SATB

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In music, SATB is an initialism for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, defining the voices required by a chorus or choir to perform a particular musical work. Pieces written for SATB (the most common combination, and used by most hymn tunes) can be sung by choruses of mixed genders, by choirs of men and boys, or by four soloists.

There is a lack of general agreement on the initialisms and/or abbreviations for any but these, the four most frequently encountered voices.

Other initialisms/abbreviations often met with in this context include Tr for Treble, Mz (or similar) for Mezzo-soprano, Ba, Bar or Bari for Baritone and C for Contralto, this latter tending to define the gender of the alto(s) expected to sing the part which, if called A, might otherwise be thought suitable for Countertenors (Ct). SCTB is therefore commonly found in Romantic Italian opera choruses where the Alto singers portray a group of female protagonists on stage.

SATB div. (divisi, or divided) denotes that one or more individual parts divide into two or more parts at some point in the piece, often sharing the same staff. A single choir with two of each voice type should be written SSAATTBB, unless it is laid out for two identical choirs, in which case it is SATB/SATB. Soloists are written in small type, e.g. satb/SATB. In both these instances a space may be substituted for /. Publishers usually include such descriptions in their catalogues of choral works, although many fail to provide sufficient detail, commonly omitting, for example, the term div. where it is required fully to describe the resources required by the composer. Also misleading can be the use of B for a Baritone part or S for an Mz part as for example in Stanford's motet "Eternal Father" which, though marked SSATBB, is for one each of soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.

Initialisms of this kind may also be used to specify the vocal constituents of an ensemble of solo singers.

Early music[edit]

In early music, particularly that of the Renaissance, the use of the terms soprano, alto, tenor and bass for the voice parts should not be taken in the modern sense of defining which voices are to be used. This is because much 4-voice vocal music of the time possesses the narrower overall range typical of men's voice music with a countertenor on the top (soprano) part. Appropriate downward transposition based on chiavette should always be considered.

Instrumental music[edit]

SATB can also refer to ensembles of four instruments from the same family, such as saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) or recorders. Also, the individual contrapuntal parts of many instrumental compositions, particularly fugues, such as those found in Bach's "The Art of Fugue" and "The Musical Offering", may also be called SATB.

See also[edit]