03 Jun Lesson 22: The Ottava Marking
In my last blog post, I discussed how stems on the staff should be written. For this last post of the Basics of Music Theory section of the blog, we’ll be looking at the ottava marking, which is occasionally seen in musical scores.
Sometimes, composers want sections of their music played one octave (eight notes) higher than what’s written on the staff. Playing an octave higher keeps all the note letters the same, but moves them up to a higher register of the piano. It can be difficult to read high notes on the staff, as they often require many ledger lines, which is why there is a special marking used for sections of music that should be played an octave higher: the ottava.
For example, take this musical phrase, easy enough to read on the staff in its original form:
Now, consider how much more difficult that same phrase is to read when each note is rewritten one octave higher:
This is why the ottava marking is so helpful. By simply placing the marking over the notes in their original form, composers can tell performers to play the notes one octave higher while still enabling them to read the notes in the most convenient way:
It’s also possible to place the ottava marking underneath notes (most often in the bass clef) to tell performers to play one octave lower. In this case, sometimes 8va is written as 8vb to further indicate moving down an octave rather than up. Check out the example below:
There also are ottava markings to indicate moving up or down by two octaves from the original notation. These markings are written as 15ma for going up, and 15mb for going down. You can see examples of both below:
Have a look at some scores and see if you can find any ottava markings. Try figuring out where on the piano you should be playing each section that has an ottava depending on the original notation and what the ottava is directing you to do.
My next blog posts will cover a variety of other musical topics outside of music theory. Stay tuned for more updates!
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