Octaves and Transpositions | Hub Guitar

Octaves and Transpositions

Clearing Up The Confusion

At some point, you’re going to end up a bit confused by the octaves question which is basically this:

What octave should I play the music in?

Key points for octaves

  1. Guitar music is written up an octave which means that it really sounds an octave lower than it is written. Think about a man singing and a woman singing. When a man sings the same song, he often has to use the “lower octave”. That’s because his rangeRange is the total melodic distance an instrument is capable of, from lowest possible note to highest possible note. It can also mean the total distance between the highest and lowest notes in a melody or musical part. is different.
  2. Because guitar music is really an octave lower, if you want to read other treble clef music not written for guitar, you should transposeTransposition is adjusting all of the notes in a piece of music equally. For instance, you can transpose a melody of C, D, C up a half-step to C♯, D♯, C♯. that music up an octave. This is not difficult to do because all of the note names are the same, but higher up.
  3. If the music is written for guitar, no change is needed.

Octave Transposition Example 1

Here’s a Really Awesome Song, called “Ode to Joy”. Have you heard it before? Try playing it.

If you play it on the flute, it’ll sound pretty happening (if that’s your thing). But if you play it on guitar, it’s not going to sound so brilliant. That’s because the guitar’s rendition of it will sound one octave lower than the flute. Let’s adjust it up one octave and give it to the guitar again. Now it’ll sound decent, just like the flute does. However, if you hand this new version to the flute player now, he’s going to play it higher than before, too, and now maybe it’s too high for the flute. Make sense?

Octave Transposition Example 2

In short: these two examples are written for guitar and played by a guitar player. If you listen to the audio examples, that’s what they’ll sound like when played by guitar.

However, if a musician who plays another instrument sees this music, he or she will play it an octave higher than the guitar. That means a flute player or violin player would read the sheet music from example one, but the sound you would hear is just like example 2.

Confused? Don’t worry, most of us are, too.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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