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Good keys / Bad keys

Transposing instruments give us more scope for colour in the orchestration.

Some keys don't get much colour out of the orchestra.

On every instrument C is the easiest key to play in. The more sharps and flats in the key the more difficult the piece is to play.

Some keys are just plain difficult to play in.

  • The best keys are: Eb, Bb and F concert.
  • Secondary keys are: G, C and D concert.
  • Notably bad keys are: A and E concert.

A and E concert are strange keys to the orchestra. Colourful pedal notes allude you when you use these keys. The keys are also out of favour with transposing instruments. E concert transposes Eb instruments to six sharps and Bb instruments to seven sharps. Just a semitone higher than E, Eb concert is a wonderful key for colour, transposes Eb instruments to C and Bb instruments to F.

Avoid keys that put instruments playing sharps alongside instruments playing flats. In this syllabus we talk of F# and Gb as the same note. This is true for tempered instruments like the piano. For instruments in the violin and brass families where the note is felt for, F# and Gb are subtly different.

Concert Key C G D A E B F# C#

Transposing instruments

Bb
Eb
F
G
D
A
G
F
A
E
D
C
E
B
A
G
B
F#
E
D
F#
C#
B
A
C#
Ab
F#
E
Ab
Eb
C#
B
Eb
Bb
Ab
F#
Good or Bad ?                

 

Concert Key C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb
Transposing instruments Bb
Eb
F
G
D
A
G
F
G
D
C
Bb
C
G
F
Eb
F
C
Bb
Ab
Bb
F
Eb
Db
Eb
Bb
Ab
Gb
Ab
Eb
Db
Cb
Db
Ab
Gb
E
Good or Bad ?                


Music Theory


"Become an arranger first, then an orchestrator, and then a composer." - Joe Paparone

Joe Paparone is an Australian music arranger of the highest international calibre. Allow him to share 35 years of real world experiences with you.