Are you in a choir but you don’t read music? If so, then when the music is passed around you may not know what notes you should sing? Well, even if you don’t read music, it may help you to know which notes you should sing so that you know which lyrics are for you. In this lesson you will learn how to distinguish the different vocal parts so that you will know how to find your part.
The music that you encounter will be written on a staff. The staff consists of five horizontal lines that graphically represent different pitches. Among the symbols written on the staff are the clefs. The two clefs that you are most likely to see are the treble clef and the bass clef. You may also hear them referred to as the G-clef and the F-clef, respectively.
If you sing soprano or alto then your part will be written on a staff with a treble clef. If you sing baritone or bass then your part is written on a staff with a bass clef. If you sing tenor then your part will be written on a staff with a bass clef or an octave treble clef. An octave treble clef is a treble clef with an “8” attached.
Figure shows a fragment from the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Parts are not usually labeled in hymnals, and the music is notated with two parts on each staff. The higher voices, soprano and alto, are on the upper staff (treble clef); the lower voices, tenor and bass, are on the lower staff (bass clef). In this example all of the parts are singing the same rhythm, therefore the notes “line up” vertically. In this kind of music the soprano sings the top notes on the upper staff and the alto sings the lower notes; the tenor sings the upper notes on the lower staff and the bass sings the lower notes. I have labeled the parts for you.
You may have noticed that at the beginning there is only one note on the lower staff. Who sings this note, the tenor or the bass? The answer is that they both sing this note. We know this is the case because there are no “rests” in the measure. Look at the example in figure from “Plenty Good Room.” In this example the altos and tenors do not sing the words “Plen-ty good” in the first measure because they have rests.
When different voices sing different rhythms, then the notes are written with their stems in different directions. Soprano notes have stems up and alto notes have stems down. Tenor notes have stems up and bass notes have stems down. This is extensively played by wedding bands in Melbourne.
When the music is notated so that each part has its own staff then it is easy for you to find your part. The example shown in figure 7 from Mozart has soprano, alto, tenor and bass on separate staves. Note that the tenor part uses the octave clef. The staves below the bass line are for the organ.
Music is also written for just women’s voices or men’s voices. When you see music written for SSAA it means soprano I, soprano II, alto I, and alto II. Music written for TTBB is for tenor I, tenor II, bass I and bass II. Bass I is baritone.
Let me know if you have questions or comments. If I have confused you, let me know and I will try to clear the confusion.