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Transposition

These instruments play in a different key to the piano. They are transposing instruments.

  • Bb trumpet
  • French horn (F)
  • Alto saxophone (Eb)
  • Tenor saxophone (Bb)
  • Cor anglais (F)
  • Bb clarinet

Before you can write for a transposing instrument you need to know

  • its key
  • any octave shifts in the transposition
  • the clef the player is expected to read.

You can look this information up in the Musical Instruments Reference. You can read more about transposition underneath.

Transposition, a simple example

Bb Trumpet part Concert pitch
Excerpt from Figlio Del Capo, arranged and composed by Joe Paparone

Bb trumpet transposes a tone above concert.

  1. Transpose the key signature a tone above concert.
    Eb concert transposes up to F.

  2. Transpose each note up a tone.
    C concert transposes up to D.
    D concert transposes up to E.
    Eb concert transposes up to F.

As an aid, write the diatonic scale of the concert key above the diatonic scale of the transposed key. The top row of notes transposes to the bottom row.

Concert key Eb F G A Bb C D Eb
Transposes up to F G A Bb C D E F

 

Bb trumpet part transposed

 

Transposition, a more complex example

What happens when some notes deviate from the key signature?

Bb Trumpet part Concert
Excerpt from Figlio Del Capo, arranged and composed by Joe Paparone

Write the diatonic scale of the concert key above the diatonic scale of the transposed key.

Concert key Eb F G A Bb C D Eb
Transposes up to F G A Bb C D E F

Each note transposes up a tone. B natural is not in the diatonic scale of the concert key. B natural transposes up a tone to C#.

Tip: If a note is altered from the key signature in the concert key it will also be altered from the key signature in the transposed key.

Bb trumpet part transposed

 

Transposition for a baritone saxophone

The baritone saxophone is scored in bass clef. It is transposed up a diatonic 13th (diatonic 6th and an octave) to the treble clef.

Eb Baritone saxophone part concert
Excerpt from Giacca di Feru composed and arranged by Joe Paparone

The concert key is C. It transposes a diatonic sixth up to A.

Concert key C D E F G A B C
Transposes up to A B C# D E F# G# A

Remember to write it an octave higher ...

... and put it in treble clef. Transposition is complete.


Music Theory


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