Middle C and the Bass

Here is a tidbit of information a lot of beginners may not know about, and a question I have often wondered about.

After you read the hi-lited text in the document below, can you tell me if fretboard diagrams, like that depicted in diagram A, that show where middle C is, compensate for the one octave shift when they are produced? I feel they must have but wondered what others thought.

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Middle C is C4. It’s the 17th fret on the G string of a bass, or the fifth fret of the G string of a guitar. So that fret chart is correct for a 6-string guitar in standard tuning.

Not all charts are, I have seen some that are an octave off; apparently the chart author did not know about the transposition (or did it wrong).

Even that one is a bit wonky in isolation; on the staff, it’s showing middle C on a piano score, not on a bass score. On a bass score it would be notated an octave higher, as it mentions in the text.


My understanding is the the bass sounds one octave lower than is written on the score and that’s primarily to avoid excessive ledger lines.


That’s correct, the bass is a transposing instrument, notated an octave higher than the notes it actually plays. So is the guitar.

This is common, lots of instruments transpose their notation. One reason you need to be careful using sheet music written for one instrument on a different instrument :slight_smile:


Ok cool thanks; I’m glad some of this stuff is sticking in my head.


Thank you @howard

The C4 notation apparently follows an ISO standard but not everybody follows that ruling.
Here is an interesting article I found regarding discrepancies in octave numbering.

Octave numbering confusion C1 C2 etc.pdf (17.7 KB)

For those interested here is the ISO standards listing for octave numbering.

If you want to be unambiguous about it, in A=440, Middle C is 261.6 Hz :slight_smile:

C4 is C4 because it’s the fourth C from the left on the Piano keyboard. Which is what the ISO used to standardize on. It’s “Middle C” because it’s the closest C to the middle of the Piano keyboard.

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I was surprised that Yamaha does not follow the ISO convention.

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Just checked and Yamaha says it is C3, you’re right. That’s just weird - most use C4 and a few use C5. Weird because they are one of the largest piano manufacturers in the world, too.

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As another lover of Yamaha Basses I thought this may strike you as strange :slightly_smiling_face:

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