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Next UK ABRSM theory exams
Tuesday 6th November

Grade Five Music Theory - Lesson 9: SATB Writing for Voices

 

SATB

Writing for Voices"SATB" is a quick way of referring to the four main voices that make up a choir, which are Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass.

Soprano and alto are women’s voices, whereas tenor and bass are men’s voices.

Soprano is the highest voice and bass is the lowest.

 

 Grade 5 Questions

In the ABRSM Grade 5 Theory exam, you might have to re-write a short extract for SATB voices.

You will either have to change an open score into a short score or vice-versa. 

 

 Open Score and Short Score

Vocal music for SATB is either written on 4 staves with one for each voice, like this:

Open score

This is called "open score". The voices are always in this order: soprano (top), alto, tenor then bass (bottom).

 

Or it's written on two staves, with two voices on each stave, like this:

Short score

This is called "short score". Soprano and alto share the treble clef, and tenor and bass share the bass clef stave.

 

Open Score v. Short Score

Here are some of the main differences between open and short scores:

 

Clefs

In open score, the tenor voice uses a treble "octave" clef with a small 8 hanging off the tail-

treble octave clef

This means that the music actually sounds an octave lower than written.

In short score, the tenor voice uses a bass clef.

 

Stems

In open score, the stems of the notes follow the shape of the melody.

In short score, soprano and tenor parts always have stems up, and alto and bass parts always have stems down.

We write:

Stem direction in short score

 

We don’t write:

Incorrect stem direction in short score

 

Ties

In open score, ties are always written on the opposite side of the note to the stem.

open-score-ties 

In short score, the ties on the soprano and tenor parts curve upwards, but the ties on the alto and bass parts always curve downwards.

Notice how the ties on the two soprano A's and the two bass G's have changed their shape:

short-score-ties 

 

Rests

In short score, rests are written near the top of the stave in the soprano and tenor parts, and near the bottom of the stave in the alto and bass parts. In open score, rests are placed in the middle of the stave. Here are some rests written in short score:

Rests in short score

 

Unisons and Seconds

Sometimes, two parts can sing an identical note or a "unison". In a short score, you need to show that the note belongs to both parts, and you do this by writing one note-head with two stems. One step points up, and the other points downwards.

Look at the soprano and alto parts in this open score: they are singing the same G.

open-score-unison

In the short score, you will write one G, with two stems:

short-score-unison

 

When two voices sing notes which are an interval of a 2nd apart, you won't be able to write them one above the other. Instead, you will need to move the lower note slightly to the right of the higher note, so that both can be clearly seen.

In this open score, the soprano has a G, and the alto has the F directly below it:

open-score-seconds

In a short score, the alto F needs to be moved slightly to the right, so that both notes can be seen:

short-score-seconds

If you try to align the G and F vertically, you will end up with an ugly blob like this!

bad-seconds

 

 

Neat Writing

Does it matter how neat my writing is?

Yes! For general tips, look at “Lesson 1 - Good Notation”.

 

 How to Rewrite in Open Score

Let's try to rewrite these short score bars in open score.

rewrite-satb-into-open-score

 

Start by placing the clefs on each of the four staves, like this: 

Don’t forget the little 8 on the tenor clef, and remember this means that the pitch of all the tenor notes is actually an octave lower than in the "normal" treble clef.

Place the clefs first

Copy the key signature and time signature onto each stave.

Put in the key and time signatures

 

Copy the soprano, alto and bass lines note-for-note, but don't write the tenor line just yet.

Make sure you change the stem direction if necessary: remember that notes below the middle line have stems up, and notes above the middle line have stems down. Notes on the middle line follow the notes next to them.

Be sure to line up the notes vertically in exactly the same way as they are in the original.

This is the right way to do it: notice the stem direction and how the notes are aligned. 

s-a-b-parts

 

And this is the wrong way to do it! The grey lines show notes which should be in a straight line vertically, (because they sound at exactly the same time). The boxes show notes where the stems are pointing in the wrong direction.

mistakes-in-satb 

Now rewrite the tenor part in the treble-octave clef.

Remember that this clef sounds an octave lower than normal treble clef, so you will need to work out the exact pitch of the notes in the short score, then put them up an octave in the open score.

Middle C in bass clef is Middle C bass clef but in treble-octave clef is Middle C in treble octave clef

Make sure all the notes are aligned properly, and the stem directions are correct in the tenor part too.

Here is the finished re-writing:

finished-satb

 

Finally, make sure you’ve added any dots, ties and accidentals in the same way as in the original melody.

 

 How to Rewrite in Short Score

Start by placing a treble and a bass clef, like this:

Start with the treble and bass clef

 

Copy the key signature and time signature onto each stave. 

Using a ruler to keep the notes aligned vertically, copy the soprano, alto and bass lines, making sure that the stem direction is correct (soprano and tenor=up, alto and bass=down). 

Rewrite the tenor part in bass clef. Remember where middle C lies: 

in treble (octave) clef it’s Treble octave clef in bass clef it’s middle c in bass clef 

Make sure you’ve added all dots, ties and accidentals.

 

 

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