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Saxophones Transposing Instrument but why

Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
My wife plays the piano and so has a bit of music written in C and I was trying to explain that I cannot use that sheet music because I need it transposed into Bb and even worse when she gets her alto she will not be able to use my music either as it will be in Eb.

She is very confused and the more I tried to explain why this is the case the more I got confused and ran out of arguments as to why it has to be this way.

So, why are the members of the sax family in different keys?

mamos
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
My wife plays the piano and so has a bit of music written in C and I was trying to explain that I cannot use that sheet music because I need it transposed into Bb and even worse when she gets her alto she will not be able to use my music either as it will be in Eb.

She is very confused and the more I tried to explain why this is the case the more I got confused and ran out of arguments as to why it has to be this way.

So, why are the members of the sax family in different keys?

mamos
Check out what Pete says on his site. Makes sense to me.
 

jonf

Well-Known Member
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3,619
Location
Betelgeuse
Good article from Pete. Clear and well written.

You could also get the dear lady a C Mel. Then you can both play off the piano music. I like mine, but it did need a little customising to make the sound I wanted. See my post on the 'show me yours' thread.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
There is no reason except tradition, the possible cost of reprinting everything and just to be bl**dy annoying.

If you go back to just temperament and Baroque periods, brass instruments were generally made for one key. Remember that they were valveless 'natural' instruments that played the harmonic sequence of that scale, so if you needed a harmonic only obtainable in another key, you either picked up an instrument in that scale or swapped crooks to change the tuning. Mozart, who was a friend of the guy for whom he wrote most of his Horn Concertos, used to put notes in the score about "How will you cope with this, you dolt."

Obviously these instruments were named after the key in which they were useable and so were written for in that key, so you find trumpets in Bb, C and D amongst others. When they became valved, they also became chromatic instruments capable of playing in any key but during the cross over period the scores would still be written with the original key signature enabling 'natural' instrument players to earn a living whilst waiting for and learning to play their new chromatic horns.

Now that's a simplified explanation, not because you are an idiot but because I am.

Sadly, this system has carried on and of course a similar system was applied to some of the woodwinds, including Bb and Eb saxophones which were originally designed for use in military bands so complied with their Bb and Eb transposing convention. Confusingly Sax also produced a C and F range for orchestral use but in this case, the C and F referred to is the lowest note the instrument can play or the pedal note just like recorders or penny whistles and are non transposing.

Can I go back to sleep now? Promise to check tomorrow for corrections of my limited knowledge.
 

DaveW

Member
Messages
163
Location
Stockport, Cheshire
This will show my very limited knowledge on music theory.

Surely if you transpose that piano music you will end up playing the same sounding notes but if you play the music as written you will end up playing in harmony with the piano, I think :confused:

I now wait to be shot down or enlightened.
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
There is no reason except tradition, the possible cost of reprinting everything and just to be bl**dy annoying.

If you go back to just temperament and Baroque periods, brass instruments were generally made for one key. Remember that they were valveless 'natural' instruments that played the harmonic sequence of that scale, so if you needed a harmonic only obtainable in another key, you either picked up an instrument in that scale or swapped crooks to change the tuning. Mozart, who was a friend of the guy for whom he wrote most of his Horn Concertos, used to put notes in the score about "How will you cope with this, you dolt."

Obviously these instruments were named after the key in which they were useable and so were written for in that key, so you find trumpets in Bb, C and D amongst others. When they became valved, they also became chromatic instruments capable of playing in any key but during the cross over period the scores would still be written with the original key signature enabling 'natural' instrument players to earn a living whilst waiting for and learning to play their new chromatic horns.

Now that's a simplified explanation, not because you are an idiot but because I am.

Sadly, this system has carried on and of course a similar system was applied to some of the woodwinds, including Bb and Eb saxophones which were originally designed for use in military bands so complied with their Bb and Eb transposing convention. Confusingly Sax also produced a C and F range for orchestral use but in this case, the C and F referred to is the lowest note the instrument can play or the pedal note just like recorders or penny whistles and are non transposing.

Can I go back to sleep now? Promise to check tomorrow for corrections of my limited knowledge.
Surely it would be madness to have to have differing figuring on say alto and tenor saxophone to play the same note - fingering for G is always the same on any saxophone. By transposing, you use the 'natural' sound of the tube and have the same fingering across all of the saxophones.

Only the music notation changes from alto to tenor etc. in order to 'sound the same'. Makes sense to me and works for recorders, flutes and probably most other wind instruments too.

I'll get my coat............. :shocked:
 

cmelodysax

New Member
Messages
25
Location
Weymouth, Dorset UK
This will show my very limited knowledge on music theory.

Surely if you transpose that piano music you will end up playing the same sounding notes but if you play the music as written you will end up playing in harmony with the piano, I think :confused:

I now wait to be shot down or enlightened.
DaveW - totally correct, although 'Harmony' may not best describe the result - you'd be two semitones off on tenor (e.g. Bb to C) and three semitones (e.g. Eb to C) on alto - and you'd be rigidly playing in parallel - in effect a different key, not harmony in the same key... 'Musical Anarchy' is probably a better description.

For a variety of reasons some choose to play C instruments when they don't specifically need (or feel the mood) to be on Bb/Eb instruments, or just want to be 'different'. It can be convenient at times, but I don't see the world of saxophones ever really embracing the 'C' concept, we'll just move in a parallel universe. There are C clarinets and C trumpets around as well, and they also seem to have a modest niche market, never having sold in great numbers either. There are lots of other factors, such as a slightly different sound, mouthpiece suitability etc. etc. For example I love C clarinet because the sound can be livelier (and more penetrating...), but it can lose a bit of body compared to it's normal (normal ?) Bb cousin.

When I used to do a bit of teaching/mentoring, it was confusing (for students) when I explained to young Bb clarinet and Eb alto players that they couldn't play together off the same music, or indeed read what their brother/sister was playing on (C) piano without getting into transposition (or playing 'by ear') at a young age - or spending dosh buying readily transposed music. Incidentally, both transposing and playing-by-ear are very useful skills to learn (essential for a sax player, imho), but can be a bit intimidating/off-putting for all but the keenest students...

Which is why/where C saxophones sold in great numbers, in the 20's... Sorry, I'll step down from my soap box and play a few hours of Bb tenor as a penance ;} heehee...

Ian - it somehow makes sense. I still like to know that when I put all three LH fingers down, I'm playing G, whatever it comes out as - except of course for the clarinet not overblowing at the octave. I can't handle the thought that I'd have to learn that as F fingering on tenor/sop, and Bb fingering on alto etc., and G fingering on flute and my C's - AAaaarghhh! I'd rather mentally transpose the notes than the fingers....
 
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DaveW

Member
Messages
163
Location
Stockport, Cheshire
Thanks for the enlightenment Alan :)

I posed the question because a while ago an ex semi-pro pianists sent me a song to try and I half jokingly said he could have transposed the dots for me.

His reply was if it was transposed to Bb then I would be playing the same notes as the pianist and that would sound 'flat' (as in boring, I think).

That then made me question the value of transposing but your post has cleared that up for me. :cheers:
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,997
Location
Just north of Munich
My wife plays the piano and so has a bit of music written in C and I was trying to explain that I cannot use that sheet music because I need it transposed into Bb and even worse when she gets her alto she will not be able to use my music either as it will be in Eb.

She is very confused and the more I tried to explain why this is the case the more I got confused and ran out of arguments as to why it has to be this way.

So, why are the members of the sax family in different keys?

mamos
Just one point - if she's playing in C on the piano, you need to be in D on the Tenor - and you'll be an octave lower than the piano. Is that the confusion?

On the transposing side of things, I sued to dabble with penny whistles. Some of the music is written in D - for D instruments, other is written in C for the C instruments. Meant I had to learn new fingerings for each b...y whistle. So I soon learned to transpose all the music into C. And just switch whistles. Much easier.

Am looking forward to getting an alto as well - and I won't have to learn new fingerings, just play what I see, same as the tenor.
 

Pee Dee

Member
Messages
425
Location
Dorset
Re transposing you may be interested to know of a little gizmo I have for this.
It's called 'The Amazing Transpo Gizmo instant key finder'. I think I got it from musicroom, but many music shops may sell it. It basically consists of two discs, an inner and an outer. On the outer you have the 12 notes A - G#, and the inner consists of the 12 notes again plus the keys of various instruments: C-piano, guitar, flute, violin etc. Bb- clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax, trumpet, A-clarinet, oboe d'amore. G-alto flute, etc. So to find out what key to play in you just line up the instrument on the inner ring with the key the music is written in on the outer ring, and read off the key to transpose to. Then you can rewrite the music in the correct key, or like me, buy Band In A Box or some similar software, and type and print it out with the computer. I find this very useful, as instead of searching for music written for Bb flat instruments ( I play tenor) I can now get music in any key and transpose to play on me tenor. I think the gizmo was about £3, the BIAB a little more of course. Unless of course, you are a clever gifted b***ard unlike me, you can do it by sight and ear.:)
 

cmelodysax

New Member
Messages
25
Location
Weymouth, Dorset UK
........On the transposing side of things, I used to dabble with penny whistles. Some of the music is written in D - for D instruments, other is written in C for the C instruments. Meant I had to learn new fingerings for each b...y whistle. So I soon learned to transpose all the music into C. And just switch whistles. Much easier......
Ah (also being a bit of a whistle/fife player...), but try fingering 'D' on a 'D' whistle - xxx|xxx - and you'll find what comes out is a concert D.... I think it really means "useful for playing in the key of D" - bit like blues harps.

Quaint convention of naming the whistle pitch after whatever note comes out with all six fingers down, xxx|xxx - confusing or what ? I went out and bought a 'C' whistle, only to find I was really playing in Bb if I applied sax/flute logic, grrr...

Add that lot to the transposition equation... :confused:
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
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Location
Just north of Munich
Ah (also being a bit of a whistle/fife player...), but try fingering 'D' on a 'D' whistle - xxx|xxx - and you'll find what comes out is a concert D.... I think it really means "useful for playing in the key of D" - bit like blues harps.

Quaint convention of naming the whistle pitch after whatever note comes out with all six fingers down, xxx|xxx - confusing or what ? I went out and bought a 'C' whistle, only to find I was really playing in Bb if I applied sax/flute logic, grrr...

Add that lot to the transposition equation... :confused:
Yep, if I go back to messing with the whistle, I'll just put everything into D to be more consistent with the sax notation. Easier, but it means I have to draw 2 sharps on the stave...
 
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