At some point in your learning journey, the issue ofis likely to pop up.
But whilst it might seem, at first, an unnecessary complication, there are plenty of reasons why it’s both a simple and important skill to master.
Have you ever wondered why you have to play in a on your than the rest of the band?
Well, the answer to that is because the is a so-called . In this article we will take a look at the hows, whys and whens of transposing.
When it comes to playing written , everything seems to start with the key of C.
Often called ‘‘ or ‘ ‘ this is the key the is in when you play only the white notes.
Other instruments that play in the key of C include the violin, guitar and double bass.
For everyone else, the notes they play sound different…
If a plays the C, for example, it sounds the same as a guitar or violin playing an C.
Not the case for the saxophones, trumpets, clarinets and most other instruments, though.
If they want to make the same sound, they need to be playing a different …
They need to “.”
For jazz or pop players, it’s worth noting that this need to extends to all notation.
For example, if you read chord changes, these need to be transposed for the as well: Ebmaj7 on a corresponds to a Cmaj7 on /guitar/double bass.
What is a ?
You can usually tell a by looking at its full name.
The “Eb “
The “Bb ”
These are instruments whose notation is not written in the same pitch as a non- like the .
If they want to play along, they need to .
To put this in a practical example, if you hear a pianist play a C and want to make the same sound on your Bb , you’d have to play a Bb. or
To make the same sound on an Eb , you’d play an Eb. or
There are – as we’ll cover – a couple of different ways of approaching this, but they key is to maintain the same gap between what not the is playing and what you’re playing.
It might sound silly and complicated, but there are several reasons why there are many instruments that are “transposing” and you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Let’s take a look at this well-known Charlie Parker phrase from the blues “Now’s The Time“.
The original Eb version is:
Play the same sounding phrase on a tenor:
And on the piano/guitar:
As you can see the three melodies start from different notes, have different alterations and also different chords.
When do I need to ?
If you’re playing in an ensemble or band that has been specifically written out, it’s most like already been transposed.
If the composer wants you to play a that sounds like a C on , they’ll write the transposed version on your .
So in all these situations, simply being aware of transposition as a concept in is enough.
However, if you are playing with various different instruments, all using a single piece of , for example, you’d need to put your transposition skills into action!
What’s the point of transposition?
Despite how it might seem, transposition is not just there to annoy students and provide some good exam tests!
One of the most practical benefits is the ease with which it allows you to switch between instruments.
Imagine that you are playing a big band part on your , and then there is a section where you have to play on soprano.
If saxophones weren’t , you’d have to learn different fingerings for each member of the family, because the different sizes have a different range.
Hence the soprano is in Bb and the is an , yet you can use the same fingerings for the same notes on both instruments.
You read a “C” on the and you put the same finger down, regardless of which sax you’re playing.
If saxophones wouldn’t be , you’d have to learn different fingerings for each member of the family, also because of the different sizes of the instruments you’d have ledger lines in the notation which would make sight-reading very difficult.
As saxophonist Tamás Gyurcsó advises…
There is a trick that I use if I have to from to . I read minor third down and then I adjust the octave if it’s necessary.
As you can see from the above example the Eb part starts from D while the part starts from F. F to D is a minor third down, just as Eb to C.
The same way works with the /soprano transposition, if you read a step up you can play the part. F to G is a whole step up, just as Bb to C.
So whilst saxophone transposition is not an essential skill in your early playing days, it’s a useful skill to have!
You’ll also make life easier for potential bandleaders who won’t have to write out the parts for if you can read the concert score!
Looking for more?