As a rock songwriter with interest in theory, I sometimes score my music to engage with it differently. I’d open MuseScore, create 3 treble clef staves—one for the voice and two for the guitars—and a bass clef staff for the bass guitar. I’d use the default “piano” instrument sound for playback and away I’d go!
After many years, I found out last night while reading Don Sebesky’s The Contemporary Arranger that the bass guitar is a transposing instrument (I didn’t know what this meant until yesterday). It dawned on me that this whole time the playback I was hearing was two octaves higher than the actual bass sounds I’d one day record. This was an unpleasant revelation because it meant my perception of the instrument’s range has been wrong for as long as I’ve been composing. I wonder if, for songs I’ve released, I would have written the bass part in a different octave or played different notes had I been aware of the massive space between the sounded bass notes and the notes the of the guitars (maybe) and my voice. Then, as you might have guessed, I learned that the guitar too is a transposing instrument. Yikes! I really was disoriented by this.
I took pen to stave to try to visualize the notes for myself—I was having trouble seeing notes one way but hearing them in my aural imagination a different way. I wanted to map out the actual notes so that I could see them where they “belong” on the staves. I started with the guitar. I had a treble clef, but I didn’t want to draw all the ledger lines to get down to the E2, which is the note sounded by the open 6th string of a guitar.
So, I used the following staff, leaving it ‘un-clefed’ if you will, so that I could use those staff lines instead of ledger lines. Well, lo and behold, that must have been the wrong move because look:
If I count an octave down from E4 to E3 and then an octave down from E3 to E2, and then start writing the notes of the open guitar strings, I don’t end up on the right staff? This doesn’t make any sense to me.
So then, I took a different approach, just extending the ledger lines so that I had a treble clef with 12 staff lines. I would guess that this is the better representation of the notes, but it does bother me that the first method didn’t work.
Can you please help me understand why I couldn’t use multiple 5-line staves to represent the notes of the open strings on a guitar?
TL;DR: I've been using MuseScore for rock song notation. As a beginner in reading music, I find it mentally taxing to imagine a sound different from what's notated. I tried to represent guitar notes on an 'un-clefed' 5-line staff to help, but got confused. Why can't I use multiple 5-line staves to accurately depict the guitar's open strings?