds an octave higher, but it's still a C.)

... Music for the viol family is also normally written just as it sounds. E.g., the viola sounds a fifth lower than the violin, but a low C on the viola is notated as such, not as if it were a low G on the violin.

... An exception to this is found in some people's notation of traditional fiddle music where the fiddle is in non-standard tuning. E.g., if the bottom string is tuned to A rather than G, then the notes A-B-C# will be written as G-A-B, because those fingerings will produce the desired notes. (Played as written on an instrument which is in standard tuning, the result can be bizarre. :o)

... Because they were neither chromatic nor tempered, early brass and woodwinds were generally made with separate instruments for each key in which they were to be played. To standardize the notation, certain fingerings were designated "C", regardless of what pitch they actually produce. For woodwinds, it's "all 7" holes closed (with the result that on flutes and whistles with only 6 holes, the lowest fingering is "D"). For brass instruments, it's an "open" (no valves depressed) tonic. Thus, e.g., on a Bb trumpet the open "C" is really a Bb.

... This practice has continued to this day, even though most orchestral instruments are now fully chromatic and at least nominally in equal temperament. Each type of instrument has mostly been standardized to certain pitches: trumpets and clarinets are in Bb; flutes and oboes are in C; English horns and French horns are in F; alto clarinets and alto saxophones are in Eb; alto flutes are in G; etc. Why the different types of instrument have been standardized in these disparate keys, I don't know. One can also find clarinets in A or C -- and parts written for them, -- trumpets in C or D, etc., but they're much less common.

... For some strange reason, "transposing" bass instruments still have their music written in "true" pitch. I.e., the open Bb on a trombone, tuba, or baritone horn is written in the bass clef as Bb, not as C, though baritone horn parts are sometimes written in the treble clef, and then the Bb is written as a C. Weird?

 

This finally brings us to why one might want a "transposing" concertina. At one point, concertina marching bands were popular in England. It was easy for them to use already-published music written for "brass" bands (which usually included a few other instruments, especially flutes), but many of those parts were written in transposed notation for instruments in Bb (trumpet), Eb (alto horn), etc. So to play those parts correctly one would need to either learn a transposed fingering or get a transposing instrument.

 

Why not just play all those Bb parts on C instruments, so the entire arrangement is transposed up a step? Well, the first problem is the Eb parts; to play them in the proper relative key, you'd need a concertina in F. Hmm, isn't that just the tenor concertina the Button Box has for sale at the moment? ;)

 

There's also the problem that the bass parts are not written transposed, so players of baritone and bass parts would then have to transpose their parts. (Also, anyone playing from a flute part would either have to transpose or get a concertina pitched in D.) So some bands had made entire sets of instruments deliberately pitched in Bb and Eb.

 

By the way, I have taken this idea of transposing instruments in the other direction. Reading fiddle or flute music on a Bb trumpet or soprano saxophone requires transposing, and I don't play these instruments frequently enough to be good at that. Instead, I've gotten both a trumpet and a sax pitched in C. :)

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And a sustained silence drifted over the thread......

 

Ive always wondered how this worked. Jim, Ill have to read over your explanation a few times to fully understand.

 

When I was a kid I started playing music on the trumpet...a Bb instrument. Then of course there were the Eb instruments in the band, and so on. I didnt understand why, but realized my C was a Bb on the piano. Thanks for putting this great explanation in one tidy place. Its now up to me to figure it out once and for all.

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Jim, thank you for the detailed explanation. Your knowledge of music theory and history is impressive. I'm at home discussing sedimentary rocks, paleo-environments and oil & gas geology, but the backgrounds of music are a relatively new subject to me. Still, your explanation was clear enough that I think I got the gist of it. I will need to re-read it though to make sure. Thanks again for taking the time to write all this down.

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Your knowledge of music theory and history is impressive.

What I said isn't music theory so much as music practice. If you have a scientific background (even an empirical science like geology ;)), you may be familiar with one of my favorite quotes: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. But not in practice." :D

 

In this case, the practice is the different things people do in the name of making things "easier" for themselves.

 

As for "impressive", I just like to learn about things, especially things I myself experience. Sometimes I learn enough to help someone else. I've played various transposing instruments, starting with trumpet and next going to the French horn. That's where I ran into the extreme practice of "transposing" instruments:

... One ancient orchestral piece had all the horn parts for the different sections written in the key of C, but labelled "for horn in Db", "for horn in E", etc. Great if you happen to have a collection of horns in each of those keys, but I only had one in F (the modern standard). The result was that the composer's attempt to make things easier for the horn player -- by having the fingering for every section appear to be in the same key -- instead meant that I had to transpose my parts for each of the different sections by a different arbitrary interval. The result was that I wound up able to sight transpose between any two arbitrary keys. (Don't ask me to do it now. I'm long out of practice. :()

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